A Selective History Of Sports Betting
Sports betting is as old as humanity. Taking a punt in the Stone Age, as now, was a way to get more excited about the outcome of sporting contests, whether as a competitor or a spectator.
Sports betting is mentioned in the history of Europe at least as far back as the Olympic Games of ancient Greece. Even earlier civilisations, like the Minoans of Crete, likely wagered on the bull-jumping sport practised by athletic young warriors.
Gladiators And Chariots
Instead of boxing or Formula One, the ancient Romans had gladiatorial combat and chariot races to bet on. Obviously, whenever the Emperor Nero raced his own chariot, it was pointless to bet on any of the outsiders, no matter how tempting the odds.
Sports betting remained popular throughout Europe through the Middle Ages. However, as city states united and turned into nation states, a struggle between moralists and gamblers developed.
When horse racing and dog racing became popular as the modern era dawned, both were adopted cheerfully by English punters. They took horse racing to North America, where it flourished despite going through the same cycles as Europe: depending on the views of the prevailing authority, sports betting might be banned or celebrated.
Online Betting Revolution
This situation, with some jurisdictions allowing sports betting at licensed betting shops, while others forced would-be punters to rely on unregulated illegal bookies, persisted well into the 20th Century. Britain only relaxed sports betting laws in 1960 and legalised the practice totally in the 1990s. Although Nevada legalised sports betting inside its casinos in the 1950s, Americans had to wait for a 2018 Supreme Court decision before the other 49 states began following suit.
The rise of online and mobile betting sites has been one of the drivers of this evolution. Because internet betting is so hard to police and attempts to shut it down simply stimulate a criminal black market, many nations are reassessing the benefits of licensed, regulated gambling.
The tax revenue it brings in funds numerous social programs, and problem gambling is easier to identify and treat if casinos and betting sites are on board with the process: which legal operations are, and unlicensed sites aren’t. So, it appears the trend of legal sports betting may one day be an online option worldwide.
World’s Greatest Sports Bet
Some might cite the $400,000 bet placed on the All Blacks to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup; the largest sports wager in New Zealand history. However, it won the anonymous punter only $140 000, as the All Blacks were the favourites.
The most inspiring sports bet of all time, arguably, was placed by Briton Nicholas Newlife in 2003: he got odds of 66/1 against Roger Federer winning at least 14 Grand Slam tennis titles before 2020. He bet that the ace would win Wimbledon at least seven times before 2020 too.
Sadly, Nicholas died before Federer could win both bets for him: the first in 2009 and the second in 2012. However, Nicholas’ will stipulated that the total winnings, around $178,000, be donated to charity Oxfam.