Sports betting has been popular for decades. But for a long time, it was illegal in most of the United States. That’s very different from the United Kingdom. Bookmaking has been a recognized profession there for generations. Sports betting has been available in the UK for over three centuries, with specific focus on horse racing. Recently, things have been changing. Sports betting has been legalized. It’s finally going mainstream in the US. This is a good time to think about the whys and hows of how this came to be.

The US has a long history of sports betting. In fact, there’s evidence that people were betting on sports back in colonial times. Although many early American settlers were Puritans, the working class was often more casual. There was plenty of illegal bookmaking when it came to horse racing. Typically, this happened near the tracks in pool halls and other establishments.

As other sports, including baseball, basketball, and football developed, people naturally wanted to bet on those, too. In most cases, it was the same story. Illegal bookmakers were available across the country to help satisfy the appetite for action on these games. This was the situation until approximately the Depression-era. In 1931, Nevada legalized gambling. Las Vegas was about to start really developing.

It’s no accident that Vegas legalized gambling when it did. Sports betting was an important source of revenue in the area during a serious economic downturn. Horse parlors and boxing matches became big draws for the city. Around the same time, the federal government relaxed its restrictions on gambling, too. They took a big cut of the action, taxing it at 10%.

Over the decades, the feds relaxed more. In 1974, the tax on sports bets was reduced to 2%. That paved the way for other cities to follow Las Vegas’ lead. Atlantic City legalized gambling in 1976. People in the gaming business realized just how thin the margins on sportsbooks are. In spite of this, many casinos opened their own sportsbooks on site. Today, people can watch big-screen TVs and order drinks as they place bets.

If people don’t want to go to a physical betting parlor, there’s plenty of sports activities online. Offshore betting was king until 2018 when the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of sports betting.