History of Sports Betting: Understanding When it Became Legal

Sports betting has been an activity enjoyed by many individuals around the world for centuries. However, for a long time, it was largely an illicit activity, with many governments criminalizing the practice in order to maintain state control. In recent times, however, there has been a gradual shift towards legalization, as governing bodies recognize that regulation can help to mitigate the negative aspects of sports betting while providing an economic stimulus through taxation.

Despite its illegality, sports betting has always been a popular activity, with many underground bookmakers catering to individuals seeking to make a quick buck. For a long time, however, sports betting was only tolerated in some countries, as authorities sought to crack down on the practice due to the adverse social and economic effects it could cause. This led to many individuals being prosecuted for participating in sports betting, and many more being deterred from doing so for fear of legal repercussions.

However, as public attitudes towards sports betting began to change, politicians and policymakers alike began to reconsider the legality of the practice. In many countries, this led to the introduction of new laws and regulations aimed at legalizing and regulating sports betting, in the hopes that this would provide a safer and more transparent environment for all involved. This timeline looks at some of the key moments in the history of sports betting, from its earliest days to its current status.

Timeline of Legal Sports Betting


In May 2018, the US Supreme Court struck down a federal law that had banned sports betting outside of Nevada, paving the way for legal sports betting to be introduced throughout the country LeoVegas.


In 2019, seven states (Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Tennessee) legalized sports betting, bringing the total number of states with legal sports betting to 20.


In 2020, sports betting continued to expand across the US. Five more states (Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, and Virginia) legalized sports betting, bringing the total number of states to 25.

Also in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic caused a major disruption to the sports betting industry, with many sports leagues suspending or canceling their seasons, leading to a significant drop in sports betting revenue.


In 2021, the sports betting industry continues to grow, with more states considering legalizing sports betting and existing states expanding their offerings. Massachusetts, Ohio, and Florida are among the states currently considering sports betting legislation.

In addition, several major sports leagues, including the NFL, NBA, and MLB, have entered into partnerships with sports betting companies, signaling a major shift in their stance on sports betting.

Early Sports Betting

Sports betting has been around for centuries, with evidence of people placing bets on various events even in ancient times. In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans were known to place wagers on athletic competitions and chariot races.

As civilization evolved, so did sports betting. By the 19th century, horse racing became very popular in the United States, and betting on horse races became common. This led to the creation of bookmakers who would accept bets on different sporting events.

However, early sports betting was often associated with criminal activities, such as illegal bookmaking and match-fixing. This led to the enactment of laws that made sports betting illegal in many parts of the world.

Despite the illegality, people continued to place bets on sports events, but it was done clandestinely. This continued for many years until certain countries started to re-think their approach to sports betting and began to regulate it. This led to the emergence of licensed bookmakers and legal sports betting.

The 20th Century

In the early 1900s, sports betting was illegal in the United States due to the Progressive Era's reforms that aimed to purify American society. However, illegal bookmakers continued to operate in urban areas, and organized crime syndicates also began to take notice of the lucrative industry.

In the 1920s, Prohibition led to a rise in illegal sports betting, and many bookmakers partnered with bootleggers to expand their operations. The illegal nature of the industry made it difficult to regulate, and corruption was rampant.

The 1930s brought about the Great Depression, and many states turned to legalizing gambling as a way to generate revenue. In 1931, Nevada legalized sports betting, and in the decades that followed, other states followed suit.

The 1960s saw the rise of televised sports, which increased the popularity of sports betting even further. At the same time, the federal government began to take a stronger stance against illegal gambling, and the Wire Act was passed in 1961 to prohibit betting over the phone.

In the 1980s, Native American tribes gained the legal right to offer gambling on their sovereign land, and many states began to introduce state lotteries. Sports betting, however, remained illegal outside of Nevada and a few other states.

Nevada Takes the Lead

In 1931, Nevada became the first state to legalize sports betting, paving the way for the modern sports betting industry. At the time, the state was suffering from a severe economic depression, and the government was looking for ways to raise revenues. Legalizing gambling, including sports betting, was seen as a potential solution.

The first sportsbook in Nevada was established in 1949, at the Las Vegas Hilton. Over the next few decades, more casinos followed suit, offering sports betting alongside traditional casino games.

Nevada remained the only state where sports betting was legal for many years. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that had prohibited states from legalizing sports betting, paving the way for other states to follow Nevada's lead. Today, over 20 states have legalized sports betting, and many more are considering it.

