Legal Horse Racing Betting In The US

Though not considered to be sports betting in the traditional sense, horse racing betting could also be argued to be among the oldest forms of sports betting in the country, if not the entire world. In fact, legal horse racing betting in the US has been around since at least the early 1800s, and there are even racetracks still in operation that date back to the middle of the 19th century.

For well over 150 years, horse racing has been the most popular sport to wager on, and though track attendances are suffering in modern times, the actual gambling popularity of the ponies is at an all-time high. There are several kinds of horse racing disciplines that American bettors enjoy, including Standardbred runs, harness racing events, and Thoroughbred racing. This latter, the so-called Sport of Kings, is the most sought-after.

Indeed, the oldest continuously-held sporting event in US history – of any kind – is the Kentucky Derby, which was first run in 1875 and remains the ultimate Thoroughbred horse meet on the planet. The Kentucky Derby isn’t just the Super Bowl of horse racing, it’s a global phenomenon that has no real rival or analog. For many gamblers and other sports bettors, the Derby – and the magnificent sport it represents – is the highlight of the year. In other words, the Kentucky Derby (and, to a lesser degree, the other Triple Crown races) will keep horse racing relevant for decades to come. If you’ve ever been interested in horse racing betting, or if you’re just drawn to these regal creatures in general, now is the time to learn the ropes and start enjoying your days and nights at the races, whether in person or over the Internet – or both!

Is Horse Racing Betting Legal In The United States?

Yes! Yes, horse racing betting is legal in the United States, no matter where you live. The only real hurdle (steeplechases notwithstanding!) comes with where you can actually wager. Most states – 40, to be precise – have horse racing betting available. Not all of these states have active racetracks, though most do, and they also typically offer off-track betting (OTB) locations for those areas that are far away from active tracks. Thanks to the federal Interstate Horseracing Act, states are able to offer horse betting across state lines, and there is an active simulcast industry where bettors can place wagers on live races all across the country (and even various races at tracks in other countries entirely).

Unlike typical sports betting, horse racing betting is of the pari-mutuel (aka pool-based) variety. This is one of the primary reasons that the pastime has always generally been treated as functionally different than house-banked sports wagering. Many states don’t even consider horse racing betting to be gambling, treating it more like a lottery. As such, the typical minimum age to bet on the horses is 18 rather than 21. There are exceptions, but this is generally true nationwide.

Horse racing betting is also legally different from sports betting thanks to its payout structure. In horse racing betting, payouts are not fixed, instead being contingent on all the other wagers placed in a given betting pool. The track takes its rake off the top, and the rest is paid out accordingly. If you’re familiar with wagering on other sports but are new to horse racing, the main thing to remember is that the numbers you see on the tote board (aka the “odds board” in other sports) is not a guarantee of your potential winnings. These are mere estimates. This adds to the excitement for horseplayers, and it also means that the results are fundamentally and unassailably fair across the board. Just like other legal sports betting, you can find some great horse betting bonuses to help you hedge your bets.

Where Can I Legally Bet On Horses?

As mentioned above, you can legally bet on horses pretty much anywhere. Forty US states have track-based, OTB-based, or casino-based horse racing betting (or some combination of the three), and 37 states have active racetracks. South Carolina is the only US state with horse racing tracks where wagering is not actually legal, while Alabama, Connecticut, and Rhode Island lack tracks but do allow legal simulcast wagering.The states that currently do not allow horse racing betting include the following:

Alaska | Georgia | Hawaii | Kansas | Mississippi | North Carolina | South Carolina | Utah | Vermont | Wisconsin | Washington, D.C.

While at least one of the above states – North Carolina – is on track to legalize horse racing betting (and, in this new age of sports betting legalization, some of the other states might also drop their prohibitions sooner rather than later), you can still actually play the ponies in any of these states, anytime you want. That’s because no state law or federal law precludes horseplayers from using offshore racebooks to place their wagers over the Internet.

Dedicated sports betting operators like Bovada, SportsBetting, BetDSI, and others are based overseas, and it is completely legal to use their international racebooks to place your wagers on daily horse races around the US. Most of these A-rated racebooks include dozens of major US-based tracks, as well as a premium selection of live Canadian, European, UK-based, Middle Eastern, and even Japanese venues.

