The Oldest Form of Gambling

Sports betting was big in Ancient RomeSource: Flickr

Sporting culture in all its forms has captivated humanity since the dawn of time, so it’s no wonder that sports betting is one of the oldest forms of gambling in the world – and one of the most popular, with sports betting offered at almost every mobile casino. In ancient times, the Romans loved to wager on the outcome of chariot races, animal fights and gladiator battles. It was the Romans who introduced sports betting to Britain, where it has thrived for centuries. Shakespeare’s plays – the movies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – reflect how people would bet on popular sporting events like cock-fighting, bear-baiting, wrestling and footraces. During the eighteenth century, boxing matches and horse races grew in popularity as spectator and betting sports. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, team sports like soccer, football and baseball took a hold on the public imagination. Today, sports betting is a culture all on its own, with sports fans cheering on their teams and placing wagers on the events.

When bets were sacred

It’s difficult to pin down when exactly sports betting started. Historians do know that sports betting was common in ancient Rome and that it was illegal to gamble anywhere except at chariot races or circuses like the Colosseum, where people flocked to watch gladiators duel and beasts tear each other apart. The reason for this restriction was that gambling was a little too popular. Romans would actually pray to the goddess Fortuna and make sacrifices to her in exchange for good luck. When Fortuna didn’t deliver, things could get out of hand – the outcome of a chariot race or gladiatorial match inspired many riots! Eventually the Emperor Augustus outlawed gambling except for during Saturnalia, the “holy week” dedicated to the god Saturn. The upside to this was that as a holy activity, gambling couldn’t be taxed.  Augustus himself once bet 30 000 sesterces on a gladiator match and lost. A soldier would have had to work for 30 years to make that money!

Sports betting was big in Ancient RomeSource: Flickr

Sports betting is good for sport

Today, the chariot races and bloody arenas of the Romans have been replaced by sports stadiums where sports fans throng to pay tribute to their favourite teams. Sports betting is no longer considered a holy activity, but it does offer sports fans a thrill that nothing else can give. Watching baseball, basketball or soccer is exciting enough in itself, but the excitement goes to another level when you have some skin in the game. When you have a stake in the outcome of a game, your adrenaline level shoots up every time it looks like your team is going to win. Sports betting turns fans into active participants in their favourite team sports because it’s personal.  Of course, sports betting is almost like a sport in itself, because it takes skill, research and strategy. You have to know the form of the teams and the skill of the players, plus you have to keep up with the news – who’s been transferred, who’s been injured, what the management is up to. Ultimately, having fans who bet is good for every sport, because fans who bet on games invest more time and effort in understanding their sport better. Sports betting is also growing the fan base – a Seton Hall Sports Poll survey published in November 2018 said that seventy percent of Americans are more likely to watch a game they have a wager on.

A new type of culture

A recent phenomenon is that sports betting is actually creating a new media culture. Where publishers used to cover sports betting, they are now actively promoting their own sports betting products. It all started when the US Supreme Court in May 2018 overturned a ban on sports betting outside Nevada. Soon, Fox Sports and theScore came out with their own sports betting apps. Barstool Sports brought out Barstool Bets, a standalone site with free-to-play contests offering cash prizes. Vox Media and DraftKings have an entire sports betting publication called DraftKings Nation. Effectively, people used to get betting information from the media, which they would use to inform their bets somewhere else. Now, publishers are closing the gap and turning sports betting into another revenue stream. At the same time, as legal sports gambling spreads across the United States, people are demanding more sports betting content – more articles and videos to help them decide how to bet. As a result, media companies and sports betting platforms are crossing over. Little wonder that sports betting is acknowledged to be one of the fastest growing industries in the world worth several hundred billion dollars.

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