Despite the competition from other states, Nevada remains the center of the sports betting industry, with a thriving market and a reputation for expertise and innovation. The state's experience in regulating and overseeing sports betting has also been a valuable resource for other states as they develop their own regulations and policies.

Atlantic City Joins In

In 1976, New Jersey voters approved a referendum that allowed for the establishment of casinos in Atlantic City. This marked a turning point in the gambling industry, as it was the first time outside of Nevada that casino-style gambling was legalized in the United States.

With the establishment of the casinos came the legalization of sports betting in Atlantic City. However, the practice was short-lived; in 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prohibited sports betting in all but four states.

Despite the setback, Atlantic City continued to thrive as a gambling destination, with revenues reaching $5.2 billion in 2006. However, the city's fortunes began to decline with the rise of neighboring states' gambling industries and the financial crisis of 2008.

In 2012, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a law allowing sports betting at the state's casinos and racetracks, setting off a legal battle with the professional sports leagues. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which struck down PASPA in 2018, effectively legalizing sports betting throughout the country.

Tribal Gaming and Sports Betting

In the United States, Native American tribes are recognized as sovereign nations and have the right to operate casinos on their reservations. This right was granted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which was passed by Congress in 1988. Initially, the Act allowed only for bingo and other games of chance to be played on tribal lands, but in the decades since, many tribes have expanded their operations to include slot machines, table games, and even sports betting.

Some tribes have been early adopters of sports betting, particularly those located in states where sports betting has been legalized. For example, the Oneida Nation in New York opened its first sportsbook in 2019, just months after the state allowed sports betting. Meanwhile, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians opened sportsbooks at two of its casinos in 2018, following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal ban on sports betting.

Other tribes have faced legal challenges when attempting to launch sports betting operations. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma made headlines in 2018 when they launched an online sports betting platform called PokerTribes.com. However, the site was shut down just a few months later after state officials argued that the tribe did not have the right to offer online gambling to customers outside of Oklahoma.

Overall, tribal gaming and sports betting have become a crucial source of revenue for many Native American communities. However, as the industry continues to evolve and new legal challenges arise, it remains to be seen how these communities will navigate the complex landscape of sports betting regulation and competition.

The PASPA Era Begins

The Birth of PASPA

In 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was introduced and quickly passed into law by the United States Congress. This legislation effectively outlawed sports betting in all states except for Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana, which were grandfathered in due to previously legalized sports betting activities.

The Impact of PASPA

PASPA had a far-reaching impact on the sports betting industry, effectively locking out most Americans from legally placing wagers on their favorite sports teams. This led to the rise of illegal sports betting operations, which thrived in the absence of legal alternatives. The legislation also presented an obstacle to the growth of the sports betting industry by limiting the ability of states to develop regulated sports betting markets.

Legal Challenges to PASPA

Over the years, there were multiple attempts to challenge PASPA in court. In 2011, the state of New Jersey passed a law legalizing sports betting within its borders, but the measure was struck down in federal court due to PASPA. New Jersey continued to battle against PASPA, with the state's governor Chris Christie leading the charge. In 2017, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of PASPA.

The End of PASPA

On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court made a historic decision when it declared PASPA unconstitutional, paving the way for states to legalize sports betting. The ruling sparked a flurry of legislative activity, as states rushed to enact laws regulating sports betting within their borders. Today, the majority of states in the US have legalized sports betting either fully or partially, bringing an end to the PASPA era.

New Jersey Challenges PASPA

In 2011, the New Jersey Legislature passed a referendum allowing sports betting at any licensed casino or racetrack in the state. However, the law was challenged by several major sports leagues, including the NFL and the NCAA, as well as the Department of Justice.

In 2012, the state passed a new law that attempted to get around the federal ban by removing state regulation of sports betting and leaving it up to the individual casinos and racetracks. However, this law was also quickly challenged and struck down by the federal courts.

Undeterred, New Jersey continued to fight for the legalization of sports betting. In 2014, Governor Chris Christie signed a new law that partially repealed the state's ban on sports betting, allowing it at racetracks and casinos under strict regulations.

Once again, the major sports leagues sued the state to prevent the implementation of the law. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately decided in favor of New Jersey in May of 2018, overturning PASPA and allowing states to legalize sports betting if they so choose.

Supreme Court Strikes Down PASPA

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was a federal law that banned sports betting in most states in the US. However, on May 14, 2018, the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA, declaring it unconstitutional. This decision opened the door for states to legalize sports betting within their borders.