Rank Sportsbook Bonus Offer Play Now
1 Bovada Online Sportsbook 50% Up To $250 Read Review Bet Now!
2 BetOnline Online Sportsbook 50% New Member Bonus!Read Review Bet Now!
3 MyBookie Online Sportsbook 50% Up To $1,000 Read Review Bet Now!
4 Sportsbetting Online Sportsbook 50% Up To $1,000 Read Review Bet Now!
5 Xbet Online Sportsbook 100% Up To $300Read Review Bet Now!

Are The Races Available At My Local Track Available Online?

Almost certainly, yes. The overwhelming majority of US racetracks, even those in smaller markets, are available over the Internet. However, there is a caveat: If you want absolutely comprehensive coverage, the place to go is to a simulcast or OTB venue, as these have state-regulated services on hand that broadcast action from all partner horse racing locales. As a general rule, you’ll get more local and regional action at a retail OTB or simulcast-ready racetrack than you will at an offshore racebook like those mentioned above.

Because the overseas books have built their own systems from scratch and don’t use the same data providers and have the same partnerships with American horse tracks as the regulated vendors, their options are more limited. However, they are only slightly more limited. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any day of the year that the best offshore horse racing betting sites don’t offer at least a couple of dozen races to choose from. Whether you wish to wager at horse tracks, OTBs or online in your own home, you’ll always have tons of action to choose from.

Betting On The 2021 Triple Crown

The Triple Crown is made up of three major horse races. Those races in order are the Kentucky Debry, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Aside from being abler to bet on all three of these races, bettors can also bet on if there will be a Triple Crown winner which means a horse that wins all three races.

Will There Be A Triple Crown Winner In 2021

2021 Kentucky Derby Odds

It’s never too early to place bets on the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports. The tentative date for the 147th edition of the Kentucky Derby is May 1, 2021, and an advantage of placing Kentucky Derby bets this early is that it maximizes the potential return. As these odds are likely to become shorter as the Derby approaches, getting in early could be a good way to get good Kentucky Derby odds on a favorite. The horse with the best odds right now is Life Is Good, followed by Essential Quality. Only Life is Good has odds under +1000, as Essential Quality’s odds have dropped from +900 to +1200 over the last few weeks.

  • Life Is Good +250
  • Essential Quality +600
  • Greatest Honour +700
  • Concert Tour +1400
  • Caddo River +1600
  • Mandaloun +2500
  • Collaborate +3300
  • Hot Rod Charlie +3300
  • Medina Spirit +3300
  • Prevalence +3300
  • Keepmeinmind +3500
  • Known Agenda +4000
  • Rock Your World +4000
  • Classier +5000
  • Helium +5000
  • Hidden Stash +5000
  • Highly Motivated +5000
  • Midnight Bourbon +5000
  • Prime Factor +5000
  • Proxy +5000
  • Risk Taking +5000
  • The Great One +5000
  • Crowded Trade +6600
  • Jackie’s Warrior +6600
  • Spielberg +6600
  • Weyburn +7500
  • Dream Shake +8000
  • Freedom Fighter +8000
  • Olympiad +8000
  • Prate +8000
  • Roman Centurian +8000
  • Candy Man Rocket +10000
  • Dynamic One +10000
  • Ghazaaly +10000
  • Lemon Pop +10000
  • Rombauer +10000
  • Soup And Sandwich +10000

2021 Belmont Stakes Odds

The odds for the 2021 Belmont Stakes are not up yet on the major horse racing betting websites, as the Belmont Stakes will resume its usual position as the last of the Triple Crown races. This position means that it will have odds posted after the odds for both the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby, and those odds will likely correspond to the winners and placers at those two big races.

2021 Preakness Stakes Odds

The 2021 Preakness Stakes do not have odds on them just yet, but the race will have odds on it soon enough. Right now, look to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks to see who the early favorites in the field might be, as both of those races will happen before the Preakness, and both of those races’ winners will likely be tipped to rise up the Preakness odds boards when they are posted.

Horse Racing Wager Types

In order to really enjoy the full gamut of legal horse racing betting in the US, you need to make sure you understand the basic wager types. There are a few specific terms you’ll need to know, but for the most part, your betting options are going to be relatively straightforward. Even better, these terms are all totally institutionalized, and all racetracks, OTBs, and offshore betting sites use identical terms. The only difference you’re likely to come across between various betting outlets is how they advertise their odds. Most in-person venues will use fractional odds, while most racebooks on the Internet will use moneyline odds. (A select few European outlets still use decimal odds, but you will rarely come across these as a US bettor.)

