To understand what started gambling on sports one has to first examine the historical past of sports gambling in the US. The US had a long history of permitting some kinds of legal gambling and even illegal betting to some extent. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have ended in selected backlashes which have lead to prohibition or regulating sports gambling. Standards and laws pertaining to sports gambling have kept altering.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as 3 waves. The first wave was in 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 while in the Great Depression and is 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 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 risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as being a solution from financial problems and to help the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were utilized to establish a number of the first prestigious universities, build churches and also libraries. Lotteries remained popular right to the initial 19th Century. Horse racing was also preferred and the Long Island built the 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 wealthy merchants and farmers. New Orleans quickly gained recognition as being the gambling capital. Through the 1830s southern settlers turned against professional gamblers who were 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 all the proceeds lottery scandals finally led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a tremendous surge in the kinds of gambling and San Francisco became the new gambling capital in the USA. During 1849 and 1855 gambling spread widely and also by 1850 California and many cities had licensed gambling centers. But soon the Legislature made most forms 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 possible to now understand what started gambling on sports in the US. With all 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 honest. In 1978 casino gambling was legalized by New Jersey and Atlantic City was a preferred tourist destination. Despite its illegality sports gambling became very popular and today is a billion dollar industry.