A brief look at the History of Sports Betting

There's no doubt that sports have inspired people across the ages to be the best they can be. Those who don't have sporting skills sit on the sidelines and cheer on their champions. To add to the excitement, wagers are set and money exchanges hands. The history of sports betting is as exciting as the events themselves.

Where did it all start

The earliest records of sports wagering go back more than 2,000 years. The Greeks loved sports, and this led them to start the Olympics. They introduced it to the world and along with the competition came the first records of betting.

From the Greeks, it spread to the Romans who enjoyed wagering on the gladiator games. The Romans were the first to legalize sports betting. Since then, gambling has continued to spread all across the world. During medieval times, the church tried to prevent the pastime by passing laws forbidding it.

This, of course, only forced it underground but didn’t stop it from growing. In fact at carnivals and fairs visitors had the opportunity to bet on the noble sport of shin-kicking. Yes, it was exactly as its name states, a shin-kicking contest until one participant could no longer stand the pain and gave up.

At a later stage, gambling became popular in England due to the horse races. Betting on the ponies was a favourite pastime of the elite. It soon jumped the ocean to the US and gained ground quickly. Europe, however, has remained one of the largest markets.

The evolution of sports betting


Betting has always been around informally. A trusted person would take bets placed on the outcome of a particular event and hold on to the money until the end of the game. In the 16th and 17th century in the UK horse racing bets were popular but only available to the aristocracy. Only horse owners could place bets on the results of the private races.

It wasn’t until Charles II that betting on horse racing started to become accessible to the public at large. His passion for the sport attracted more massive and more ambitious crowds breaking through the social barriers.

At that stage innkeepers and pub owners promoted the sport, and then naturally became the first bookies. This gave rise to a variety of side races organized by the pub owners such as the first steeplechases. First created in Ireland, it’s a form of a race where riders rode from one church tower to the next by jumping everything in their path.

It soon became apparent to the British government that gambling in such close vicinity to alcohol was leading to some disastrous consequences and the ruin of many a man. The government banned gambling in pubs, and this gave rise to the opening of betting shops.

Bookmakers kept track of transactions and in cases of disputes would often act as arbitrators in betting. Bookies were the punter’s new best friend, they receive bets but don’t bet against the player.

United States

Casual gambling has been around in the US for a long time before becoming officially legal. Horse betting was the most popular, but it was only the elite that had the money to enjoy it. It served as a form of entertainment for gentlemen. With the rise of professional baseball in 1876, traditional sports betting came to the forefront.

Very quickly, the game started to become influenced by gambling with entire teams throwing matches. However, even though you could place casual bets, gambling was still not legal at that stage. People didn’t see it as anything more than an occasional pastime.

Then in 1931 sports betting became legal in the state of Nevada, specifically in Las Vegas casinos. The problem was that you had to walk into a casino to place your bets physically. So if there weren’t any casinos close to you, then you were out of luck. If you wanted to place a bet where there wasn’t a casino around, you would need to find your local bookie.

That gap in the market was gladly filled by the mob who offered sports wagering and number games coast to coast. It was how most people placed sports bets for many years in the US. They weren’t legal, but the cops tended to turn a blind eye.

The problem was if you happened to place a bet with a dishonest bookie, you had no recourse through the law. As time went on the rules were relaxed, and governments moved towards legalizing gambling in general. Gambling is now legal and available in most regions of the world.

Modern sports betting

The popularity of sports gambling has grown along with the number of events that people can wager on. Some of the sports now available weren’t around a few centuries ago. Today you can bet on anything from football to the weather in Alaska. With technological advances, betting with online bookmakers has moved into a new realm. Virtual and fantasy sports, as well as esports, have expanded the options for punters. In effect, you can bet on imaginary events that are only controlled by an AI or a gamepad.

The entire process of placing wagers has also shifted. No longer do people have to hunt for a bookie, unless they want to. Placing bets is now accessible via online sportsbooks. People can place their bets online, and watch sports matches via live streaming all from the comfort of home.

With mobile devices getting more advanced these services are also available on the go so that punters can carry their favourite teams and bookies in their back pockets. For punters, it was a whole new way of placing bets. The internet allows gamblers to compare odds and markets between sportsbooks. It has forced bookies to focus on attracting clients, unlike in the past where punters were grateful to find a bookie. Now, you can use our bookmaker comparison tool to find a bookie that will fit you most.

Future Sports Betting

the future of betting on sports

The history of sports betting up to now has been an exciting journey. But there are amazing things still to come in the sports world. One fantastic feature of the pastime is the opportunity for live betting during a game. It increases the adrenaline and allows bettors to win big if they place smart bets at the right time. Also, the growth of mobile betting is part of the sports gambling future.

Now imagine enhancing that live game experience with VR and AR technology, transporting players into a live betting immersive experience. Even though it’s convenient to place bets using online bookies, the best part of the sports experience was missing, actually watching the game. With new technology, punters can now enjoy convenient wagering options as well as watch the game as though they were right there at the stadium with the rest of the fans.


Sports betting isn’t going to disappear anytime soon; if statistics are correct, it is growing in leaps and bounds as each year passes. What we see as modern sports betting will in a twinkling become history. With new and exciting markets and betting opportunities, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for sports and punters.

Kristiyan Kyulyunkov
Kristiyan KyulyunkovKristiyan Kyulyunkov specializes in bookmakers’ analyses. He has years of experience betting online and always keeps an eye on the different operators. His tasks in Nostrabet include writing, editing and publishing expert reviews.