There are two main types of horse racing wagers: straight bets and exotic bets. These cover everything but futures bets and specials, which are limited to overseas books and are typically only available for the biggest races on the calendar.

Horse Betting Straight Wagers

There are four kinds of straight wagers in the horse racing betting world. You can place Win, Place, Show (aka W/P/S or WPS) and “across the board” (ATB) bets.

  1. Win – A “Win” bet means that you simply pick a horse to win the race. If the horse wins, you win, and if the horse loses, you lose. Simple.
  2. Place – “Place” bets require you to pick a horse, and if that horse finishes in 1st or 2nd, you win.
  3. Show – A “Show” bet means that you pick a horse, and if that horse finishes in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, you win.
  4. Across the board – ATB bets are similar to the above, but you’re betting on all three WPS results for a specific horse. For example, let’s say you pick a horse “across the board”. If that pony wins outright, you receive all of the Win, Place, and Show amounts. If the horse finishes in 2nd, you get the Place and Show amounts. If the horse finishes in third, you get the Show amount. The more chances a given wager gives you to win, the more expensive that ticket is. Where this really comes into play is with exotic bets.

Horse Racing Exotic Wagers

Exotics are akin to parlay bets in sports wagering. Essentially, you are wagering on multiple horses and multiple outcomes, all on the same ticket. If you want to make big money with your horse racing bets, exotic wagers are what you need to stick to. There are two main categories of exotics, commonly called “horizontal” and “vertical.” Horizontal exotics are wagers that pertain to one single race. Vertical exotics refer to wagers that cover multiple races on any single day at a given track.

Horizontal Exotics

The main horizontal exotics are the exacta (aka perfecta, in some markets), trifecta, and superfecta. These types of exotic bets can also be “boxed,” which is a strategy many horseplayers use.

  1. Exacta/Perfecta – If you place an exacta bet, you are picking two specific horses to finish in 1st and 2nd place, in that exact order. You can “box” an exacta, allowing the horses you choose to finish in either order, but you will be wagering a set amount for each possible winning outcome. You can also box an exotic wager with more horses, but again, this increases your chances to win and therefore costs more to place the bet. For example, if you “box” an exacta with three horses, only two must finish in first or second, in either order. As there are six possible winning outcomes, you will pay six times what a single exacta ticket would cost. The more horses you box, the larger the price of the overall wager.
  2. Trifecta – A trifecta is exactly like the exacta above, except that you are picking three horses to finish in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, in the exact winning order. You can box a trifecta bet with as many horses as you wish, but the price gets steep in a hurry. For example, in the Kentucky Derby, a $1 trifecta win might earn you $100. That’s a nice payout. But if you box your trifecta with six horses, at $1 per possible winning combination, you’d spend $120 on the ticket. Even if your six-horse box trifecta hits, you’re still out $20!
  3. Superfecta – A superfecta is the same as an exacta or a trifecta, but here, you’re picking the four horses to finish in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, in order. A $1 superfecta bet can be boxed, and a winning ticket can pay upwards of $20,000 or more. Again, however, boxing these can get pricey in an instant. A 13-horse boxed $1 superfecta has 17,160 different winning combinations, so it will cost you $17,160. Even if the payout is $20,000, that’s a pretty outsize risk for most gamblers.

Vertical Exotics

Vertical exotic wagers are commonplace, and these allow bettors to place a single wager covering several different races’ results. The most common vertical exotics that you’ll find will be referred to as Pick 3, Pick 5, or Pick 6 wagers. A Pick 3 bet requires you to choose three of the day’s races at a particular track and correctly pick each of those races’ winning horses. Pick 5s work the same way, except you’re picking 5 different race winners. Pick 6s are again the same, only you’re selecting 6 different races’ winners.

Not all tracks have Pick 5s and Pick 6s, but just about every single horse racing bookmaker will have Pick 3s and – even more commonly – “Pick 2s,” which are usually referred to as Daily Doubles. Some tracks will let you pick the races you’re betting on, while others will mandate specific races that such vertical exotics apply to. Daily Doubles almost always require you to wager on two consecutive races, making them quite a lot tougher than they might otherwise be. Vertical exotics have huge moneymaking potential, and many lucky bettors have won hundreds of thousands of dollars hitting on comparatively inexpensive Pick 5 or Pick 6 bets.


