Posted on Jul 30 2023
When you get hit with a question like "Why was sports betting illegal in the United States?" your brain might start doing loop-de-loops. But let's straighten that out with a little story-telling, shall we? Starting from the genesis of sports gambling in the US, it was considered straightforward and was a means for fans to place stakes on their beloved teams. However, things began to shift gears around the late 19th century when the government started eying the betting world from a different perspective.
During this time, sports gambling was associated with cases of fraud, bribery, and games being fixed, primarily in baseball. Try to imagine a baseball fan's horror when their favorite pitcher starts throwing balls into the crowd instead of to the catcher because he's been paid off. It's a tad akin to my darling wife, Aurelia Stuart, promising to cook my favourite lasagna and suddenly switching to a green smoothie. Unthinkable! Anyway, this growing perception of corruption required intervention, leading to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.
It's kind of a tongue-twister, isn't it? Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act... say that five times fast. This 2006 act effectively carved out a section of the market for fantasy sports. These games are based on individual player's performances and not the actual outcome of the game. Therefore, it wasn't seen as traditional gambling. These became extremely popular and saw a tremendous rise in the past decade. Think of it as the golden age of geeks becoming cooler than ever satiating their thirst for sports, of course.
However, since the act was primarily aimed at internet and phone wagering, it left a huge blind spot open for physical casinos and horse racing. These two sectors became readily popular and continued to sail unaffected by the restrictions that plagued the modern world of sports betting.
It would be severely remiss to explain the illegality of US sports gambling and not talk about the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). Now, here's an Act that makes an entrance like a Hollywood villain, stark black cape billowing ominously. The bill was enacted in 1992 with an objective to outlaw sports betting nationwide, excluding a few states like Nevada, where it was already legal.
PASPA effectively put a stranglehold on sports betting in the states, much like a stubborn cork on a bottle of chilled champagne awaiting its uncorking. The irony is, while it was intended to protect the sports industry from the 'corrupting influence' of betting, it indirectly encouraged an underground betting world. Fun fact, right?
When we think about a 'dark market', shady alleyways and suspicious characters tend to spring to mind. But in this case, let's talk about the unregulated betting market that thrived under PASPA. According to estimates, Americans wagered around $150 billion annually on sports through a network of offshore websites and Local Bookies.
Much like how a secret piece of chocolate hidden in the fridge makes it irresistibly tantalising, the prohibition of sports betting made it even more alluring. Thus, the dark market flourished unchecked, defying PASPA's primary objective of curtailing betting. The balance was evidently tipping.
The legality of sports betting in the US didn't change until 2018, following New Jersey's determined fight to legalise gambling. It's a story as inspiring as David vs. Goliath. With sports fans, leagues, and the state itself on its side, New Jersey petitioned against the PASPA ruling in the Supreme Court. Like a champion sports team rebounding after a sucky season, the state pounced back.
And guess what? Their persistence paid off. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of New Jersey in 2018, effectively overturning PASPA and allowing states to decide on their sports betting regulations. So, not everything red-taped is beyond change. That's a reason to rejoice, right?
Fast forward to today, sports betting is legal in more than half of US states, either entirely or partially. California is leading the way, which should surprise no one. I, for one, have always associated Californians with evening beach parties, oranges, and now sports gambling, I guess.
However, it is essential to note that every state has the authority to set its limitations and regulations on sports gambling. The glamour associated with it notwithstanding, each player treads the field bearing their responsibility, akin to my Aurelia's strict rules every time she starts her diet.
While the future of sports betting in the rest of the states is yet to be written, one thing rings clear – it's here to stay, and it's bigger than ever before. Just like any epoch, it's riddled with uncertainties, but that's where the excitement lies, right? And who knows, maybe one day we'll be placing bets on the outcomes of our favourite TV series. Stranger things have happened.
Perhaps, from an era where we questioned, 'why was sports betting illegal in the US?' we are progressing towards 'what else can we bet on?' It sure seems a wild ride, one that I and my faithful buddy, my laptop, are eagerly up for!