As long as people have competed, there has been gambling. In the earliest days of gladiators in coliseums, royals and peasants alike would place wagers on their favorite fighters in hopes of getting a good payout or even just bragging rights. Gambling on sports and athletic competitions has come a long way since then, although the basic principles are the same. However, modern gambling really came into its own when it became a pillar for organized crime in the early parts of the 20th century.
Then, gambling had to be done in person. If you wanted to bet on something, you had to find someone who would take that bet. Horse racing was immensely popular at the turn of the century, and there were tracks dotted all over the country. Bettors could make their way to a local race, choose their horses, and make bets on hopeful winners. However, as tracks became owned and operated by crime families, the authorities started to take notice, and gambling was soon treated as immoral and mostly illegal.
In the United States, professional sports were starting to build into the powerhouses we know them as today. However, gambling was mostly underground. College sports, major league baseball, and the NFL were all the subject of gamblers who placed their bets with illegal bookies. These deals were done in secret, and failure to pay off a bet could lead to physical harm.
In 1918, the distrust of the gambling industry hit an all-time high. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to fix the World Series. All 8 were banned from major league baseball for life, and new rules and laws surrounding gambling were put in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
While no players were caught throwing world series games again, there were scandals in the intervening years, such as Pete Rose betting on baseball in the 1980’s. Despite that scandal, sports gambling became more and more accepted over time, despite efforts from politicians and other community leaders to make it harder to do legally.
It was in the 1980’s when legal sports gambling venues in Las Vegas started to become prime sports betting destinations. They struck agreements with the NFL to broadcast games by satellite in their buildings so that bettors could watch as they wager on Sundays. As more games became televised, the interest in betting on sports grew. Bettors could now watch the games of teams they had interest in if they bought special television packages or visited a place that showed the games. However, for most of the country, betting legally was still virtually impossible without visiting Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or another legal gambling venue.
Information about the games was also limited. Most bettors used their morning newspaper to get data about injuries, weather, and other game factors. By the time the games were played, this information was outdated. Or, if a bettor wagered on a spread early in the week, the information they had about an injury may have changed by the time a game was played on the weekend. During the 90’s various publications started to have detailed betting information, but again, the information was often outdated by the time the publications went to print and were shipped out to stores.
The internet changed everything when it came to sports betting. Even in the earliest days, sports carved out a huge presence on the internet. Chat groups, message boards, and crude websites popped up advertising “secret” betting information. Experts appeared and gave casual players new viewpoints to consider when placing their bets. Sports gambling became more understood and more accessible to people all over the country.
As the new century started, sports betting became a massive industry. There was no limit to the amount of information available with a few clicks of a mouse. Major sports websites published lines and betting columns to capture the segment of the audience that wanted to play. Sports experts like Doc’s provided amazingly accurate picks to gambling-hungry fans all over the country.
On top of betting on games, the internet made fantasy sports easier than ever. Players could conduct drafts, do research, make trades, and track stats through online services. They no longer had to do all of that work themselves, which meant that millions of leagues popped up for baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and pretty much any other sport you can imagine. Nowadays, if it’s a sport, no matter how small, you can bet on it.
Gambling is currently a multi-billion dollar industry, and no longer requires trips to casinos and other gambling venues to play. Bettors can enjoy sports in their own homes while watching several games all at once. In fact, they can now bet on individual events happening in the game in real time, such as what pitch will be thrown next or what play a team will run. It has come a long way since the days of the gladiators, but sports gambling isn’t going anywhere, and will continue to evolve in the years to come.