Few things capture our collective passions as much as sports. And wherever sports are happening, you’re sure to find someone making a bet on the outcome.
Sports betting is absolutely ubiquitous. From professional football to boxing and even to curling, we are constantly looking to make a profit from our enjoyment of sports.
But where did this all start? In this article, we’ll be looking at the history of sports betting and how it grew to the monster industry it is today!
Ancient History of Sports Betting
Gambling has been a part of human civilization almost as long as there has been civilization. Archeologists have found ancient dice dating back as far as 6000 BC.
These ancient dice were probably used more for divination than gambling, but betting came shortly after. There is compelling evidence that the Greeks cast bets on the Olympic games around 2000B C.
When the Roman Empire overtook the Greeks, the custom of gambling came with them.
It was customary for every spectator in the Colosseum to place a wager on the contests. If you weren’t gambling, you weren’t participating.
Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, sports betting endured as a popular past time.
Not everyone is a fan of gambling, though. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church opposed all forms of gambling. The religious leaders considered it to be a form of fortune-telling and passed laws restricting it.
Despite this prohibition, gambling continued to flourish. Underground betting rings formed around different contests. However, since it carried a heavy penalty, it didn’t find mainstream popularity.
In the Elizabethan Era, horse racing took root in England. Race tracks were built in large cities, attracting huge crowds—and huge bets. Betting was just as synonymous with horse races then as it is now.
As Brits made their way to the American Colonies, they brought their fascination with horse races with them. The first race track in America was built on Long Island in 1665. Betting immediately followed, despite protests from the Puritans.
Gambling continued to flourish in the States. Where there was a race track or boxing ring, there was a betting room.
Mob Ties and Backlash
While gambling remained mostly legal through the 1800s and early 1900s, it was particularly popular with one group: the Mob. As organized crime grew during Prohibition, so did gambling.
But some in the mob weren’t satisfied to rely on chance. They took to intimidating athletes to throw games to ensure their bets.
The biggest scandal was the so-called Black Sox scandal. During the 1919 World Series, the Chicago White Sox revealed to the press that they received threats against their families if they didn’t throw the series.
In response, many states started banning gambling entirely and public attitudes toward gambling soured.
Even with legal prohibitions, gambling couldn’t be kept down. Nevada lifted the ban on sports betting in 1949, making Las Vegas a must-visit destination.
Since then, legislators have struggled to regulate gambling, passing a number of laws from all-out bans to taxes to time-and-place restrictions. But as the internet grew in popularity, online gambling proved difficult to restrict.
Currently, attitudes are starting to soften again, with many states passing bills to legalize sports betting.
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