We chart the course of sports development and look at how gambling on sport progressed in parallel with it throughout history.
Whilst gambling on games per se stems from the religious predictions of the future made by tribal witch doctors and the like (people wagered on what the old boy would say the gods were on about today) betting on sports probably began just as soon as there were sports to bet upon. If you have winners and losers, chances are someone has wagered upon who would be who at the end of the game.
Perhaps the first major instances of this would occur in the great sporting competitions of the ancient world in Corinth, Delphi, Nemea and Olympus that would in later years become the Olympic games. Spectators would excitedly bet on the discus, javelin, wrestling, boxing, and of course foot races as they watched, won and lost.
The Romans viewed fate with such reverence that gambling was seen as part of the divine influence of the gods on the world of mortal man. It also helped they had large organized sporting events. The circus’ gladiatorial battles and indeed the chariot races were bet upon heavily with every level of society participating.
The ancient world might have provided ample opportunity for betting on sports by having sports to bet upon , but in the post-dark ages world lacked this cohesion of society so that wagering was limited to less spectacular sports similar to coits or skittles, but soon the more visually impressive archery and jousting competitions of the royal courts became wagered upon.
Shin Kicking And Pedestrianism
Shin Kicking To Shrove Tuesday And Beyond
• US gambling laws don’t quell clamor to gamble
• Betting on boxing in ancient Greece
• Silver bells for the race winners under James I
Horse racing would become a mainstay of the sports betting world but it’s origins are a tad murky with records from the 12th century describing “Shrove Tuesday” race meetings. It would be during the reign of James I that wide spread racing became popular at the so called “Bell Courses” (named after the winners prize of a silver bell). This royal connection is why horse racing is still referred to as the sport of kings, something online sportsbooks will remind you of even today.
This was definite improvement on the prior tendency for people to wager on a common sport of traveling fairs and markets, shin kicking. Yes, that’s right, two men would kick at the other’s shins until one of them gave up. Which probably explains why pedestrianism became a heavily wagered upon sport for a while. Compared to kicking each others legs merely using them to walk a long way seems entirely sensible.
In 1798 an Irishman took less than a year to walk to Constantinople winning a bet worth $32,000, but pedestrianism would perhaps be the first instance of a sport’s reputation becoming entirely ruined by bribery and corruption. By the middle of the 1800s this popular spectator sport went through wholesale change in attempt to shed this reputation being crooked by introducing rules and regulations.
This is the origins of amateur athletics as we know them today and race-walking is still a sport, if an entirely silly one, but if the corruption of walkers who started running when no one was looking did for pedestrianism, it would be the rise of the press and amateur team sports that killed it off as a centre of working class gambling.
Proper Organization Of Sporting Fields
The later part of the 19th century saw the rise of what we might term modern sport with a veritable race to set up associations to regulate Football (1863), Rugby (1871) and Cricket (1877). But it wasn’t just team sports that became more officious with the first open golf tournament held in 1860, the first tennis at Wimbledon in 1877 and by the start of the 20th century motor racing at Brooklands.
Betting on each of these became popular as the growing press spread stories of glorious victories and ignominious defeats far and wide, all despite gambling actually being illegal. But if press coverage made gambling on distant events possible it was the regulation that made it a fair proposition and corrupt sport is still seen as a heinous crime.
Sports became a part of national culture as their ubiquity grew giving rise to the particularly American sports of American football, basketball and baseball across the Atlantic. These have always been subject of gambling although not always in a positive manner and indeed baseball particularly became tainted by scandal and adverse gambling news.
Modern sport is wagered upon by millions every day, even under strict US gambling laws people still bet on horse races, on football games, on basketball, on athletics, and whilst there is of course much interest in the sporting prowess of the teams or competitors it has to be wondered the degree to which these would be popular publicized events if it weren’t for the added thrill of a wager on the winner.
Read more of our guide to sports gambling.