History of Sports Betting

Since ancient times, sports betting has played a significant role in human entertainment. People from all walks of life have been fascinated by predicting outcomes and betting on them for centuries.

This article explores the long and varied history of sports betting, from ancient Romans wagering on gladiator fights to modern Olympic games.

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Highlights of the Article

  • Sports betting grew more common as Greek civilization matured. The Roman Empire prospered during this period. 
  • In 1750, the Jockey Club helped develop horse racing and wagering regulations.
  • The American Stud Book organized and standardized thoroughbred horse racing in 1868.
  • Sports betting advanced worldwide in the 19th century with US, England, and Germany; sports betting grew and shaped culture.
  • Football pools have risen in popularity throughout the 1900s, particularly in the United Kingdom.
  • UIGEA’s enactment in 2006 substantially impacted the sports betting landscape in the United States.
  • In the late 1990s and early 2000s, internet sports betting proliferated. Technology enabled global betting at online sportsbooks. 

Timeline of the History of Sports Betting

history of sports betting

Sport betting’s history can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who reveled in betting on numerous sporting events, whether boxing, chariot racing, or the Olympic games; spectators avidly bet on results, giving different excitement levels.

The Time of the Ancient Greeks

Sports betting took off as Greek culture advanced, but the Roman Empire took it to the next level. The Greeks were known for their thirst for entertainment and fully embraced sports betting. 

Here are the most common games that the Ancient Greeks bet on:

  • Heads and tails
  • Tilia or checkers
  • Dice games

The gladiatorial games became a significant source of both entertainment and sports betting, and people would gather to watch the gladiators fight, and at the same time, they would place bets on it. 

The Roman Empire

It is essential to know that the Romans were passionate gamblers who frequently bet on gladiator fights in massive arenas. These shows drew crowds and offered tons of gambling opportunities. 

Gladiator Betting

Betting and gambling on gladiator games became a significant element of Roman society, attracting people. Sports betting in the Roman Empire also included gladiator games that were usually brutal. 


Fans could bet on several sports during the Olympics, famed for their athleticism and strong competition. Chariot races, wrestling contests, and other competitions allowed competitors and bettors to show off.

The 18th Century

The first official sporting events were recorded when sports betting became common in the 18th century. Formal betting events began during this time. These events featured horse racing, which was popular due to its adrenaline and competitiveness.

Horse Racing Bets

In the United Kingdom, betting has become a focus for sports betting fans. By placing bets on their preferred horses, gamblers fostered a lively and competitive gambling culture still common in British society.

Horse gambling in the UK started during the 18th century developed a strong cultural presence. The Jockey Club’s founding in 1750 assisted in establishing the rules and laws governing horse racing, which also involved policing and regulating wagering methods.

Here are the types of horse racing that watchers can bet on:

  • Flat Racing
  • National Hut Racing
  • Endurance Racing
  • Hunt Racing

American Stud Book

The American Stud Book was founded in 1868 to organize and standardize thoroughbred horse racing. Sports betting became more organized and professional thanks to this invention.

Gambling Act of 1845

The UK Gambling Act of 1845 sought to curb problem gambling and other wagering. The regulation forbade street betting, showing an early attempt to legalize gambling while preventing social problems from out-of-control gaming.

The 19th Century

This century is a period of industrialization and cultural upheavals. Traditional sports like horse racing, boxing, and cricket gained popularity. They had the fans increase their involvement by betting on the end of the sports.

Influences from the US, England, and Germany

The 19th century saw considerable advancements in sports betting across multiple countries. In the United States, England, and Germany, betting on sports gained and began to shape popular culture.

US Professional Baseball

The popularity of professional baseball in the US has increased the number of sports gambling options because it has created a favorable environment for growing betting operations due to its appeal and fan base.

The Louisville Grays affair in 1877 served as a reminder of how susceptible professional sports are to match-fixing and other forms of corruption. The incident caused people to look more closely at sports betting practices and the need for stricter laws to protect integrity.

Establishment of Laws Surrounding Bets

Due to worries about corruption and the impact of gambling on professional sports, some countries, including the US and UK, have implemented laws to restrict sports betting and preserve athletic competitions.

Las Vegas casinos now allow sports betting. Sports betting in Las Vegas casinos changed the industry in 1949. The city became a sports betting hub once Nevada legalized sports betting in licensed facilities.

The Mafia and Mobs in Sports Betting

Sports betting lured organized crime syndicates with big payouts. The mafia’s involvement in illegal sports betting in the 20th century tainted the industry, making legalization and regulation difficult.

The Growth of Football Pools

Since the 1900s, football pools have grown in popularity, notably in the UK. Football betting spreads like wildfire, attracting millions and laying the groundwork for modern sports betting arrangements.

Greyhound Racing and Horse Racing Surge

In the middle of the 20th century, greyhound racing experienced a meteoric rise in popularity as a form of wagering alongside horse racing. This fast-paced sport garnered devoted bettors and provided a fresh way to place bets.

