Even people who do not care about sports betting may be familiar with Nevada, the first state to make legal sports betting. The reason for the state’s nickname, the “Lincoln [sic] of the West,’” is because of its status as the first to allow this type of wagering. It is also the home to the Las Vegas Strip, which features sports books and betting shops that are open 24/7.
While other states had previously experimented with legal sports betting, Nevada was the clear leader in the burgeoning industry. Since the early 1970s, the state has been the testing ground for numerous different legal sports betting schemes, resulting in a complete overhaul of existing sports betting regulations.
The Early Years: Nevada’s Experimentation
Prior to the enactment of the Interstate Horse Racing Act (IHRAA) in 1978, which established the basis for legalized sports betting in the United States, some states had already tried their hand at allowing wagering on sporting events. But, as the IHRAA revealed, it was not always well-received in all corners. For example, until the law was passed, New York State had allowed individuals to bet on horse races within the state but had made it illegal to do so from outside the state. That meant that residents of New York could bet on horse races in other parts of the country but would not be able to receive winnings should they lose their bets.
Even before the IHRAA was passed, Nevada had been one of the few states to legalize sports betting. Established as a Gold-Rush territory in 1858, it became a state in 1910. Today, Nevada is the 33rd-largest state in terms of area and the 4th most populous one. Its two largest cities, Las Vegas and Reno, are on the same semi-rural stretch of land and are connected by a 16-lane freeway, the Interstate 515 (I-5).
The IHRAA & The Evolution Of American Sports Betting
The IHRAA, which stands for the Interstate Horse Racing Act, was established in August 1978 to regulate interstate horse racing, creating the Racing Commission. One of its primary goals was to “establish a fair and equitable system of betting” on horse races.
The act also laid the foundation for legalized sports betting in the United States. It allowed states to “permit or prohibit” wagering on sporting events, while also “permit[ting] each [s]tate to determine the manner and method of effecting such wagering.”
Prior to the IHRAA, there had been no standardization in regards to how, when, or where sports betting could take place. Different states had enacted their own variations of sports betting legislation, creating a patchwork of mostly unlicensed activity. The IHRAA was, in effect, a broad stroke that attempted to unify the country’s sports betting laws, while leaving the specifics to individual states. The result was a hodgepodge of inconsistent regulations and, at times, outright illegality.
Take horse racing, for example. While it is generally legal to wager on horse races in Nevada and other IHRAA participating states, it is actually illegal to own a horse and then bet on its racing prowess. The two are tied together through a loophole, which allows people to engage in what is known as “pari-mutuel wagering,” allowing them to winnings from both bets. This has led to a lot of interesting (and sometimes not-so-interesting) legal situations, which are explored in Richard Wolf’s excellent book, Betting on Sports: The Legalization of Sports Betting in the United States.
The Land Of Enchantment: How Nevada Outdid The Rest
Nevada didn’t just “get” sports betting, it was the leader in the industry from the very beginning. This is in large part because of the state’s unique position in the country. One of the original thirteen colonies, Nevada was established on October 31, 1858, as a territory of the United States. It was named after the mythical “Land Of Enchantment’” due to the abundance of gold mining that took place in the area at the time. It was not until the late 1800s that the state turned to gaming, first with poker rooms popping up around the territory in the late 1800s and early 1900s and later, with casinos that were legalized in the 1960s.
But it was not just about the money. There was also a cultural component to the early days of Nevada, which were referred to as the “Golden Era’” of sports betting in the state. This was due, in large part, to the fact that many of the early casinos were established by the Irish, and many of the early players were, therefore, also Irish. This was the case even before the invention of the wheel, which dramatically increased the ease of placing wagers. One of the first legal sports books opened in 1898 in Reno, Nevada and it continues to operate to this day. The last legal horse race in the United States was held in Nevada in 1905, with the exception of an event held in Los Angeles in 1912, which was subsequently declared illegal by the state’s gambling authorities.
Like many states at the time, Prohibition was a massive issue in Nevada. Its first official liquor law was passed in 1893 and, until the repeal of the twenty-one year ban on alcohol during the Great Depression, it had the 6th-highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country. But it was not just about drink and drunkenness. The 1920s and early 1930s saw numerous attempts by various states to ban or limit sports betting, often using anti-gaming platforms. This was largely due to the influence of the Ku Klux Klan.
But it was not until the repeal of Prohibition that the fight over sports betting was really put to bed. In 1933, New York State enacted one of the first truly modern-day sports betting laws and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Modern Era: Nevada’s Unified Sports Betting Laws
Nowadays, almost every aspect of sports betting is regulated and organized by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which handles all of the state’s wagering activity. This includes things like odds calculations, the manner in which bets are accepted and processed, as well as enforcement, licensing and taxation. The state’s current gaming regulations are found in Title 54 of the Nevada Revised Statutes and are often updated as new technologies emerge and old ones fall by the wayside.
A Brief History Of Online And Mobile Sports Betting In America
There has certainly been a paradigm shift in regards to how people play and interact with sports, especially since the advent of technology. Conventional wisdom used to suggest that people, especially those in rural areas and smaller towns, were naturally removed from, and uninterested in, the “high-tech” world. But this overlooks the fact that many people, especially those in smaller towns and rural areas, have always been early adopters of new technologies, often leading the way, sometimes even before the rest of the country catches up.
For example, in the early days of the American Revolution, farmers in New York would bet on which way the tide would rise and fall during the day, using rain gauges to determine how high or low the water would be at different times during the day. Even before the days of satellites and online resources, people in rural areas would sometimes gather around a radio to listen to the Denver Broncos play the Oakland Raiders in the early days of the NFL simply because the reception was better where they came from. They would then place their bets, using a fur hat as a countertop or a napkin to scratch off their winnings on.
In regards to online and mobile sports betting, it is important to keep in mind that these are just two, small pieces of the ever-evolving jigsaw puzzle that is American sports bookmaking. While the explosion of “Betting on Sports” as a hobby and a pastime in the United States means that more people are getting used to the idea of gambling on sports, it does not mean that they all will embrace it. Just look at California, which recently passed Proposition 49, which would have granted legal sports betting in the state.
While the proposition did not pass because it was overshadowed by other issues in the state, it highlights the fact that even in the Golden State, which has long been a center of innovation and a driving force behind many of the country’s “firsts,’” not everyone is prepared to accept the inevitability of sports gambling and, in some cases, even view it as a bad thing. The moral and ethical dilemmas that gaming presents, especially when combined with other societal issues, often makes it a difficult subject to discuss.