Today, more than ever, betting on sports is working its way into mainstream culture. Powered by modern technology and the ease of online and mobile betting, the sports gaming industry has substantially grown over the years and continues to expand worldwide.

According to Zion Market Research, the international sports betting market is expected to reach approximately $155 billion by 2024.

So, how did sports betting become the multi-billion dollar industry it is today? Where did it all begin? In this article, we will look at the history of sports betting and what the future holds for an industry that is ‘evergreen’, in both senses of the word.

Origins of Sports Betting

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact period when sports betting began, though the belief is that this form of wagering has existed since the earliest reported athletic competitions.

In fact, in Ancient Greece, individuals would place wagers on the outcomes of various Olympic Games sporting events. Sports betting continued within the Roman Empire, where chariot racing and gladiator battles were popular sports for Romans to bet on.

Modern sports betting, however, can be traced to the United Kingdom. Bookmakers or “bookies”, as we call them today, first emerged in the UK in the 18th century with horse racing wagering. Spectators at British racecourses were able to bet on the ‘favourite’ horse and yield lower returns or take the risk on an ‘outsider’  in order to reap higher rewards. This is also when the notion of winning probability, known as odds in today’s betting vocabulary, emerged.

Horse racing wagering was soon introduced in the United States, with many other countries following suit. A couple of hundred years later, bettors gained the ability to wager on a wide array of sports including football, soccer and basketball.

Online Sports Betting

In the past, much of sports betting was done directly at the bookmakers. In 1949, Las Vegas offered legal sports and horse racing wagering through their land-based casinos. At the time, people had no choice but to travel to Nevada to wager with their sportsbook operators.

The US market became formally restricted in 1992, when the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was enacted. This prohibited single-event sports-betting in all states with the exception of Nevada. Interestingly, horse racing wagering was exempt from PASPA, allowing this vertical to flourish.

Beyond the US, the growth and popularisation of the internet in the late 90s saw the rise of regulated online sportsbooks in markets like the UK and other European countries. This allowed the betting industry to reach new heights in these markets. Instead of visiting a UK bookmaker or attending a sporting event to wager on an outcome, Brits could now do so from the comfort of their own homes.

Additionally, the rise of smart phones and then mobile gaming in the late 2000s enabled sports betting to extend towards new markets.

What’s Next?

Until recently, there was a transatlantic split in the global sports-betting market. With the US Supreme Court’s historical decision to repeal PASPA in May last year, that changed – and the United States quickly became a sports betting market with tremendous potential.

Alongside the US, regions such as Africa and Latin America also hold great opportunities for sports betting development, with the populations passionate sports cultures and rising mobile and smart phone penetration.

In sum, the future for sports betting looks promising with the rise of digital and mobile technologies globally. And we expect bigger and better things in an iGaming industry filled with innovation.