Betting on the action has been a part of how we enjoy sports for as long as sports have been played. In some eras, sports betting has been an open activity, and at other times, it’s had to go underground. No matter what, there have always been big wins and bigger losses, scandals and dramas, and tons of excitement and enjoyment.
In this article, we’ll take a brief walk through the recent history of sports betting in the United States to see how it became so popular today.
Horse racing is a sport where betting is so ingrained that it’s almost impossible to imagine a trip to the races without placing a bet or two. It’s such an important part of the sport that it features in most films about horse racing, too. From the musical My Fair Lady (1964) and the Marx Brother’s farce A Day at the Races (1937), to the more serious biographical films Shergar (1999), Seabiscuit (2003), and Secretariat (2010).
No matter what the legal status is of most sports betting, betting on horse racing has remained legal across almost the entire country. Horse racing has been happening in the United States since the earliest days of the country, and by the 1890s, there were more than 300 tracks in operation. While the number of tracks in operation has dropped over the last century, there are still plenty of tracks for race fans to attend.
Flat racing is the most famous type of racing, followed by endurance racing. The three most famous races in the country form the Triple Crown. These three races are the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Winning the Triple Crown is seen as one of the major achievements for a racehorse and a sign of equine greatness. Betting on the Triple Crown is always an exciting affair.
The PASPA years
In 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was passed by the US Congress. PASPA made all forms of sports betting illegal across the United States. PASPA was the end result of several high-profile betting scandals in the 1980s and 1990s and major concerns that betting would ruin sports in the United States.
Pete Rose was one of the MLB’s great players and was then a beloved coach until 1989 when it was discovered that he was involved in illegally betting on MLB games. Multiple NCAA basketball teams were caught up in point shaving scandals in those years, including Tulane, Northwestern, and Arizona State University. Having so many high-profile betting scandals, especially those involving young athletes, at the same time startled the country and made people very nervous about the effects of betting.
The only exceptions to PASPA were the sports lotteries in Montana, Oregon, and Delaware, the sportsbooks in Nevada, and bookmakers at racetracks. Fantasy sports emerged during this period in response to the betting bans.
Fantasy sports were a way for people to enjoy sports betting without breaking any laws. The popularity of fantasy NFL is a huge part of why football is the most widely bet-on sport in the United States. Fantasy sports betting is also how some of the country’s most successful sportsbooks got their start.
The new era of sports betting
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was unconstitutional. This returned the right to legislate sports betting to the states. The Governor of New Jersey had brought the challenge to the Supreme Court and had been hopeful about the outcome, so the state already had new sports betting legislation ready and waiting to be signed. They were the first state to legalize sports betting in this new era.
The sports betting bonuses in New Jersey are ahead of the curve, too! Welcome bonuses have become a central draw for many online sportsbooks and allow them to attract new customers in a new market where people haven’t had the time to build up any brand loyalty yet. These bonuses include things like free bets, deposit matching, and no-risk betting.
Since 2019, most states have followed New Jersey’s lead and legalized sports betting, either retail, online, or a combination of both. There are now 30 states where legal sports betting is active and other states are currently in the middle of the process of legalizing it. North Carolina, for example, has passed the necessary legislation but sports betting won’t go live until 2024.
The defining feature of this era of sports betting in the United States is online sportsbooks. Online sportsbooks have changed everything. They have made betting on sports easier and more convenient. Since most online sportsbooks also have guides and news sections, it’s also easier for new bettors to get started.
Final thoughts Sports betting has always been popular in the United States, even during the periods of time where it was illegal in most of the country! The biggest change we’re seeing now isn’t necessarily that it’s more popular, it’s that sports betting is now more accessible than ever thanks to the introduction of online sportsbooks.