A brief history of sports betting 1

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Betting, or gambling to be more specific, predates modern civilization and is old as humanity. Given human nature, it is safe to presume we placed bets tens of thousands of years ago, maybe not in a form we know today, but certainly it was some sort of exchange based on the assumed outcome. Now, humans like to put things in context, otherwise most of us can’t comprehend clearly. Because of that, let’s say “modern” betting started to appear somewhere in ancient Greece, during the Olympics. This practice was continued by ancient Romans, because they really liked borrowing ideas from Greeks. And from there, it was kept alive to this very day, where sports betting is a multi-billion dollar industry that keeps growing.

Naturally, humans tend to improve things, so sports betting took many different forms as it evolved through the ages. Today, we have dozen of different ways to wager on literally anything, not only sports. So don’t worry if terminology like head-to-head, half bet or totalizator confuses you. Sports betting is certainly a world of its own, and requires some introducing.

Olympics and Gladiator Fights as Early Entertainment for the Masses

Sports betting is always attached to popular sports. Today it is mainly associated with football or horse races, at least here in Europe. The early Olympics in ancient Greece and later gladiator fights in ancient Rome were events that attracted major masses, and naturally, early sports betting. The Greeks liked to place bets on athletes, similar to how we do it today. Romans then legalized betting (although only in Rome), and placed bets on gladiators and chariot races, insanely popular entertainment for the masses of its time. The betting practice naturally kept going but was banned during the middle ages when people started taking religion very seriously. However, most simply didn’t care if it was legal or not. Betting precedes human laws, and always managed to survive, even during times when it was frowned upon.

Horse Races as Origin of Modern Sports Betting

There’s a reason why sports betting is associated with horse races, at least in the West. At the time horse races became a popular past-time activity for British aristocracy, sports betting was not regulated – an activity that was practiced inside social circles. Nobles wagered between nobles, and peasants wagered between peasants. During 16th and 17th centuries, horse races bookmaking started to take off. Contrary to popular belief, it was not a free-for-all activity. Instead, only horse owners were allowed to place bets on private races. It was more of a horse-owners private club thing. But king Charles’s passion for horse racing helped promoting activity and before you knew it, pub owners are promoting the races and taking bets. From there, the practice spread to the rest of the world, primarily to the US. British colonies like New Zealand and Canada were also forced to set sports betting laws by the late 19th century, which tells you how popular the practice became.

The Internet Changed Everything

Around 1995, websites that allowed online betting first appeared, triggering a new era for sports betting. These websites were allowed to operate based on laws of countries such as Atigua and Barbuda or Malta, which was one of the first countries to recognize the opportunity of regulated online gambling market. After that, many new platforms and concepts emerged, like peer-to-peer betting and betting exchanges, breaking the traditional concept of placing bets on events and creating a unique experience for fans.