Sports Betting History

Sports Betting History

With more states legalizing sports betting and its growing popularity thanks to the internet, some gamblers may wonder where it originated. Who invented it? How were the systems in place back then? 

This write-up discusses the rich history of sports gambling worldwide and in the USA, including its origins, the first bookmakers, its popularity, and even its legality.

It also covers the legalization of sports betting in different states and in the digital landscape, equipping you with sports betting knowledge. Lastly, this article also aims to illustrate how much the sports betting industry has evolved.

The Origins of Sports Betting

Sports betting originated with the Greeks over 2,000 years ago. They first staged the Olympics in Olympia to honor Zeus, a Greek god. History has also uncovered the earliest gambling records of these competitions during this period.

Greece’s pastime then reached Rome and became popular in gladiator games. In fact, the Romans legalized sports betting. Even when the emperor asked that gladiatorial contests be ended, sports gambling outlasted the brutal practice.

Sports betting then spread to other countries and kingdoms. However, some leaders tried to stop it by enacting laws forbidding it. For this reason, sports gambling went underground.

With newer, more exciting sporting events being invented and launched during that period, gamblers were unstoppable. Staking became popular in England, especially when horse race betting was introduced.

In other words, the English influenced the world, including the U.S., on sports betting. The first bookmakers organized horse betting during the Industrial Revolution. Back then, though, only the elite (aristocrats and landed gentry) were allowed to partake in this pastime.

The organizers held the races privately and permitted just the horse owners to gamble on the results. King Charles II's love for the racetrack pushed horse race gambling to greater heights. Eventually, horse racing was dubbed “the sport of kings” because of Charles II’s passion for these matches.

British pub owners and innkeepers took the reins in promoting these races. They also assumed the role of the first bookmakers in history. Owners organized the races near inns and pubs.

However, due to the lack of betting regulations and because pubs became a hazard for alcohol-induced bar fights involving betting-related issues, the federal government banned gambling in pubs.

Despite the ban, the adoption of the Gaming Act 1845 allowed bookmakers to open legal betting shops. These bookies kept track of transactions in registers and became betting arbitrators. So, they received the bets but did not stake against the participants. 

Later, bookmakers introduced cash betting concepts and fixed odds in horse racing. 

U.S. Sports Betting History: A Timeline

The history of sports betting in the U.S. is fascinating, especially the timeline of the gambling laws enacted leading to its legalization. 

This section summarizes the historical events that transpired from the 18th century to the present.

18th Century Sports Betting

In the 18th century, the colonial revolt for independence from Great Britain began as the American Revolutionary War broke out. To fund this revolution and raise revenue, the 13 original U.S. colonies held lotteries.

The lottery tax money helped rebuild cities, establish universities, and, ultimately, fund the Revolutionary War. 

In the mid-to late-1700s, Christianity reached North American colonies and Europe, specifically England, Scotland, and Germany, and advocated conservative moral values. 

“The Great Awakening,” as this period was dubbed, led to the discouragement of entertainment activities, such as gambling, horse racing, cockfighting, and other “expensive diversions.”

19th to 20th Century Sports Betting

While horse racing remained legal and regulated, other gambling forms gained popularity. Betting on card and dice games debuted. The slot machine was also introduced during this period.

In the 19th century, U.S. sports betting history witnessed frauds and several lottery scandals. One of the century’s most significant controversies was the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. 

Eight Chicago White Sox members allegedly received $70,000 to $100,000 to deliberately lose the World Series title to the Cincinnati Reds. The players were suspended and eventually banned from baseball for life.

To prevent the rise of similar scandals, MLB (Major League Baseball) authorized Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to restore baseball’s integrity and regain the public’s confidence in the sport. Landis was appointed the first commissioner of the MLB and the major U.S. sports leagues. 

Following these events, anti-gambling sentiment spread throughout America as states started targeting bookmakers and game operators. Eventually, gambling operators, bookies, and bettors were driven underground, and illegal sports betting became widespread.

Mid-20th Century Sports Betting

Nevada spearheaded the movement toward the legalization of sports betting operations. To promote its tourism industry, it legalized sports wagering in 1949. 

