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Sports betting is now legal in Indiana. But why was it illegal in the first place?

Sportsbooks are opening in Clarksville and at Horseshoe Casino September 12.

CLARKSVILLE, Ind. — Sports betting has been officially legal in Indiana since September 1st, and Thursday it will open at Winners Circle in Clarksville and Horseshoe Southern Indiana Hotel & Casino. It’s being welcomed by many as a way to increase revenues, and get fans more invested in sports.

But, that had us wondering: how did sports betting become illegal in the first place?

Thankfully, SB Nation and Cornell Law pulled together information from across the decades to help us weave this story together.

Sports betting has been a thing for hundreds and hundreds of years. It got its start with something near and dear to Kentuckiana hearts: horse racing. That sport—and the bets along with it—can be traced back to the 12th century, and merry old England. By the early 1900s in America, horse betting was common and gambling had made its way into other sports, too.

But, we’re human. We had to mess it up.

The prime example pops up 100 years ago, in 1919. It’s the baseball scandal to rule them all: members of the White Sox organization work to fix the World Series.

That sours the public mood for sports betting for generations. To a lot of people in sports, money is seen as toxic after that. They don’t want big bets corrupting the competition, so a lot of sports leagues pressure lawmakers to ban the practice.

The actual banning of sports betting is a messy process, because there are a lot of players involved (the leagues, the fans, local governments, state governments and the federal government). Some states outright banned sports betting right away. Other states, like Nevada, try to keep it around, but federal taxes are levied to drive people away from it.

In 1992, Congress passes the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which laid the final ground work to do away with gambling in sports altogether. States did have one last chance to opt out and keep betting, and Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware did so. All 46 other states, however, climbed on board to ban sports betting (with the exception, of course, of horse racing).

And, so it was. Until 2018. That’s when the Supreme Court throws a wrench in the story by striking down PASPA, saying it was an overreach of power. States were then free to reconsider their gambling bans, which is exactly what Indiana did this year.

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