The Supreme Court's ruling was based on the argument that PASPA violated state sovereignty by making it unlawful for states to regulate and authorize sports betting. The Court determined that it was up to individual states to decide whether or not they wanted to allow sports betting within their borders, without interference from the federal government.

This ruling was a landmark decision for the sports betting industry, paving the way for states to open up regulated and legal sports betting markets. Since the decision, many states have passed legislation legalizing sports betting in some form, with more expected to follow suit in the coming years.

  • Key takeaway: The Supreme Court's decision to strike down PASPA was a game-changer for the sports betting industry, allowing states to legalize and regulate sports betting within their borders.
  • Impact: The ruling has led to a surge in sports betting across the US, with more and more states passing legislation to allow it. This has also created new business opportunities for sportsbooks and other companies in the industry.

The Floodgates Open

With the legalization of sports betting across the United States, the floodgates have opened for the betting industry. Sports betting has become a big business with millions of dollars being exchanged daily.

The rise in mobile technology has enabled players to place bets from the comfort of their homes. This has allowed players to place bets on teams and games they normally wouldn't have access to.

Bookmakers have also been able to expand their offerings. They can now offer in-play betting, where players can place bets on games as they are happening. This has increased the excitement and engagement players have with games and has attracted a new generation of sports betting fans.

With the floodgates open, the betting industry is poised for continued growth. As more states legalize sports betting, the industry will continue to grow and offer new and exciting opportunities for players. It is an exciting time to be a part of the sports betting industry.

State-by-State Legalization

As of 2021, sports betting is legal in 22 states and the District of Columbia, with more states expected to follow suit. Each state has its own regulations and framework for legal sports betting.

Some states, such as Nevada, have a long history of legal sports betting, while others, such as Tennessee and Virginia, only recently legalized it in 2020. In some states, such as New Jersey, sports betting is restricted to certain locations, while others, such as Colorado, allow online sports betting from anywhere within the state.

States have different tax rates and licensing fees for sports betting operators, and they also have different rules for which sports and events can be wagered on. Some states, such as Connecticut, have agreements with tribal casinos for sports betting, while others, such as Michigan, have partnerships with commercial casinos.

State-by-state legalization has created a patchwork of regulations and opportunities for the sports betting industry. As more states legalize sports betting, it is likely that the industry will continue to expand and evolve, with new players and innovations entering the market.

Moving Toward Mobile Betting

As technology continues to advance and become more integrated into our daily lives, the world of sports betting is no exception. One major trend in recent years is the move toward mobile betting, allowing players to place their bets from their smartphones or tablets on-the-go.

This shift toward mobile betting has been fueled by the widespread adoption of smartphones around the world. More and more people are choosing to use their mobile devices for all sorts of tasks, from browsing the web to shopping to playing games. It only makes sense that they would also want to be able to place bets on their favorite sports teams from the same device.

Another factor contributing to the rise of mobile betting is the increasing availability of sports betting apps. Many major sportsbooks now offer dedicated apps for iOS and Android devices, making it easy for users to place bets and manage their accounts from their smartphones or tablets.

Of course, there are also regulatory challenges to overcome when it comes to mobile betting, and different countries have different regulations governing online gambling. But as technology continues to evolve and more people demand the convenience of mobile betting, it seems likely that this trend will only continue to grow in the years to come.

The Impact on Sports Leagues

The legalization of sports betting has had a significant impact on sports leagues around the world. While many leagues were initially opposed to sports betting, some have come around to embrace the industry and the potential revenue it can bring.

One of the biggest impacts has been the increase in engagement and fan interest. As more people place bets on games, they become more invested and involved in the outcomes. This has led to increased viewership and attention for sports leagues, which can translate to higher profits and more sponsorship opportunities.

However, sports leagues also face challenges in ensuring the integrity of their games. With the potential for insider information and match-fixing, leagues must take steps to protect against these threats. Some leagues have implemented partnerships with sports betting companies that provide real-time data and monitoring, while others have increased their own internal monitoring systems.

Another impact on sports leagues is the potential for increased revenue from sports betting. Many leagues and teams have partnered with sports betting companies and casinos to offer sponsorship deals, advertising opportunities, and even in-stadium betting lounges. The revenue generated from these partnerships can help finance future projects and player salaries.

