Bets in Sports: A Brief History

Sports betting has likely been around for thousands of years, based on what we know about the sports practices of past civilizations. Betting is simply an extension of the natural human tendency toward competition. Sports betting, however, has reached new heights in modern live casinos that our forefathers could never have dreamed of.

One of the earliest sports in the US to allow betting was horse racing. The national fascination with horse racing began to soar shortly after the end of the Civil War. Baseball betting has been around since the founding of the National League in 1876, when professional baseball was first established. At this time, bookies popped up in every town across the country to take bets from gamblers.


The next logical step for land-based casinos would be to provide sports betting, but this wasn’t the case when casinos first emerged. For a very long time, casino gambling and sports betting were two very different industries.


Sportsbooks in Las Vegas, Nevada

When Nevada became the first U.S. state to establish casinos in 1931, a new era of gambling in the United States began. Although speakeasies (illegal casinos) had been around for some time, the Pair-o-Dice Club in Las Vegas is considered the first legal casino in the United States. It took more than 40 years, despite the obvious compatibility between sports betting and casino games.


Las Vegas did not have its first legitimate sportsbooks until the 1950s. These establishments, known as “turf clubs” at the time, existed separately from casinos. In reality, there was an unspoken pact between the gambling establishments and the turf clubs to stay out of one other’s way. The 10% tax rate on turf clubs was reduced to 2% in 1974. Because of this, in 1975 the manager of the Stardust Casino & Hotel (Frank Rosenthal) successfully lobbied local lawmakers to legalize sports betting within casinos.


After that, every major casino in Las Vegas opened their own sportsbooks, spelling the end for the turf clubs. Over 150 legal sportsbooks are now operating in the US. Furthermore, the black market for sports betting in the United States is substantial. Nobody knows how much money is wagered on illegal sports betting.


Gambling on Sports in American Casinos Nevada and Montana are the only two states that allow sports betting at this time. Only two other states in the United States, Delaware and Oregon, are allowed to legalize sports betting under current federal law.


Several New Jersey state representatives have been pushing for years to make sports betting in Atlantic City legal. The current economic climate has been devastating for Atlantic City’s casinos, prompting calls for legalization. The political system has been hesitant to adapt to new realities, as it so frequently is.


Online sports betting is rapidly becoming the main forum for sports betting today, despite being viewed as quasi-illegal in the United States. The legality of online sports betting is far too complex to be covered in a single post (I could write a small book on the subject), but to summarize: the regulations can be interpreted in different ways, and there is little enforcement at the individual level. No one knows for sure, but the overall handle of online sports betting is likely to be in the billions of dollars.


Betting on sporting events is here to stay, both in the United States and internationally. Even if the law changes, individuals will still want to wager on sporting events. Repeated experience has shown us that prohibitions are ineffective and rarely beneficial. There will be sportsbooks and gamblers for as long as there are humans on Earth.






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