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 allowing some kinds of legal gambling and also illegal betting to some extent. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have led to certain backlashes that have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these adjustments in law as 3 waves. The 1st wave was in 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 Twentieth century and also the 3rd wave commenced during the Great Depression and is still continuing.
Throughout the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possessing dice, cards, gaming tables etc were banned. Afterwards it was allowed as 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 as it involved high risk, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as being a solution out of economic problems as well as help the colonies. It became a civic responsibility and profits were used to establish 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 had also been preferred and the Long Island built the first race track in 1665. Casino gaming started to emerge slowly as roadhouses and taverns started to permit card games and dice.
The Lower Mississippi Valley became an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The mighty river with its riverboats became 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 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 all the proceeds lottery scandals eventually led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a tremendous increase in the types of gambling and San Francisco became the new gambling capital in the USA. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and by 1850 California and lots of cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most types of gambling illegal and a number of professional gamblers were lynched. This prohibition drove gambling activities underground and could 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 the many scandals within 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 straightforward. In 1978 casino gambling was legalized by New Jersey and Atlantic City became a popular tourist destination. Regardless of its illegality sports gambling became quite popular and already is a billion dollar industry.