A Short History of Gambling & Sports Betting
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A Short History of Gambling & Sports Betting

For generations people have been naturally attracted to gambling. The first written account of what might be considered "gambling" is creation of the universe in Greek mythology when Zeus, Poseidon and Hades split the world on a throw of a dice. The first evidence of gambling can be found in the Egyptian tombs where painted walls dating back to 3500 B.C show men playing a primitive form of dice (with bones of sheep as the substitute for dice). What is more, there is also some evidence that at that time Egyptians already had problems with compulsive gambling.

History of sports betting and gambling

To gamble is human?
The question is "Why people have this almost inbred inclination to gambling?" Well, it seems that for hundreds, if not thousands of years human ability to take risks bespoke of their fitness to survive in the wild. And after all, the original sense of the verb "to gamble" is to take risk. Today, the willingness to take risks in gambling is not necessarily  motivated by survival. Though most gamblers are driven purely by the financial prospect,  there are lots of wealthy people for whom it is merely a form of entertainment, a pastime.

Emergence of sports betting and horse betting
Before the era of bookmakers, people would engage in sports betting informally. For instance, many American colonists, the first sports bettors in the New World, enjoyed betting between themselves on live makeshift street brawls or very popular cockfights. It is generally believed, however, that sports betting started with horse racing, which became a professional sport at the very beginning of the 18th century during the reign of the British Queen Anne. Although, unofficially, first small bets on horse races between friends or relatives were taken as soon as in the 17th century, the bookmaking business emerged two centuries later.
It was in the 19th century that a huge interest in Thoroughbred races in England, such as the classic Derby or St Leger, led wealthy individuals to bet considerable amounts of money between themselves. Typical of this period were the horse racing pools, but back then this form of betting on horses was suited for a small number of people only, and usually was the privilege of the upper class. In the first half of the 19th century lots of betting shops cropped up in the UK– more than 400 in London alone. Unfortunately, bookmaking business became illegal, since the Betting Act of 1853 outlawed all the betting shops that operated around the country. It is worth noticing that in 1886 probably the most famous British bookmaker, Ladbrokes, was established in England.
One should know that the famous British horse racing breed, Thoroughbreds, are the descendants of the oldest horse breed in the world, the Arabians. Long before the first British horse races were held, betting on the long, endurance races in which Arab stallions crossed the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula was already a common practice. Since the 12th century (the Crusades), the swift Arab horses were gradually imported and bred to English mares to create popular Thoroughbreds, a breed characterized by both endurance and speed. Obviously, British sprints were much more intensive and, therefore, more spectacular than the long Arabian races. Hence, hordes of people at the British race tracks.
Dogs and football
Horse racing remained to be equally popular among punters in the decades that followed, and even today it is considered the cornerstone of the British betting industry. In the 1930s other disciplines gained huge popularity in the world of betting:  greyhound racing (peak of popularity after the Second W.W., esp. parimutuel betting, since 1960s on a decline), and football which now is the most popular betting discipline around the world. During the inter-war period, common people increasingly participated in sports betting. In 1938, for instance, an average Brit would spend 5 per cent of all his spending money on gambling and betting.
It wasn't until 1961 that bookmaking was once more legalized by the government in Britain. Since that moment onwards the bookmakers' presence on the high street increased enormously. In the next eight years, 35 betting shops a week were opened in the UK. Today, there are around 10 000 betting outlets in Britain – most of them are the property of William Hill (est. 1934), Ladbrokes (est.1886) and Coral (est. 1926).
Across the Atlantic
In the US, the first bookie started its business in 1866, in Philadelphia. Baseball, which was hailed the national game of the US in the mid 19th century, was a highly popular discipline among American sports bettors, and remained so for a long time despite some infamous betting scandals such as The Black Sox – in 1919 Chicago White Sox s team reached the World Series and and playing against the Cincinnati Reds lost five games to three, because they have intentionally thrown the games for a large sum of money.
Having reached its peak in 1920s with the introduction of parimutuel betting, the interest in horse racing betting in the US was steadily declining in the following decades. Dog racing was very popular in the US until the memorable year 1992 when as much as $3.5 billion was wagered on greyhound tracks. Since then, dog betting became less popular, because of interest in other forms of gambling and animal rights protests.
Now, apart from baseball, it is American football and basketball that are the most popular choices for sports bettors in the US. Interestingly, college basketball and football account for more than 20 perc. of all the bets placed on American sports. Having bookmaking business is at present illegal in the US (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992) apart from the Nevada state with the famous Las Vegas. Sometimes, as in the case of Sweden, Singapore and Canada, betting is only allowed through a state-owned bookmaker.
Role of TV and WWW
Sports betting is now thriving and is more popular than ever before. Many experts contribute its popularity to two inventions. Firstly, television has added a new dimension to the attractiveness of sports betting by broadcasting a huge number of different sports events. In fact, there are bettors who believe that they won't win a bet unless they watch a game live. Others still turn off their TV for some time a couple of times during the game in the hope that good things will happen for the side they betted on. The second invention is the Internet which allows people to bet online, gives freel access to all sorts of sports data resources, and facilitates communication between punters. No wonder than that the world of online betting is experiencing such a rapid growth.
Gambling in Numbers
Much has been said about the global-scale of gambling. To realize, however, how huge an industry it is today a single number suffices: global gambling generates about $370 billion in annual gross win (what is retained by operators after winnings are paid out).