To understand what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The US has a long history of permitting certain types of legal gambling and also illegal gambling to a certain degree. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have ended in certain backlashes that have lead to prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as 3 waves. The first wave was during the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the second wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted till the early 20th Century and the 3rd wave commenced while in the Great Depression and it’s still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards betting. 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 but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought with them views that said gambling was merely a harmless past time. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling since it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Eventually all colonies used lotteries as being a solution from financial problems and to help the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were used to create some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the early Nineteenth century. Horse racing had also been popular and the Long Island built the very first race track in 1665. Casino gaming began to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns began to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became a structured and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The mighty 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 had been held responsible for carrying out 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 concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California triggered a tremendous surge 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 USA. With the numerous scandals in the lottery gambling segments, 35 states in the US 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 popular tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and already is a high dollar industry.