Overall, the impact of legalized sports betting on sports leagues has been complex. While there are challenges to ensuring the integrity of games, the potential for increased revenue and engagement has led many leagues to embrace the industry and find innovative ways to partner with sports betting companies.

Regulation and Oversight of Sports Betting

The history of sports betting has been marked by numerous changes in the way that it is regulated and overseen. Throughout the years, governments have worked to ensure that sports betting remains a fair and safe activity for all who participate in it.

The first major efforts to regulate sports betting began in the mid-19th century, when laws were passed in various countries to prohibit gambling on sports events. In the United States, for example, the first anti-gambling laws were enacted in the mid-1800s, and by the early 1900s, most forms of gambling had been outlawed.

However, despite these bans, sports betting continued to thrive in many parts of the world, and by the mid-20th century, it had become a major industry. In response to this, many governments began to reconsider their approach to sports betting, and to explore ways to regulate and oversee it more effectively.

Today, sports betting is regulated by a variety of organizations in different countries, including government bodies, industry associations, and private companies. These organizations work to ensure that sports betting is conducted in a fair and transparent manner, and that participants are protected from fraud or abuse.

  • Government bodies: In many countries, sports betting is regulated by government bodies that are responsible for overseeing all forms of gambling, including sports betting. These bodies typically have the power to issue licenses to sports betting operators, and to enforce regulations related to the industry.
  • Industry associations: In some countries, sports betting is regulated by industry associations that represent the interests of sports betting operators. These associations work to develop industry standards and best practices, and to promote responsible gambling among their members.
  • Private companies: In some cases, sports betting is regulated by private companies that have been authorized by government bodies to provide betting services to the public. These companies may be subject to specific regulations or oversight requirements, and may be audited to ensure that they are operating in compliance with the law.

Overall, the regulation and oversight of sports betting is an ongoing process that involves a variety of stakeholders. By working together to promote fair and safe sports betting practices, these stakeholders can help to ensure that sports betting remains a popular and enjoyable activity for years to come.

Legal Sports Betting's Economic Impact

Sports betting has become a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide and its legalization has had a significant impact on the economy. In the United States alone, the American Gaming Association estimates that legal sports betting could generate up to $8 billion in annual revenue.

With more states legalizing sports betting, there has been an increase in job opportunities in various sectors such as technology, marketing, and hospitality. The demand for experts in these areas has surged in recent years as companies try to capitalize on the growing industry.

Additionally, the economy of the states that have legalized sports betting have seen an increase in tax revenue. This revenue can be used to fund various programs such as education, infrastructure, and healthcare, which can have a positive impact on the community as a whole.

Furthermore, the legalization of sports betting has led to an increase in tourism. People are traveling to places where they can legally bet on sports which in turn, can boost the economy of the region.

Overall, the legalization of sports betting has had a significant positive economic impact on the industries involved, the job market, and the states that have embraced it.

Public Perception and Social Acceptance

The issue of sports betting has long been a contentious one, with many people concerned about the social and moral implications of gambling on sports. There has been a long-standing perception that sports betting is a shady and illicit activity that is rife with corruption and scandal.

However, over the years, public perception has begun to shift, and sports betting has become more widely accepted. This shift in public opinion can be attributed in part to the growing popularity of sports betting, which has brought the activity out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Another factor that has contributed to the growing acceptance of sports betting is the recognition that it can be a legitimate form of entertainment and a source of revenue for both the gambling industry and local governments. This recognition has led to the legalization of sports betting in many jurisdictions around the world, including the United States.

Despite the growing acceptance of sports betting, there are still concerns about the potential harm that it can cause, particularly for those who are vulnerable to gambling addiction. As a result, many jurisdictions have implemented responsible gambling initiatives and regulations designed to protect consumers and reduce the negative impacts of sports betting.

The Future of Sports Betting

The legalization of sports betting has opened up a world of opportunities for the industry. Experts predict that the market will continue to expand, with new markets opening up and more states legalizing sports betting.

The rise of mobile betting has also been a game changer for the industry. Players can now place bets from anywhere at any time, making the industry more accessible than ever before. In addition, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is expected to drive innovation in the industry, improving the accuracy of predictions and enhancing the overall user experience.

With the growth of the industry comes a greater need for responsible gambling practices. Operators and regulators are expected to work together to ensure that players are protected from the risks of problem gambling. This includes measures such as self-exclusion and setting deposit limits.

The future of sports betting is bright, with the industry poised for continued growth and innovation.