History of Sports Betting in the USA

Sports betting is now legal in select states

Gambling has always been a controversial topic in American history. Strongly supported by some, but strongly opposed by just as many others, the subject of betting, and betting on sports in particular, has always divided opinion.


The history of betting on sports in the USA is one filled with scandal, legislation, and criminal activity, which has given it a reputation which is perhaps not necessarily deserved in the modern United States.


Ever since sports like horse racing were brought over to America from English settlers, betting on sports has been a part of America’s culture. However, with sports betting came laws and legislation, and for the most part, betting on sports has been illegal in the majority of states ever since. With each law, though, the bookmakers and punters have found a way to proceed and keep betting on their favorite sports, whether legally or otherwise, with the excitement that it brought to a sporting occasion making it popular with many Americans throughout history and to this day.


First came pari-mutuel betting. With bookmakers essentially illegal, this form of betting, where the bettors’ money is put into a pool and then split between the winners, got around this legislation and allowed punters to have a friendly wager with one another when visiting horse racing tracks.


Sports betting continued throughout the 20th century, but with it came scandal, especially when it came to the larger organized sports in the country. The lack of organization and regulation surrounding the bookmakers themselves made match fixing a huge problem, most notably with eight of the Chicago White Sox’s supposed efforts to fix the World Series in 1919. As well as this most famous of scandals, there were several other examples of players being accused of “point shaving” in order to prevent their team from beating the “spread,” but still allowing their team to win - further promoting gambling as an evil endeavor which tarnished professional sports.


These scandals led to more strict laws being passed to stop betting on sports, and while Nevada legalized sports betting in 1949, it remained illegal in the vast majority of other states for most of the 20th century.


Betting still carried on, though, whether legal or not, and the legislation only served to drive sports betting underground and fund organized crime. Stricter and stricter regulations followed, but still, gambling remained a pastime for those who were determined enough to carry on with their betting endeavors.


Sports betting took possibly its biggest blow in 1992 with the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) - a federal bill which prevented states from legalizing sports betting. States like Nevada who already had established sports betting industries were grandfathered from the bill, but others had the matter taken out of their hands for the indefinite future. States like Delaware still had legal sports betting, but only in the form of parlay bets on the NFL, meaning that any bet had to consist of at least three separate bets on different matches, with one incorrect selection resulting in a loss of the bet.


Since PASPA was introduced, there have been efforts to defy it, most notably by Delaware and New Jersey.


Delaware attempted to allow wagers on single games, rather than just parlays, but this move was blocked. New Jersey has had a long battle with the Supreme Court in their attempts to get sports betting legalized in their state - particularly Atlantic City - and in 2018 their determination finally paid off. PASPA has been overturned and states themselves now have control over whether to allow sports betting.


Current Legislation

With the reversal of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, individual states now have control over whether to legalize gambling or not. It doesn’t mean that gambling has become legal again across the USA, but it does pave the way for many states to start legalizing sports betting, whether in part or in full.


Legalization of sports betting isn’t an overnight job, either, and one of the main positive arguments for the legalization sports betting is the introduction of the regulations surrounding it, which should prevent the fixing which accompanies illegal gambling. Several states have begun work on producing these regulations in order to allow sports betting on a wide scale.


States which were strongly in favor of the reversal of PASPA have been among the first to allow sports betting, with New Jersey, West Virginia, and Mississippi among those leading the way in allowing sports betting.


Sports betting in America has never been black and white, though, so there are significant differences in the legislation between each state, and where and how you are allowed to bet if at all.


The legislation is likely to change with great regularity, state by state, over the coming few years as the different states react to the historic supreme court ruling.


How to Bet Legally (and Where)

Betting on sports is still illegal in the majority of states.


Pari-mutuel betting, where there is no bookmaker, and people are essentially placing wagers against each other, has been legal in the majority of states for most of history and continues to be so regardless of the Supreme Court ruling.


For those who enjoy the traditional betting ritual of visiting a racetrack and betting on horses, there are also a number of options, with betting on site at a racetrack legal in around a half of the states in the USA.


In terms of overall sports betting, though, the options are still fairly limited as we speak, with the legislation taking time to come into action.


It’s been legal to bet on sports in casinos in Las Vegas for decades, but you can now do the same in several others states including New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, among others.


Betting on sports online is a trickier matter, though, as it is much easier to legislate for gambling in a physically finite space like a casino compared to the online universe. Even so, a few states have already made steps to allow this to happen, using the framework used in Europe, where online sports betting has been legal for some time. You can legally bet online in Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania at the moment.


As and when your state legalizes betting on sports online, make sure to use Top 10 Betting Sites US as your best source for the emerging sports betting sites as and when they arrive.


About the Author

Dan Bradley

Ever since he was 6 years old and made the fatal mistake of asking his Dad, "What's that on the TV?", Dan has been engrossed by football, and many other sports have since had a similar impact on him. Dan has been blogging and writing about sport for the last few years, usually looking at things from the perspective of a bettor, but most of all as a true sports fanatic. From golf to ten pin bowling: You name it, Dan’ll have an opinion on it.

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