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Sports Then and Now

The History of Sports Betting

Posted on April 14, 2021 by Martin Banks

The origin of the first bet is impossible to date. However, we do know that sports betting has been around for thousands of years. The earliest records of wagering on sporting events date back to the ancient Greeks and their famous Olympic games. 

Eventually, betting spread to Rome where people placed wagers on the outcome of circus events and chariot races. There, gambling became a legal form of entertainment and continued to gain popularity throughout Europe. 

Sports betting in the U.S. has a comparatively short history. However, Americans have always had a voracious appetite for the sport, so it’s no surprise that practically everyone — including Congress — has had some part in its history. 

Betting In the 19th Century 

While men undoubtedly placed bets on everything from card games to fights before the 1800s, sports betting didn’t become common practice until organized horse racing took center stage in 1868. That year, the U.S. started the American Stud Book and gambling exploded. By 1890, there were 314 tracks operating across the country and racegoers had already made and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in bets. 

Around the same time, professional baseball came to the forefront of American culture and people began making bets on who might win each game. Even coaches were making gambles on how well their team would do. Eventually, it came to light that the Louisville Grays were throwing games. However, the general attitude towards sports betting remained the same as most people viewed gambling and games as pure entertainment. 

Scandals of the 20th Century

It wasn’t until the 20th century that Americans began questioning the legality of sports betting. By then, horse racing was a largely fixed sport and antigambling coalitions were pushing through legislation in most parts of the country. These coalitions were so successful that, by 1908, that only 25 racetracks remained in operation.  

A decade later, throwing games had become a common occurrence in Major League Baseball as well. In 1919, a professional gambler paid eight Chicago White Sox players to throw the World Series. This scandal quickly made headlines and sullied baseball in the eyes of puritanical citizens and lawmakers alike. However, many people continued to bet on games, even though gambling was illegal and MLB repeatedly banned players, coaches, umpires and managers for placing wagers on teams. 

PASPA and the Turn of the 21st Century 

By the late 1900s, state and federal governments had voiced their concern for gambling addiction and a general lack of integrity in the sports world. In 1992, Congress even enacted the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned stated and governmental entities from legalizing sports wagering. 

Around the same time, the advent of the internet made wagering much more accessible. However, Congress was quick to shut down online gambling with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. However, on May 14, 2018, the sports betting prohibition era came to an end when the Supreme Court struck down PASPA, leaving it up to states to decide whether to allow residents to bet on sports. 

Over the next six months, seven states legalized and initiated their own sports betting industries. Then, in the first half of 2019, more than two dozen other states introduced new sports betting bills, some of which passed later that year. However, only 27 states allow some form of sports betting today. 

The Future of Sports Betting

Sports betting has clearly experienced a major transformation over the past 200 years. However, more changes are on the horizon as online wagering gains momentum and mobile betting becomes legal in more states. While physical sports books will probably always remain, technology will inevitably become more popular and overtake the industry. In the future, you’re sure to see more offshore sportsbooks, free-to-play games, esports betting, hobby gamification and similar online gambling options for sports and video game lovers, alike. 

With the UIGEA still in effect, it’s unclear how much sports betting will develop organically within the U.S. and how much will come from overseas markets. However, sports fans can rest assured that there will be ample opportunity to place bets and earn big money in the future. Online handicappers like Doc Sports have dramatically closed the knowledge gaps that used to exist in sports betting, so expect the playing field to get even more leveled as time goes on.

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