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Sports betting is one of the most popular gambling activities in the world. Learn about the history of sports betting here.

The History of Sports Betting

Betting on sports has been a time honored tradition for almost as long as sport itself has been around, to the point where in today’s society, they’re almost thought of as synonymous.

This is not true, of course, as you can obviously enjoy sport without the need to wager on the outcome, but the majority of sports enthusiasts would argue that sports betting is a great way to make whatever game you are watching more enjoyable and definitely more exciting.

So, let’s take a deeper look into the history of sports betting and how it all came about. 

From Individual Games to Individual Sports as an Industry 

In the beginning, certain sports were not as well established in their own rights but were considered a part of events or games put on by the people. For example, one of the earliest instances we can point to are the Olympic Games which were invented by the Greeks.

Even back then, spectators would sometimes wager a bet between themselves and over time, people began to take advantage of that and created “bookies” or bookkeepers who would keep track of all of the bets made as well as the payouts needed for each outcome. 

Over time, there were fewer special events and organized games as sport became more easily defined and grew to be big enough that they could host their own events. It was only in the 19th century that betting on certain sporting events became an actual sport in itself.

Early Bookmakers and Gambling Practices

We have already mentioned that bets were occasionally organized and kept track of by one person who was usually then called the bookmaker or bookkeeper. This became a more established practice in the United Kingdom during the 16th and 17th centuries, however, it was typically reserved for the upper classes such as the aristocracy and the landed gentry. At one time, only the horse owners could bet on these private races.

As the popularity of the horse races grew, so did the interest of the public and it was not long before huge crowds would gather and cheer on the horses until a winner was declared. Over time, in what appeared to be a natural progression, innkeepers and pub owners became the natural bookkeepers of these types of races as they often promoted races occurring nearby. 

It is worth noting that, at this point, sports betting was not regulated and was based on a credit system which led to a number of issues, especially considering the alcohol involved. 

Recent Developments in Sports Betting 

Despite being able to trace it all the way back as far as we can and have done, there have still been plenty of developments in sports betting that have only happened more recently. 

It was only in the fifties, for example, that Las Vegas legalized sports betting in their physical casinos. Even then, you were still limited to placing your bets in casinos you could physically get to, meaning lady luck was not on your side if you lived too far away from the Vegas strip. 

In-play betting first appeared near the end of the 1990s. It started out as bookmakers taking bets over the telephone during major sporting events and it widened the pool of bets that were available for punters to make, although this varied between bookmaker to bookmaker. 

What Are The Odds?

Odds themselves have not existed for as long as sports betting has, as up until the Victorian era, wagers were placed without any odds as bets were usually a gentleman’s agreement between two men. Unfortunately this meant that there was great difficulty in seeking justice if the person you made the agreement with decided to turn tail and run off with your stake. 

Instead of odds, older bets were essentially taken at “events” which were… less “even”, to say the least. They were not as bad if you were placing a bet against two teams or athletes who actually evenly matched, but this was more of a rarity than a common standard. 

It was not until bookmakers were introduced that actual odds came into play. Bookmakers, as we have already discussed, organized a “book” that catered to several different scenarios that, if correctly balanced, would guarantee a profit for the bookmaker at the end of it. Today, odds are given as a decimal or a fractional value, depending on where you live in the world. In the UK, fractional odds are given, whereas here in the US, we see decimal odds. 

Online Betting

The most recent development in the history of sports betting that has changed the industry forever is online sports betting. Instead of having to go to a physical bookmaker or placing your bets over the telephone, you can now put your money on sporting events online. 

This has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for sports betting as there are more bookmakers than ever before and it is now available to a much larger audience. As a result of having such a wider reach, sports betting has never been more profitable than it is today. 

There are even a wide selection of downloadable apps that you can install on your smartphone which means you can even gamble when you are on the go or when traveling. 

The Future of Sports Betting 

There is no reason to believe that sports betting will ever cease to happen seeing as it has been happening for practically as long as sport itself, so its future is probably safe.

With huge leagues like the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and The National Basketball Association, as well as plenty of upcoming and continually growing new sports, there is always going to be sports for people to watch and wager their money on. 

Final Thoughts

We hope that you have enjoyed learning about the history of sports betting. If you’re thinking about betting on sports today, just remember to research the odds, first! 

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