Differences between horse racing and greyhound racing: 

CategoryHorse RacingGreyhounds Racing
Animals UsedHorsesGreyhounds
SpeedUsual speed up to 40 miles per hour.Can reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour.
Track TypeUsually takes place on an oval track with a softer surface.It can occur on various tracks, including turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces.
Duration of RacesRaces can vary in length, ranging from 5 furlongs (⅝ mile) to 1.5 miles or more.Shorter race course ranging from 330 to 550 yards.
Jockeys/RidersJockeys are involved who ride the horses and guide them during the race.It does not involve riders and is trained professionally.
BettingHorse racing is a popular sport for bets, with various types available.Betting on the greyhound race is common and can be done on-site and online.
PopularityThis sport has a long history and remains popular worldwide, with major events and celebrations attracting large audiences worldwide.Greyhound racing has seen a significant decline among bettors across the world. 
BreedingHorse breeding involves various factors, including speed, stamina, and conformation.The breeding focuses on producing fast and agile racing dogs.
RetirementRetired racehorses may be retrained for other equestrian disciplines or used for breeding.Retired greyhounds may be adopted as pets or participate in another activity like, lure coursing.
ControversiesIssues related to horse welfare, including injuries, doping, and overbreeding.Greyhound racing has faced criticism for issues such as injuries, mistreatment, and overbreeding of dogs.

1960 Betting and Gambling Act

Established a legal framework for sports betting and allowed bets on various sporting events in the United Kingdom. This piece of legislation was a big step in the right direction toward accepting sports betting as an acceptable source of entertainment.

Interstate Wire Act of 1961

It forbade telecommunications to place interstate bets to stop organized crime’s involvement in sports betting. In subsequent years, the growth of internet sports betting was significantly influenced by this action.

The 20th Century

The development of gambling laws and the history of sports betting are closely related. Sports betting has a long and fascinating history. As we know it now, the sports betting industry was shaped by several significant events in this century.

Modern Sports Betting

Governments banned gambling after realizing its revenue potential and need for regulation. Standards safeguarded customers, fraud, and justice. Legalizing and taxing sports betting boosted the economy.

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a boom in online sports betting. Online sports betting is popular due to its simplicity, accessibility, and broad selection of sports and betting markets.

And organized gambling legislation and online sports betting changed sports betting in the 20th century. Before this, most sports betting was done informally through bookmakers and neighborhood bookies.

Sports Scandals Worldwide

Throughout history, plenty of controversies have involved sports betting. The impact of sports betting has been implicated in several instances across the globe. 

1919 Chicago Black Sox

One notorious instance is the 1919 Chicago Black Sox incident, in which team players were charged with deliberately losing the World Series in exchange for money from gamblers.

Sports betting-related controversies have surfaced in several sports leagues in recent years. 

Tim Donaghy

When it was discovered that referee Tim Donaghy was betting on the games he officiated, the NBA was rocked by a scandal. The potential for manipulation and the integrity of the officials were both raised by this episode.

College Athletics Scandal

Gambling scandals have also afflicted college athletics. The prestige of collegiate sports has been tainted by instances of point-shaving and match-fixing, which has prompted authorities to take action to stop this corruption.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006

The UIGEA of 2006 significantly altered the sports betting scene in the United States. To control internet gambling, the UIGEA forbade financial institutions from handling transactions about illegal online gaming.

Incidents Leading to the Passing of UIGEA

Internet gambling’s social impact prompted the UIGEA because online gambling caused addiction, underage gaming, and compulsive gambling. The UIGEA alleviated these concerns.

Enactment of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA)

The 1992 PASPA further advanced sports betting in the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court nullified it in 2018, which let countries regulate sports betting.

The Rise of Sports Betting Sites

A significant development in sports betting is the growth of online bookmakers. These platforms provide the following:

  • A large selection of sports.
  • Betting opportunities
  • Attractive odds to draw bettors.

Bet365, William Hill, and DraftKings are well-known online sports betting competitors with user-friendly interfaces and extensive athletic event coverage.

Gambling scandals have plagued college sports. College sports have been corrupted due to their passionate fans and amateur athletes. Point shaving, in which athletes intentionally underperform to influence a game, has damaged collegiate sports.

Final Words

Sports betting has a rich history. From ancient civilizations to online platforms, sports betting has fascinated people worldwide.

Sports betting shows that humans love sports and gambling. From ancient civilizations to the digital age, sports betting has united people and added excitement to sports.


What is the oldest sports betting?

Evidence such as chariot racing, gladiator battles, and Olympic competitions suggests a lengthy history of the Romans and Greeks.

Who founded World Sports Betting?

A South African company that operates an online sportsbook is called World Sports Betting. It was established in 2002 by Dean Tannous and Warren Tannous.

When was the first bet?

Due to its long history, it is hard to know the exact date of the first bet and who made it.

Who has made the most from sports betting?

Finding out who has profited the most from sports betting is challenging because it involves both seasoned pros and casual gamblers.

What is the history of sports?

The history of sports could be more specific and comprehensive. Even before humans recorded, some activities in the past were already sports but weren’t recognized.