From what we know about the sporting activities of ancient civilizations, we are fairly certain that sports betting dates back thousands of years. Competition itself is a part of human nature, and betting is merely an extension of that competitiveness. And in today’s live casinos, sports betting has been taken to a much higher level than our ancestors could have ever imagined.
Horse racing was one of the first sports to facilitate betting in the United States. Soon after the end of the Civil War, horse racing exploded in popularity across the country. Professional baseball (National League) was developed in 1876, and as it rose in popularity, so did betting on games. This is when neighborhood bookies started popping up all over the country, taking bets from anyone willing to wager.
The integration of sports betting into live casinos would seem to be the natural next step, but that wasn’t the case in the early days of casino gambling. For the longest time, sports betting and casino gambling were kept completely separate from one another.
Las Vegas Casino Sports Betting
In 1931, the State of Nevada legalized gambling which began a new period in American gaming history. Although illegal casinos (then called speakeasies) had been around for some time already, the first legal US casino was the Pair-o-Dice Club in Las Vegas. Although sports betting and casino games seem like a natural fit, it would be more than 40 years before the two came together.
Live sportsbooks didn’t come to Las Vegas until the 1950′s. Called ‘turf clubs’ at the time, they were run independently from casinos. In fact, turf clubs and casinos had an informal agreement to stay out of each others business. In 1974 the 10% tax rate imposed on turf clubs was lowered to 2%. This made it more desirable for casinos to have their own sportsbooks, and in 1975 the manager of the Stardust Casino & Hotel (Frank Rosenthal) convinced local legislators to allow the casinos to open their own sportsbooks.
Soon after, all the major Las Vegas casinos added their own sportsbooks and the death of the turf clubs was inevitable. There are currently over 150 licensed sportsbooks in the United States. And of course, there is a huge market for illegal sports betting in the US as well. The total handle for under-the-table sports betting is anyone’s guess.
Casino Sports Betting in the US Today
Nevada and Montana are currently the only states that have legalized sports betting. Under federal law, Delaware and Oregon are the only other US states with the option to legalize sports betting, but neither have done so.
Many lawmakers in New Jersey have been lobbying for the legalization of sports betting in Atlantic City. In the current economic state, Atlantic City casinos have been hurt badly, creating the call for legalization. As is the case all too often, the political system has been slow to respond to changing circumstances.
Although it is considered quasi-illegal in the US, online sports betting is quickly becoming the largest venue for sports betting today. The legality of online sports betting goes way beyond the scope of this article (I could write a small book about it), but the short of it is that the laws can be interpreted multiple ways and there is little enforcement on an individual level. The total handle of online sports betting is estimated to be in the billions of dollars, but nobody knows for sure.
In all likelihood, we will always have some form of sports betting in the US and around the world. The legality of sports gambling may change, but people will always want to bet on sports. As we have learned time and again, prohibitions do not work and only rarely do they provide any tangible benefit. For as long as there are people on this planet, there will also be sports betting.