A Brief History of Sports Betting in the US

A Brief History of Sports Betting in the US

With 2018’s new legislation permitting each US state to define its sports betting laws, every one of the 50 states is now free to control their gambling futures. It has taken a very long time to get to this point, though. As the 21st century shapes up to become an exciting and important time in the US’s gambling history, here’s a brief overview of sports betting in the country.

The 18th and 19th Centuries

In the USA, the first recorded sports betting dates back to the 18th century, when it was integral to funding the American Revolutionary War. All of the 13 colonies that existed at the time established lotteries to help pay for the war.

Lotteries continued to be popular into the 19th century, but other forms of gambling also became popular in the 1800s. Horse racing started to become a big thing, although it was far from being the organised type of events seen today. In 1867, thoroughbreds ran the Belmont Stakes for the first time, followed by the first Preakness Stakes in 1873 and Kentucky Derby in 1875.

Casino games also began to become popular in the 19th century, although they didn’t consist of the types of slots games and jackpot games that you can play today. But after taverns and roadhouses started allowing card and dice games, it wasn’t long before lavish casinos began to appear throughout the US.

The 20th Century

In the early 20th century, the first case of alleged sports betting corruption on a national scale occurred. With the famous Black Sox Scandal of 1919, it was alleged that several Chicago White Sox players had been paid $10,000 each to fix the championship so the Cincinnati Reds would win. Public opinion regarding sports betting soon turned after that event, which resulted in the US government banning sports betting in most states.

In the 1940s and 1950s, official sports gambling began to become popular once again. That was mainly due to the state of Nevada legalising sports betting in 1949. Most forms of gambling had been legalised in the state 15 years previously. But the post-World War II boom allowed Nevada to capitalise on a market that was illegal elsewhere in the US. Las Vegas soon became the gambling capital of the country, mainly thanks to the infamous gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel financing the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, and other properties in Vegas.

In the 1950s, tax-evading organised crime syndicates were engulfing sports betting throughout the US. That prompted the introduction of 1961’s Federal Wire Act. Basically, this act banned organised crime groups from taking or placing bets via a wire, prohibited people from helping someone to place a sports bet in that way, and forbade anyone from taking a sports wager over the wire. Break the law, and perpetrators would be fined $10,000 or a two-year prison sentence, or both.

By 1976, the Commission on the Review of the National Policy Toward Gambling accepted that it was impossible to stop all illegal sports betting rackets outright. Laws soon changed in several states. So, in the late 1970s, states like Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon were permitted to implement their own sports gambling laws. But in 1992, Congress came down hard on sports betting once again. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act brought in new legislation and prevented some states from regulating themselves.

The 21st Century

As the internet took off in the 21st century, Americans had the opportunity to gamble online, which confused the US’s sports betting laws even more. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 served as a tag-on to the 1961 Wire Act.

Things changed in several states in the first decade of the 2000s. Land-based casinos had grown significantly in states like Maryland and Pennsylvania. And in 2009, Delaware voted in favour of allowing sports betting.

Finally, in 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on sports betting in the US, allowing all states to make sports gambling legal. At present, 11 states have now legalised sports betting, and other states are pending launch dates.


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