During this period, investors established the Las Vegas Strip, further encouraging sports bettors to place bets legally.

However, federal law imposed a 10% tax on all sports bets through the Revenue Act of 1951. Sportsbooks found the tax too excessive, causing some operators to close shop. 

Fortunately, Congress reduced the tax to 2%. This move resulted in increased profits and tax revenues for the government. It also paved the way for the rebirth of Las Vegas sports betting. 

Unlike in Nevada, bookmaking in other states wasn’t legalized. The problem of organized crime continuously plagued American sports gambling markets. 

Sports Betting From the 1960s to the 1980s

Since 1967, football fans have had the opportunity to bet on the Super Bowl, granted that sports gambling was legal in their state. However, these decades (the 60s through the 80s) saw the rise of organized crime involving sports betting.

In response, lawmakers enacted several laws against sports gambling-related illicit activities.

For instance, the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, or the “Wire Act,” spearheaded by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, aimed to stop sports betting entirely. Along with the federal Wire Act, other laws that were passed to prevent illegal sports betting include the following:

  • Travel Act of 1961: This law prohibits interstate commerce that may be used for unlawful activities, including mailing illegal gambling materials, sending ticker tapes that can help place bets, or using a credit card over the phone to bet illegally.
  • Interstate Transportation of Paraphernalia Act of 1961: This statute states that transporting equipment, paraphernalia, papers, writing, bills, records, or devices used to book or place sports bets is not allowed.
  • Sports Bribery Act of 1964: This law combats gambling-related corruption, particularly game-fixing.
  • Illegal Gambling and Business Act: This legislation, part of the Organized Crime Control Act, sanctions individuals involved in illegal forms of gambling.

While several anti-gambling state laws were enacted, New Jersey voted on a referendum in 1976, allowing the operation of casinos. However, these gambling establishments are limited to Atlantic City.

During this period, other states moved toward the legalization of sports betting. For instance, Delaware offered a legal sports lottery in 1976.

Meanwhile, Montana launched its lottery in 1986, offering select sports pools and fantasy sports betting choices.

21st Century Sports Betting

Some individuals involved in organized crimes are behind the corruption of sports events. In essence, sports betting is viewed as one of the reasons why the integrity of sports leagues and competitions is compromised.

Before more states passed laws that legalized gambling, such as sports betting regulations, the U.S. government started to enact and enforce significant changes to make sports betting illegal. In 1992, then-President George H.W. Bush signed the Bradley Act, commonly referred to as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

Authored by the then-Senator Bill Bradley, who was formerly a professional NBA player, PASPA, with a few exceptions, prohibited U.S. states from participating in legal sports betting.

Even the NFL’s then-commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, supported the movement against sports betting. Representing the National Football League, he even testified before Congress.

States exempted from this law already had legislation legalizing sports betting or some form of it, so they were allowed to continue their sports gambling operations.

Nevada was the only state that was allowed to offer legal sports betting.

Other U.S. states that received exemptions from PASPA include Montana, Delaware, and Oregon. 

Though PASPA did not allow legal sports betting in these states, their residents and visitors could gamble on select sports using limited types of bets. For instance, residents of Delaware were allowed to make parlay bets on NFL matches.

However, some bettors live in states where sports betting is unregulated or illegal. After the passage of PASPA, U.S. bettors who wanted to bet on major events like the Super Bowl had to physically place their stakes in states exempted from the federal ban, like Nevada. 

The signing of PASPA was just the beginning. Congress targeted online gambling next by passing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. 

This legislature prohibited individuals in the gambling industry from accepting payments connected to unlawful online betting. 

It also required financial institutions, such as banks, to monitor unlawful transactions, establish measures to identify them, and block said transactions. 

The number of brick-and-mortar casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania grew exponentially, especially in 2009. Soon, these establishments became a competition for casinos in the state of New Jersey. 

In the same year, Delaware voted to allow sports betting in the state. It also permitted NFL parlay betting.

But during this period, other sports leagues, like the NCAA and NFL, ensured that the state would not legalize single-game betting.

Like Delaware, New Jersey also sought to change PASPA and tried to overturn the legislature. If this happens, the state’s constitution can be revised to allow sports betting.

