The Evolution Of Sports Betting

It is no secret that sport is very beloved in the US, betting in the local booking office, or betting on online sites such as FanDuel sportsbook, people love to place bets on their favorite sports. 

Be the sport pro or college level, everyone has a team they root for and a sport that holds their heart. Sports popularity has risen a lot in recent decades, and in its two sports betting has as well.

But, things were not always as they are, and sports betting has not always been widely accepted, in fact, in the US, sports betting was illegal for a while! Let’s learn more! 


Legal Sports Gambling Evolution


In the early 19th century, sports betting had a primary focus on horse racing. Spreads were not a thing back then, and it was required that if you wanted to place a bet legally, you would need to take a trip to a Vegas casino. 


However, in years since, sports betting has broadened to other sports, including baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, MMA, football, and so many others. 

As the legalization of sports happened, states slowly started to become more interested in this money-focused industry, which would ultimately pair up with their local statewide casinos to help the state-owned books.

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The impact of legalization in sports betting has been so colossal that the amount of money that is wagered typically doubles every year. In 2021 it was an incredible $52.7 billion! 

All of this money now is legal and registered. However, there are still plenty who involve themselves in illegal sports betting, so this means that the number wagered is probably a great deal higher. 

Thinking of how much money is involved, the biggest question surrounding sports betting brisk evolution is what parts of the sporting world are currently being affected by this. 


Sports Betting In The USA Pre-20th Century


Back in the early 19th century, betting on horses was the primary form of sports betting. However, the horse race betting we know today is very different from one version that existed before. 

But, it was the development of pro basketball in 1876 that brought traditional sports betting into the mainstream. With the founding of the National League in February 1876, as well as the American League in 1901, sports betting grew. 


However, by 1877, the game became influenced by gambling, later on, it turned out that the Louisville Grays were throwing games! 

At this time, the attitude towards sports betting became more lax than at any other point in history, activity in betting was treated as a form of entertainment. 


Baseball pool cards, similar to parlay cards in sportsbooks today, became a thing, and betting, though a form of gambling was treated like a normal, daily activity, a mainstream part of life. 

There was even an article in the Washington Post in 1894 that mentioned the manager of the Chicago Colts had been making wagers on his team for the following year. 

This alone shows how acceptable sports betting was at this time, now, a manager would never be able to place a bet on his team. 25 years after this article was published, the first-ever major sports betting scandal happened which led to the story that followed.


Sports Betting In the USA In the 20th Century


By the turn of the century, sports betting became even more popular, however, a scandal around the Chicago Black Sox brought unfettered professional participation to a standstill, sullying the pastime of sports betting in the eyes of many.

8 of the players on the White Sox team were bribed into throwing the World Series, throwing off the latest sports betting odds at the time, and casting an air of darkness over sports betting. 


Of course, sports betting still grew, and the 1920s were something of a Golden Era for sports betting, with basketball and college-level football becoming very popular options in sports betting. 

However, as prevalent as it was in these times, it is key to realize that up until this point, sports betting was not legal. But, there were no sports betting laws, and with no real attention from law enforcement, it was very common. 

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However, in 1931 Nevada legalized gambling, but many states were much more indecisive on the topic. Various New York crime families ended up filling the vacuum, offering wagering systems and numbers games. 

The mob’s participation led to the Interstate Wire Act in 1961, which forced sports betting to become a local thing where it had become an underground activity. 

Sports betting was not major until the 70s, as it was at this time that Congress decided to lower the sports betting tax from 10%. As time went on more and more states slowly started legalizing sports betting. 

Of all of the moments in the history of US sports betting, the passage of PASPA has to be the same, limiting public betting access until 2018. 



Sports betting has grown and adapted over the years to become what it is today. As much as it has been a rollercoaster, it had to be to end up as popular and involved as it is today. 

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