The early Americans bet on makeshift horse races, cockfights and bare-knuckle brawls.
Horse racing saw the most widespread popularity throughout the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century.
After the Civil War, horse tracks began to dot the eastern landscape and bettors from all economic sectors flocked to the tracks in droves. Many enterprising bookmakers started 'auction pools' in the early days of horse racing which involved auctioning off bets for each horse in a race.
Professional baseball began to gain popularity and, consequently, so did betting on the sport. Baseball 'pool cards' became a standard in urban areas in the East.
College football, college basketball and boxing gained huge popularity with bettors. Pool cards were the favorite option of many bettors because of their promise of riches during the tough economic times of the Great Depression. Football pool cards proved to be as popular as the baseball cards even though bettors faced the challenge of picking a winning combination of usually five or more games in hopes of a big payday.
Gambling was legalized in Nevada.
Athletic Publications, Inc. was established by Leo Hirschfield in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It became the oddsmaking standard for the sports betting world for three decades. It set the lines in all sports and distributed them to bookies across the USA via telephone and telegraph.
The point spread was invented. Most believe it came from professional bettor and bookmaker Charles McNeil from Connecticut.
The implementation of the point spread, along with the widespread emergence of television can be referenced as two factors that perpetuated the massive growth of sports betting during this era. More games were offered by bookies and people could actually watch the contests they bet on at home or their local tavern.
A regulation was passed by U.S. Congress imposing a 10% tax on all sports bets placed in the United States. This allowed the bookmakers to work their trade openly in the public eye.
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 posted on chalkboards and cigar smoke was heavy in the air.
The 10% federal tax imposed on sports bets was deemed unconstitutional and Congress lowered the tax to just 2%. Casino executives then began to see the potential advantages of opening a sportsbook in their casino and they wasted no time in getting into the sports betting business.
Jackie Gaughan opened a sportsbook at the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas.
A sportsbook was opened at Stardust. This became the prototype for the modern Vegas sportsbook which has a plush environment with plenty of seating space and multiple television sets. New electronic boards replaced the manually-operated chalkboards.
Sportsbooks were established in other casinos at a rapid pace.
Las Vegas Sports Consultants, Inc., an odds and information service, emerged as a major force in the sports gambling world and he helped usher in the technological revolution.
The Las Vegas Hilton 'SuperBook' opened.
The sportsbook at Caesars Palace was reinvented.
The Mirage opened and was then considered the most extravagant hotel - and sportsbook - in Las Vegas.
With the emergence of the Internet, online sportsbooks began popping up in places such as Antigua, Costa Rica, England and Ireland.
It was estimated that worldwide online sportsbooks took in nearly $70 billion a year in bets even as Nevada sportsbook handle amounted to a bit over $2 billion.