In 2012, the Casino Control Act was passed, appointing a Casino Control Commission to offer licenses allowing racetracks and casinos to take bets. Then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie expressed that the state wanted regulations permitting casinos and racetracks in Atlantic City to become venues for sports betting.

This movement was countered by the NCAA, NFL, and other sports leagues. Despite its many efforts, New Jersey was unsuccessful in overturning PASPA.

On May 14, 2018, however, the Supreme Court ruled PASPA unconstitutional. Ultimately, the decision affirmed that if the state feels that sports gambling activities should be legal, it is the state’s choice.

Today, many states have already legalized sports betting. 

Sports Betting Legality

Following May 14, 2018, several states have started working on laws to legalize sports betting.

Based on the American Gaming Association, as of April 15, 2021, here’s the status of sports betting legality in the U.S.:

Along with Washington D.C., states where sports betting is live and legal include:

  • Colorado - May 1, 2020, was an eventful day for Colorado. It marked the launch of legal sports betting in the Centennial State. Proposition DD was approved, and mobile and retail sports betting were permitted.
  • Nevada - This state is one to look up to, as it has the best sports betting practices because it has successfully offered legal and regulated sports betting for decades.
  • Montana - in March 2020, then-Governor Steve Bullock signed the bill legalizing sports betting in the Big Sky State.
  • Oregon - the Beaver State didn’t find it challenging to offer sports betting when it was legalized in the state in August 2019. Oregon is one of the states with sports betting-related legislation before PASPA, so the legislature wasn’t required to pass new laws to legalize sports gambling.
  • New Mexico - the Land of Enchantment didn’t pass new laws following the Supreme Court’s decision on PASPA. However, according to the federal agency in D.C. responsible for tribal gaming compacts, the state allows any form of Class III gaming.

This category pertains to sports gambling and pari-mutuel betting.

  • Iowa - in the Hawkeye State, sports betting was legalized in August 2019 when Governor Kim Reynolds signed its legalization into law.
  • Arkansas - under the regulation of the Arkansas Racing Commission, sports betting is allowed in the Natural State. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort made the first legal sports bets in the state.
  • Michigan - under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration, sports betting was legalized in the Wolverine State in March 2020. Currently, the state allows many kinds of betting, including staking on college sporting events.
  • Illinois - in March 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker opened the doors for sports betting legalization in the state. The Prairie State allowed mobile and in-person betting but not gambling on state college teams or minor leagues.
  • Tennessee - the Volunteer State is one of the U.S. states that allows mobile betting only. The passage of the Tennessee Sports Gaming Act in November 2020 permitted mobile sports gambling only but not betting in brick-and-mortar casino partners.
  • Mississippi - August 2018 was momentous for sports betting fans in Mississippi because of the legalization of in-person betting. Today, you can do mobile betting as long as you are physically in the state.
  • Indiana - the Hoosier State allows in-person and mobile sports betting following legalization in September 2019. Operators should get a license from the Indiana Gaming Commission, responsible for regulating statewide sports betting.
  • New York - in July 2019, bettors in New York were allowed to place their stakes legally. Despite the Empire State’s progress in in-person betting, the legalization of mobile sports gambling is still underway.
  • Pennsylvania - on November 17, 2018, sports betting went live in the Keystone State. Currently, betting in brick-and-mortar casinos and in mobile apps is allowed. 
  • Virginia - the Old Dominion’s legalization of sports betting is one of the most recent (January 2021). The state permits online betting but not gambling on sports involving Virginia youth. 
  • West Virginia - initially, the state’s lawmakers passed a bill regulated by the West Virginia Lottery Commission. In August 2018, West Virginia signed into law the statewide legalization of sports betting.
  • North Carolina - Governor Roy Cooper made legalizing sports betting in North Carolina possible. The Tar Heel State is another state that has recently legalized sports gambling (March 2021).
  • Delaware - a month after the Supreme Court decided on PASPA, Governor John Carney allowed a full-scale sports gaming operation in the state.
  • New Jersey - June 11, 2018, was meaningful for New Jersey sports gambling fans. Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill that finally legalized sports betting in the state.
  • Rhode Island - the Ocean State wasn’t left behind when then-Governor Gina Raimondo signed legislation allowing in-person and mobile sports betting into law.
  • New Hampshire - the Granite State’s betting fans celebrated as sports gambling became legal statewide in December 2019.

