To understand what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in the US. The US had a long history of allowing certain types of legal gambling and even illegal gambling to a certain degree. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have led to selected backlashes which have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose describes these adjustments in law as 3 waves. The first wave was during the colonial era that lasted up until the mid 1800s, the second wave started following the Civil War and lasted till the early Twentieth century and the 3rd wave commenced during the Great Depression and is still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, different attitudes were enforced towards betting. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Afterwards it was allowed as long as it wasn’t a calling or trade except for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought with them views that said gambling was nothing but a harmless past time. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling since it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as being a solution out of financial problems and to benefit the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were used to establish a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the initial Nineteenth century. Horse racing was also popular and the Long Island built the very first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns started to allow card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The grand river featuring its riverboats was a major trade avenue for both wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans soon gained recognition as being the gambling capital. During the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who were held responsible for committing crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there seemed to be increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and whenever operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals eventually led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a tremendous increase in the types of gambling and San Francisco was crowned the new gambling capital in the USA. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and also by 1850 California and lots of cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most types of gambling illegal and certain professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove wagering activities underground and could not eliminate it. Gambling was legal during 1869-1910 in Nevada.
It is possible to now understand what started gambling on sports in the US. With the many scandals in the lottery gambling segments, 35 states in America including California prohibited lotteries. In 1933 pari-mutuel betting was legalized and new automated systems and laws made horse racing betting more straightforward. In 1978 casino gambling was legalized by New Jersey and Atlantic City was a popular tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and today is a billion dollar industry.