The NFL and betting go hand in hand. Even people who are not what most would consider “gamblers” will still throw a few bucks a week into the office pool during football season or purchase some squares in the Super Bowl score jackpot.
But there are also many people who will sign up on gambling sites just to put a few bets down on some football games. Why do people love to bet on football?
One of the reasons is that football was practically invented for betting. Or at least it seems that way. Unlike many sports that are very low scoring such as baseball, hockey and soccer or very high scoring like basketball, football is a sport that the point spread can be reasonably calculated. In soccer, all it takes is a penalty and the game can be swung. In baseball it takes one pitcher who may not “have his stuff.”
But in football, very seldom does one thing, or one play, determine the outcome. In the old days, before the Internet, sports betting was done illegally for the most part. Betting was done through a bookie on the down low. It was run through a network of acquaintances who would often take the bets and the money. Normally these “bookies” took bets over the phone or on sheets where they used code instead of money in case they should fall into the wrong hands.
Sports gambling in the United States has a long history, dating back to the 1800s when people would be on bare knuckle boxing matches and cock fighting. Then after the Civil War, horse racing became very popular and tracks began to dot the landscape. From there it was baseball, with folks betting on parlays.
In 1919, the World Series was fixed by gamblers who paid the Chicago White Sox to lose intentionally to the Cincinnati Reds. This became known as “The Black Sox Scandal” and resulted in eight players being permanently banned for Major League Baseball. The scandal led the public to view sports bettors as criminals and baseball tarnished as well.
But illegal betting continued to thrive as most viewed illegal gambling a “victimless crime” so there was little done by law enforcement to stop it. This led people to football. College football was very popular in the 1920s as the Great Depression loomed. Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, people desperate for a big payday would play 10 team football parlays with odds at 100-1. This was robbery as these 10-team parlays today normally pay anywhere from 800-1 to 1000-1.
Betting on single games was done with odds. To bet the favorite a bettor would have to risk more money than they would win back. Bets on underdogs would pay more than the bettor would risk. Around the 1940s is when point spreads began to come into play. This was done to allow bookies to take bets on games that were considered too lopsided.
Charles McNeil is widely credited for the invention of the point spread which allowed bookmakers to even the money placed on both sides, creating a windfall for the bookies. Point spreads made it possible for bookies to take bets with a “bet $110 to win $100” on the games. If they got an even dollar figure be on both sides, they simply paid the winners with the losers money, keeping the extra $10 for themselves.
This revolutionized the sports betting industry. Betting became part of daily life in America as many bookies would operate out of “Cigar Shops” and other small businesses. It was illegal but very prevalent in those days, especially on the east coast. In the 1930s, the “Minneapolis Line” was the main source for bookies to obtain “the spread” on upcoming games. A man named Leo Hirschfield published a paper called Athletic Publications, which would become the standard in the industry for the next three decades.
Mort Olshan, a staffer on the Athletic Publications paper, would later go on to become founder of The Gold Sheet which many still use to this day. Olshan's son would recall how his father would read up to 40 sports pages ever day to learn as much about the teams as he could before coming up with the lines on each game, both college and NFL.
New laws in the 1960s made it illegal to discuss betting over the phone lines from state to state which led to the disbanding on the Athletic Publications (The “Wire Act”). Up until then, nearly every point spread in American originated out of the Minneapolis offices. In fact, this act has had far reaching ramifications for all forms of betting and gambling in the USA, even online for online casinos (however, many people still play their favourite gambling games as explained here). The 2006 UIGEA went further to outlaw certain online gambling activities, including sports betting, casino games and online poker.
[credit]Betting on sports is going nowhere in both senses of the word.[/credit]
Gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, but it would be decades before sports betting would become popular there. Sports betting was not legalized in Nevada until 1951 and a 10 percent tax was placed on all sports wagers. The first legal sports wagers were placed not in casinos, but in stand alone places known as “turf clubs” who were strictly for sports bets. It was in these clubs that a man named “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder became known as the foremost line maker in the business.
The Greek brought football betting out of the shadows as he began writing a syndicated news column where he gave his thoughts on upcoming games. He became so popular that he eventually landed on CBS pregame show every Sunday where he gave his picks live on the air before the games. Turf Clubs did well in the 1970s and 1980s as they were the only game in town. Then the casinos saw the potential profits and began offering sports wagering as well.