In these states, sports fans can bet via retail or online sportsbooks. Single-game sports betting is also allowed.

Meanwhile, some states have legalized sports betting but have yet to launch it. These states include:

  • Washington
  • Arizona
  • Wyoming
  • South Dakota
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland

Some states have yet to legalize single-game sports betting but have pre-filed bills in the state legislature. In some states, a voter referendum has already been scheduled.

States with active or pre-filed legislation include:

  • Hawaii
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Texas
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • Maine

Seven states have no legislation on sports betting, including:

  • California
  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Utah
  • Oklahoma
  • Wisconsin
  • Ohio

Meanwhile, three states have dead sports betting legislation: North Dakota, Kentucky, and Georgia.

Betting online is also possible because of legal sports betting and casino game sites like DraftKings. Do understand, however, that it’s best to check your state’s laws regarding online sports gambling before placing any bet.

10 Reasons Why Sports Betting Is Popular Now

With the advancement of technology and more states legalizing sports betting, it is no surprise that sports gambling has become more popular in the U.S.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Convenient yet secure betting. First-time bettors and more experienced players can bet on their favorite team or sport from the convenience of home. Just be sure that you’re betting on a secure website.
  2. Betting types that make staking more exciting. Gone are the days when you would expect a bet on the underdog to lose. Now, bettors can choose from various betting types, making sports bets harder yet more exciting to predict.
  3. Sharp odds and lines for the sports betting market. Odds add thrill to betting, especially when they are promising.
  4. A variety of sports to bet on. Because sports betting is now federally legal, bets for more kinds of sports are now available. 

Whether you want to place pari-mutuel bets on horse racing matches or try puck line betting on an NHL match, many sportsbooks cover these sports. 

  1. Easy cash-in and deposits. With technology, there is now more than one way to deposit into and cash your winnings out from your sports betting account.
  2. Promotions and possibly huge payouts. Sports betting websites offer different promos, from welcome bonuses to special deals on various betting types.
  3. Easier ways to get into betting. Before the internet, learning how to bet on sports was harder. It may be intimidating, especially to newbies. 

Today, there are many ways to better understand sports gambling without going to Vegas to experience it firsthand. 

Besides consulting books and e-books, individuals who want to know more can watch videos online and read up on the subject through online forums.

  1. Sports gambling is an exciting pastime. Sports betting involves predicting sports results and staking on what you think the outcome will be. To do this successfully, you must be updated on the latest sports news.
  2. Many sports betting tools are at your disposal. The best sports websites ensure that you don’t have to worry about other things, so you can focus on your betting experience.
  3.  Gambling can now be done at any time or place. Technology allows you to gamble not just from your laptop but also from your mobile phone.

Sports Betting and the Future

Despite the setbacks in U.S. sports gambling, the future of sports betting is brighter. Beyond providing entertainment, it also helps generate tax revenue for the country.

In addition, more states are lobbying to legalize sports betting, and more people are keen on trying it out. But what about online sports betting? Is it secure to place your bets on the internet?

Several sports betting sites are popping up, showing that betting through the internet is the future. The key is to sign up on secure sports betting sites, such as those with security measures like SSL (secure sockets layer)-encrypted connection.

Sports Betting and the Internet

While betting in Vegas is a different experience altogether, there are several reasons to consider gambling through the internet. Online gambling empowers you to do the following:

  • Bet from the comfort of your home and from any device. No need to attend the games yourself to help you predict a win.
  • Change your mind. Live odds and real-time betting may allow you to bet as the sporting event happens. Even when the favorite is expected to win, if you feel that the underdog can pull off an upset in the middle of the match, you can change your bet at the last minute!
  • Get access to different betting markets. Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, and Italy’s Serie A are other esteemed leagues that feature the same sport: football. 

Now, bettors can keep themselves updated on international matches and bet on these!

  • Experience easy and secure payment processes. When you want to bet a large amount of money, there’s no need to bring everything with you. Some betting sites have encryption features, guaranteeing the security of your online details and funds.