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US Sport Betting History

Sport betting in the United States began in the 1700s. Today, with the advent hi-speed internet, betting on your favorite teams or players has never been easier!

Below is a retrospective of how sport betting started and evolved in the US.

As early as the 1700s, Americans have been betting on bare-knuckle brawls, cockfights and even crude horse races.

1800s - 1900s
Through the 19th and 20th centuries, horseracing continued its growth. After the Civil War, numerous horseracing tracks opened in the Eastern United States attracting bettors from all economic classes. Enterprising bookmakers started 'auction pools' which involved auctioning off bets for each horse in a race.

With the formation of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, known as the first professional Baseball team, Baseball started to get more popular and so did betting on the sport. Baseball 'pool cards' became a standard in urban areas in the East.

Man o' War, considered by many as among the greatest Thoroughbred racehorses of all time, won by six lengths in his debut race at Belmont Park. The exploits of Man o' War drove horseracing to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, the year's World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds was marred in controversy when several White Sox players conspired with gamblers to intentionally lose games.

As the roaring 20s began, College Football, College Basketball and Boxing gained popularity with bettors.

The Great Depression sets in. Pool cards became a favorite of many bettors in hopes of a big payday.

March 19, 1931, the Nevada state legislature votes to legalize gambling to lift the state out of the hard times of the Great Depression.

Leo Hirschfield, then a worker for a lighting fixture manufacturer in New York, buys Minneapolis-based Athletic Publications Inc. Hirschfield and his associates instituted daily odds-making - furnishing odds on baseball, football and basketball.

Meanwhile, Charles K. McNeil, a math teacher from New York, invents the point spread while gambling on the side. McNeil then opens his own bookmaking operation.

With the implementation of the point spread and the proliferation of television, sport betting's popularity grew exponentially during this era. More games were offered by bookies while bettors could actually watch the games they bet on at home or at their favorite bar.

US Congress imposes a 10% tax on all sport bets placed in the United States, effectively legalizing sport betting. The first legal sports books in Nevada were stand-alone shops which were independent from any of the large casinos. They were called 'turf clubs' and had names like the Del Mar, Churchill Downs and the Rose Bowl. Betting options were simply posted on chalkboards. Large casinos initially shun sports betting because of the tax.

Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos, popularly known as Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, rises to fame. Snyder was a popular American sports commentator and Las Vegas Bookmaker. He had a 12-year stint on The NFL Today, a CBS Sunday morning football show, where he often gave his picks for winners of games.

September 13, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signs the Interstate Wire Act. More popularly known as the Federal Wire Act, it prohibits the operation of certain types of betting businesses in the United States - particularly taking sports bets over the phone.

Congress lowers the 10% federal tax earlier imposed on sports bets to just 2%.

Frank Lawrence "Lefty" Rosenthal, then a Las Vegas casino executive, opens the Stardust Sports Book, first sports book operated from within a casino.

Meanwhile, John D. "Jackie" Gaughan, Sr., together with Sam Boyd and Howard Cannon, opens a sports book at the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino.

Late 1970s
Casino executives, realizing the potential of sports books, lead the rapid establishments of more sports books.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants, Inc. (LVSC), an odds and information service, emerges as a major force in the sports gambling world. Michael "Roxy" Roxborough, LVSC founder and owner, is credited for introducing mathematical formulas and computer models to odds making.

Roxborough, together with partner Benjamin Lee Eckstein, co-founded "America's Line," a daily newspaper sports odds column appearing in more than 120 North American newspapers.

The Las Vegas Hilton opens their 'SuperBook'. Meanwhile, Caesars Palace revamps their sports book.

The Mirage opens what was then considered the as most extravagant hotel - and sports book - in Las Vegas.

Online sport books were established in Antigua, Costa Rica, Ireland and even the United Kingdom.

Estimates indicate that online sports books take in nearly $70 billion a year in bets.

The American Gaming Association says that $2.88 billion was legally wagered in Nevada's sports books; the National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimated that illegal wagers were as much as $380 billion annually.

According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, around $93.9 million was wagered on Super Bowl XLVI at sports books across the state. However, $88.8 million were returned to bettors in the form of winnings. After paying out bettors, Nevada sports books reportedly earned $5.1 million on 2012's game.


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