The history of gambling in the state of New Jersey can be divided into three distinct phases. There is the early, permissive phase that began before the start of European colonization and lasted until the end of the 19th century. There was an era of great restriction, when all lotteries and betting were outlawed in the state. Then, over the last 80 years, restrictions have slowly been eased and lifted.
These days New Jersey is one of the most permissive states in the union for legal gambling. Whether your interests lie in sports betting, lotteries, games of chance, games of skill, or the thrills of the casino, New Jersey will have what you need.
The Colonial Period
The early days of New Jersey were filled with gambling and gaming of every kind. Horse racing was especially popular, as the Garden State offered convenient terrain for race tracks that were close enough to the Metropolis of New York City and Philadelphia for easy access by their urban audiences. Lotteries were also especially popular with the residents of New Jersey, and they formed a central part of life in a way that is not well understood today. For example, many companies of soldiers in the Revolutionary War were financed and equipped by means of a public lottery. This cultural tradition led to a number of societal abuses over the years. When a national Puritanical religious revival swept the land, bringing with it laws against gambling, drinking, and free association, the lottery was banned in New Jersey in 1844. Other types of gaming and gambling continued on quite happily until a statewide edict put them all out of business in 1897.
The Dark Ages
From 1897 to 1939 gambling was completely illegal in the state of New Jersey. Although there was obviously an enormous amount of underground gambling going on, especially in relation to the prohibition era, the strict laws against it meant that it could not be regulated for the safety of its consumers nor could it be taxed to help pay for the needs of the state.
The Modern Era
New Jersey entered the modern age of gambling in 1939. First betting on horse racing was allowed, though only upon the condition that the betting was done at the racetrack. This began the New Jersey tradition of officially supervised gambling in designated areas that continues to this day. Voter referendums after the successful re-introduction of track betting allowed bingos, raffles, and amusement games in the state. In 1975 New Jersey led the way with the Pick 3, which was the first state lottery that allowed the player to choose the numbers themselves. In the next year the voters chose to allow casinos in NJ to operate within the confines of Atlantic City. The first American competitor to Las Vegas was born, and New Jersey has enjoyed safe, fair, and incredibly profitable gambling to this day. In the last ten years sports betting and online gambling have also joined the portfolio of gaming options in the Garden State. There are also proposals to allow casino gambling to spread outside the confines of Atlantic City. The future looks bright for legal gambling in New Jersey.