History of Sports Betting

The history of sports betting has spanned across centuries. As soon as competitive sports entered the public arena there has been interest in betting on the outcome to make a profit. What started out as placing bets on bare knuckled brawls and cock fights have extended to include all professional, college level and amateur sporting events. The way people make bets has also altered. Early sports wagering involved bookies and event commissioners setting the odds and collecting bets at the site of the competition. Now linemakers make the odds and bets can be placed from the comfort of your home.

Early Gambling

As far back as ancient civilization, there has been evidence of sports betting taking place. Chinese societies as far back as 1000 BC were said to hold events where attendants would bet on different animals involved in a race. In England, early gambling practices were based around placing bets on events such as cock fights and bare knuckle fighting. It was especially popular during the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras. The gambling was not regulated and typically run by event organizers. Interested parties chose the winner of each contest with the winnings split among those who had selected the correct competitor.

Horse Racing

Horse racing took off in the eighteenth century. Large crowds of people would gather to watch fillies compete for the top prize. It was introduced during the reign of Queen Anne and involved the gathering of large crowds around England to watch the best horses of the country compete for hefty purses. One of the types of systems used to bet on horse races was to auction off wagers on each individual horse. Betting on American racetracks took off in the late nineteenth century. Under the wagering system developed by the Frenchman Pierre Oller, betting at horse tracks uses a system where a certain percentage of each wager is deducted to cover operating expenses. The odds on each horse determine the return on your bet. For instance, a horse that wins with 3 to 1 odds will payout $3 for every $1 wagered.

Modern Sports Betting

When sports became professional, the frequency of bookies and betting pools began to rise. In many areas, pool cards would be passed around where bettors would choose the winners for a particular match-up. The creators of the pools would set the odds and typically the odds were skewed to ensure the wagers remained in the favor of the house. During the height of popularity for American baseball, individuals could place bets on pool cards for as little as 10 cents and they were paid out the same as modern parlay bets. During the 1920s, pool cards were also used to bet on boxing matches and football games. For the football pool cards, top prizes were offered to bettors who chose the correct combination of teams to win the games. TV also changed modern sports betting since gamblers could place a bet with a bookie and watch the match at home. Bookies were individuals who accepted bets and presented gamblers with their own created set of odds. The bookies collected payments and payouts based on the outcome of the sporting events. Since bookies worked on their own, they ensured odds were in their favor. Unsavory bookies were also known to employ any means necessary to collect unpaid bets.

Casino Sports Betting

Wagering in a casino was not introduced until the 1950s. Most betting on sports was done at turf clubs run separately from the casinos. The clubs agreed to not offer casino games as long as the casinos did not offer sports betting. Turf clubs initially did not gain popularity due to a weighty tax rate of 10 percent. Years later, more businesses began to offer sports betting once the rate was decreased to two percent. Early turf clubs include the Churchill Downs, Rose Bowl and Del Mar. After casinos began offering sports books in the 1970s, the turf clubs began shutting down. Instead, the sports betting could be done at casinos such as Union Plaza Hotel and Casino and Stardust located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Online Sports Betting

The newest addition to the world of sports betting is the option of placing wagers through an online gaming website. This allowed for gamblers to no longer require the use of a bookie or the need to travel to a casino or horse racing track. Sports betting online is not regulated as heavily as betting done in casinos and racing tracks. Laws can be interpreted in several different ways which removes many of the restrictions of placing a live bet. Sports betting over the Internet were first introduced in the 1990s and began in offshore countries such as Costa Rica and Antigua. It has been estimated that the online sports betting industry earns a staggering $63 billion annually. Online gamblers choose the winners and payouts are based on fixed odds and point spreads. Popular sporting events featured on online gaming websites include baseball, soccer, rugby, football, basketball and boxing.


Although most sports betting experiences can be positive, there has been a history of scandals in the industry. One example would be the World Series of 1919 when eight members of the Black Sox baseball team were charged with fixing the game. They were found guilty and banned from the league for life. In the 1970s, Rick Kuhn, one of the top basketball stars of Boston College began a fiscal relationship with members of the New York City mob. Him and other team members participated in point shaving practices and were responsible for fixing the outcome of nine college basketball games.


Having the ability to bet on sports online has changed the industry forever. No making bets you can’t pay and having the fear of a bookie coming to break your kneecaps. Online sports betting allow individuals to make secure bets while accessing the most up to date odds. Although scandals are likely to occur again in the future, the regulation of gambling keeps corruption levels to a minimum whether you place a bet in person or through a secured online gambling website.

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