To learn what started betting on sports one has to first examine the history of sports gambling in America. The US has a long history of permitting some kinds of legal gambling and even illegal gambling to a certain degree. Political control and scandals concerning gaming interests have ended in certain backlashes which have resulted in prohibition or regulation of sports gambling. Standards and laws relating to sports gambling have kept changing.
Nelson Rose describes these changes in law as 3 waves. The 1st 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 up until the early Twentieth century and the 3rd wave commenced during the Great Depression and is still continuing.
During the Colonial Era, diverse attitudes were enforced towards gambling. Puritan attitudes were adopted towards gambling and possession of dice, cards, gaming tables etc were banned. Afterwards it was allowed so long as it was not a calling or trade except for moderate and innocent recreation. Settlers brought with them views that said gambling was nothing but a harmless past time. The frontier spirit encouraged the appeal of gambling since it involved risk taking, high expectations and opportunism.
Ultimately all colonies used lotteries as a solution from economic problems as well as benefit the colonies. It was a civic responsibility and profits were used to establish some of the first prestigious universities, build churches and even libraries. Lotteries remained 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 an organized and legitimate gambling area in 1800s. The grand river with its riverboats became a major trade avenue for both 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 blamed for carrying out 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 led to prohibition of gambling.
The Gold Rush in California set off a tremendous surge in the types of gambling and San Francisco was crowned the new gambling capital in the US. 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 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 USA. With all 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. Despite its illegality sports gambling became very popular and already is a high dollar industry.