To understand what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in the US. The USA has a long history of permitting certain types of legal gambling and even illegal betting to some extent. Political control and scandals regarding gaming interests have led to certain backlashes that have lead to prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose describes these adjustments in law as three waves. The first wave was during the colonial era that lasted till the mid 1800s, the 2nd wave started at the end of the Civil War and lasted till the early 20th Century and the third wave commenced during the Great Depression and is still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards betting. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were outlawed. Afterwards it had been allowed so long as it wasn’t a calling or trade but for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought along 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 a solution out of economic problems as well as benefit the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and profits were utilized to establish a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries continued to be popular right to the early 19th Century. Horse racing had also been preferred and the Long Island built the first race track in 1665. Casino gaming began to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns started to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became a structured and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The grand river with its riverboats became a major trade avenue for wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans soon gained recognition as the gambling capital. During the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who had been 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 when operators absconded with the proceeds lottery scandals eventually concluded in prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a huge surge 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 numerous 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 became a preferred tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became very popular and today is a high dollar industry.