History of Sports Betting


Sports betting has been a feature of civilisation since Ancient history. From the Greeks and the Romans to modern-day society, from the Olympics and gladiator bouts to Premier League football, people have always loved to wager on sporting events. But where did it all start, and how has it changed into the global phenomenon we know today?

We're taking a look at the history of Sports Betting here; however, if you're looking for a more general history on the practice of gambling, check out our article on the History of Gambling.

Ancient Beginnings

Back when the world only extended as far as the eye could see and military tactics were as advanced as angling your shield upwards to avoid arrows, people were already discovering the fun of wagering on sports events.

The Greeks enjoyed betting on the Olympics, dice games, and even markets as simple as heads or tails coin tosses.

The Romans, somewhat famously, enjoyed a gladiator fight, and along with that came extensive betting. During these times, arguments over bets were rife and would often turn into fights or even riots, so much so that Emperor Augustus outlawed the practice outside of holy days.

The lack of regulation in these days unsurprisingly led to match-fixing, cheating, and many other forms of bet manipulation. Loaded dice were used frequently, for example, and the odds were heavily favoured towards the house.

Archer lining up a shot

Early Modern Developments in Sports Betting

The key to the development of sports betting in the post-medieval period was the popularity of horse racing, a sport that easily lends itself to wagering.

Horse racing became known as the "Sport of Kings" due to its popularity amongst British aristocracy. King Charles II inaugurated the Newmarket Town Plate, a historic British horse race, and is, to this day, the only reigning monarch to win the race.

Betting on horse racing was done privately until the 19th century when bookmakers began to spring up. Bookmaking became an incredibly profitable profession due to the popularity of betting on horse racing as the sport became accessible to all classes and spread throughout the U.S. and France.

The Rise of Modern Sports Betting and the Need for Legislature

After the invention of the bookmaking practice, governments began to write legislation about sports betting.

While gambling was banned in many places, betting on sports was often legalised due to the involvement of skill and the outcome not being entirely random. John A. Hobson, in the Journal of Ethics, for instance, defined gambling as "the determination of the ownership of property by appeal to chance." He goes on to specify: "Where such skill plays a large and a continuous part the game ceases to be classed as "gambling."

This meant that with the rising popularity and organised form that sports books began to take, bettors began to need more lawful protection from predatory bookkeeping practices.

The Federal Wire Act in 1961 in the U.S., for instance, was enacted to prevent bettors from placing wagers over telephone lines and reduce cross-state betting.

The Betting and Gambling Act in the U.K. legalised betting for games that included skill, intending to take bookmakers off the street and end the illicit, unregulated practice of employing runners, who would essentially collect bets and outrun the police if needed. In the following four years, about 16,000 betting shop licenses would be issued.

The Gambling Act of 2005 further increased regulations surrounding all forms of betting, further preventing gambling from being used in the commission of crime and ensuring bets are taken in an open and honest manner.

These days, sports betting is a rigorously supervised practice. Providers that comply with regulatory bodies such as the UKGC and MGA have to work to very high standards of fairness or risk losing their license and incurring heavy fines.

The Transition Towards Online Sports Betting

The turn of the century saw an increase in online sports betting, as opposed to the previous practice of physically placing bets at a betting shop or via post.

There are many reasons for this transition. Convenience, availability, and comparing odds to get the best bets available at the click of a button, to name a few.

The invention and increased ease of access to the internet has seen the popularity of sports betting soare. The first online bet was placed in 1996, and by 2001, the online betting market was worth more than two billion dollars. By 2000, the first software to allow betting from mobile devices launched, and it is estimated that sports betting is a $150 billion market in 2024.

These days, the wealth of options for online sports betting is breathtaking. You name it; you can probably bet on it. Many sites even allow you to request your own bets if you don't see them listed. You can also bet on games that are currently underway, with odds changing constantly depending on how the game is playing out.

It's also easier than ever to place a bet due to how easy sports betting sites' UIs are, as well as mobile apps being more accessible to the public than ever before.

The Future of Online Sports Betting

No one truly knows what the future holds, but rest assured, whatever form it takes, you'll be able to experience it at Wildz! With our upcoming sportsbook, you're at the home of online sports betting.

Whether it be football, hockey, tennis, or something more niche, we'll have what you need because we know when you're 80 minutes into a 0-0 bore draw between Burnley and Luton, there's nothing quite like cheering for the 7th corner of the game coming in. So, head to Wildz Sportsbook when it launches to become part of the future of online sports betting!

Athlete running at full speed