To learn what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in America. The USA had a long history of allowing certain types of legal gambling and also illegal gambling to some extent. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have ended in certain backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose describes these adjustments in law as three waves. The first wave was in the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the second wave started following the Civil War and lasted up until the early 20th Century and the third wave commenced while in the Great Depression and is still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, different attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Afterwards it was allowed so long as it wasn’t a calling or trade except for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought along with them views that said gambling was merely a harmless activity. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling since it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as a solution from financial problems as well as benefit the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were utilized to create a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the early 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 began to allow card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became a structured and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The mighty river with its riverboats was a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as being the gambling capital. During the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who had been blamed for committing crimes, debasing morals of society and endangering streets. During 1800s there was increasing attack of gambling especially lotteries and whenever operators absconded with all the proceeds lottery scandals eventually concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a tremendous increase in the kinds of gambling and San Francisco was crowned the new gambling capital in the USA. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and by 1850 California and many cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most types of gambling illegal and certain professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove gambling activities underground and did not eliminate it. Gambling was legal during 1869-1910 in Nevada.
It is easy to now understand what started gambling on sports in the US. With all the numerous scandals within 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 honest. In 1978 casino gambling was legalized by New Jersey and Atlantic City was a preferred tourist destination. Despite its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and already is a high dollar industry.