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Sports betting timeline: From Las Vegas to the Supreme Court

8 min

There are few immutable principles of sports betting, but one thing is certain: If a game is being played, people are going to gamble on it. This fact has been borne out over the history of professional sports in this country. Betting — legal or otherwise — has been a constant sideshow, one that exploded into the forefront this century with the 2018 legalization of sports gambling.

Here’s a look back at the industry’s colorful history in the United States over the past 101 years.

Aug. 3, 1921

Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis permanently bans eight Chicago White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series in collusion with sports gamblers, even though a Chicago jury had acquitted seven of the players on conspiracy to defraud charges the day before. The saga was memorialized in the 1988 film “Eight Men Out,” and baseball’s prohibition on gambling by its players remains in place today.


Nevada legalizes gambling, including betting on sports. For decades, the state’s casinos are the only spots in the United States in which it’s legal to place a sports bet.


Thirty-two college basketball players from seven schools admit to taking bribes to fix 86 games in 17 states between 1947 and 1950, with seven of the players coming from the City College of New York team that in 1950 became the only team to win the NCAA and NIT titles in the same season.


Looking to discourage the spread of legal sports gambling outside of Nevada, the federal government imposes a 10 percent tax on the money brought in by legal sports gambling in the state, which leads to a sharp decline in Nevada’s betting industry.

This series will examine the impact of legalized gambling on sports, through news coverage, accountability journalism and advice for navigating this new landscape. Read more.

Sept. 13, 1961

In an attempt to limit bookmaking by organized-crime groups, President John F. Kennedy signs the Federal Wire Act, which prohibits the use of wire communications for interstate sports gambling. The law remains in effect today and is seen as the reason sports gambling is under the purview of states and not the federal government. For instance, someone in Pennsylvania may bet on sports using companies approved by that state but cannot place an online bet through sportsbooks regulated in New Jersey or any other state.


The federal government lowers its tax on sports betting in Nevada from 10 percent to 2 percent, prompting casino operators to consider offering new places for Americans to legally bet on sports.


The first sportsbook inside a Las Vegas casino opens at the Union Plaza. The next year, bookmaker Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal opens a sportsbook at the Stardust that will become the prototype of sportsbooks to come, with six huge television screens and seating for 300. Robert De Niro would later portray a character based on Rosenthal in the 1995 movie “Casino.”


Oddsmaker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder joins CBS’s “NFL Today” pregame show, offering predictions on the day’s games. At the time, the NFL forbid its broadcast partners from discussing point spreads, so Snyder would only give out what he thought would be the final scores of the games. Snyder would remain on the show until 1988, when he was fired for racist comments made in a television interview.


The federal government reduces its tax on Nevada’s legal sports bets even further, to 0.25 percent, where it remains today. Sportsbooks begin to proliferate in the state, spurred also by advances in satellite television that allow them to show sporting events from all over the country and the world.

Aug. 24, 1989

Pete Rose, MLB’s all-time hits leader, is permanently banned from baseball after an investigation finds that he had bet on baseball games — including ones involving the Cincinnati Reds, the team he was managing — between 1985 and 1987. Rose violated an MLB rule that prohibits players and managers from betting on baseball games, a rule that remains in place today.

Oct. 28, 1992

President George H.W. Bush signs the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which outlaws sports gambling in states that did not already have laws allowing it. In essence, Nevada becomes the only state with legal sports gambling.

Oct. 13, 2006

President George W. Bush signs the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which forbids companies from “knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.” The law was created in response to the boom in online poker and casino games but carves out an exception for fantasy sports, declaring them skill-based games and not games of chance. This opens the door for the daily fantasy industry, which eventually sees its popularity explode.

Aug. 15, 2007

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleads guilty to two gambling-related felonies after an FBI investigation finds that he bet on NBA games (including games he officiated) and gave other gamblers information about referee assignments, relationships between referees and players, and player health. He would serve 15 months in prison.

March 2009

The state of New Jersey files its first federal lawsuit seeking to strike down PASPA, arguing that it violated the 10th Amendment’s protection against federal anti-commandeering laws. New Jersey’s legal attempts to allow sports gambling, which were opposed by the four major U.S. sports leagues and the NCAA, eventually reach the Supreme Court in a case titled Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, which the court agrees to hear in June 2017.

January 30, 2018

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans will wager approximately $4.76 billion on Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, with $4.6 billion of that amount (97 percent) wagered illegally.

May 14, 2018

The Supreme Court strikes down PASPA, ruling that the law is not “consistent with the Constitution” and that states are free to establish their own sports gambling laws in the absence of a federally regulated system.

With sports gambling legal, some are betting on a new kind of fan experience

June 5, 2018

Delaware accepts single-game sports wagers, becoming the first state to take advantage of PASPA’s repeal. By the end of 2018, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Arkansas and Pennsylvania would either start accepting sports bets or vote to allow the practice. Today, 30 states and the District of Columbia allow sports gambling, with five more set to join them in the coming months.

Aug. 6, 2018

DraftKings becomes the first online sportsbook outside of Nevada, taking its first bets over the Internet in New Jersey. Numerous other sports gambling operators follow in New Jersey and other states.

April 2021

The NFL, which fought legalized sports gambling for years, announces its first marketing agreements with three sports-gambling providers. The league expects to generate about $270 million in revenue in the first year of the agreements. The three other major U.S. sports leagues also have deals with legal bookmakers.

May 26, 2021

The first sportsbook inside a U.S. stadium opens at Capital One Arena in Washington.


Legal sports gambling brings in $4.33 billion in revenue to operators in 2021, a 179.7 percent increase over the year before.

March 7, 2022

The NFL suspends Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley indefinitely for betting on NFL games while he was away from the team to focus on his mental health. The NFL determined that Ridley made parlay bets through a sportsbook mobile app while in Florida, and some of the parlay legs were on the Falcons to win. Despite the widespread legalization of legal sports betting, NFL players and team or league personnel are not allowed to gamble on any sporting event.

As sports leagues embrace gambling profits, Calvin Ridley’s suspension resurfaces issues

April 20, 2022

Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon becomes the first MLB player to sign a partnership with a legal sports-gambling operator after the league’s newly approved CBA allows such deals for the first time. Rose remains banned from baseball.

July 8, 2022

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds that 66 percent of Americans approve of legal sports gambling, up from 55 percent in 2017 and 41 percent in 1993.

Illustration by Lily LK for The Washington Post.