Other Ways To Legally Bet On Horse Races

Outside of the betting types mentioned earlier, there are even more options like futures, prop bets and two-way betting. Online racebooks, both regulated and international, and physical racetracks all offer betting lines such as these and more. You will find there is no shortage of ways to wager on horse races. Particularly during the Triple Crown, events you will find a slew of odds and betting lines available.

Horse Racing Futures

Futures represent outcomes that are still far off on the horse racing calendar. The best example of horse racing futures occurs in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby, and these are posted before the final field is set. Though the Kentucky Derby can only be run between a maximum of 20 different horses, the futures lines posted at most overseas bookmakers have 40+ ponies to choose from. Half or more of these won’t even make the Run for the Roses, meaning that you’d lose the bet if you pick a horse that doesn’t make the cut.

Futures bets are never refunded if your horse doesn’t actually run in the race, regardless of why. Even if the pony is a late scratch, a futures bet is always binding and always has action. (A reputable book will typically refund a race-day scratch for pari-mutuel bet types, but futures are house-banked, not pool-based.)

Horse Racing Props

Horse racing prop bets are akin to proposition wagers in other sports, where the book provides you with any number of scenarios, and you choose whether or not that scenario will happen. Horse racing props typically come in the form of a yes/no or over/under wager, and like futures, these are almost always exclusively house-banked rather than pari-mutuel. As such, you can only really find a comprehensive slate of horse racing props at offshore racebooks.

Some examples of horseplayer props you might come across include things like whether or not a given pony will beat the course record, how many lengths the winning horse will win by, whether or not a given trainer’s horse or horses will podium, and so on. Prop wagers are always a ton of fun, and in some ways, it’s a shame that they’re only really available online. However, they’re a great reason to join an offshore racebook, even if you have easy access to a local track or OTB.

Mobile Horse Racing Betting

One of the highlights of going to any horse racing venue is going through the ticketing process of placing your wagers. If you have any interest in horse racing betting whatsoever, you’ll definitely want to experience this time-honored tradition. However, most folks cannot get to the racetrack as often as they’d like – or even get to a track at all, depending on where they live. For them, mobile horse racing betting is a godsend. Mobile horse racing betting allows you to use your online racebook of choice from wherever you are in the US.

All the top horse racing betting sites offer comprehensive, small-screen-optimized portals that work perfectly with any modern smartphone or tablet. You don’t need any special iPhone, iPad, or Android apps, either; rather, you simply visit your book via your device’s mobile browser, and you’ll get a customized, one-tap experience where you can place any horse bet you wish, at any national or international track supported by your bookmaker. This kind of wagering is extremely popular, and the expanded reach that mobile horse racing betting offers to the institution of the sport itself cannot be overstated.

Common Terms Used During Horse Races That All Bettors Should Know

Often when listening to commentators as you’re watching a race, they will use terms that only seasoned horse racing goers would understand. It’s important to know what these terms mean when it comes to betting on a horse. If you’d rather pick a horse based on what you’re seeing rather than it’s listed odds, these words will help you all the more.

Made All – When they say that a horse “made all” it means that they got themselves into first place during a race and remained there till the end.

Dwelt – Basically meaning when a horse trots at their own speed and does not try to get ahead in the race by galloping at a faster rate.

Supplement – To supplement a horse means that the horse has entered the competition during its final rounds. To supplement a horse means the owner will typically have to pay in order to get the horse a spot.

EW – When EW is referenced in horse betting it stands for Each Way bet. This bet has two sections; for the horse to win and then for the horse to place.

Quinella – Two horses are chosen and if those horses finish first and second is either order, you win. Secondary term for an exacta box.


Are there any states in the USA that have not made horse betting legal?

Yes, if you live in the states of Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington D.C. betting on horse races is illegal. However, if bettors can legally place bets if they use any legitimate online racebook that isn’t operating out of the United States. As already mentioned on this page sports betting sites like Bovada, BetOnline, and MyBookie give bettors In the US another legal outlet to bet on races like the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes.

Are The Online Racebooks Safe?

Yes, the online racebooks we recommend are safe to use. Whether you use websites like Twinspires and TVG, or turn to offshores like Bovada and BetOnline, you should be in good hands. Just make sure you stick to the websites that are vouched for by those you trust. We as a website cannot vouch for every single online racebook, only the ones that we use.

What’s The Difference Between Offshore And State Sanctioned Books?

In terms of how it affects you, the wagerer, functionally none. They offer the same odds and the same functionality. However, the state sanctioned books are just that – state sanctioned. They might have mildly worse odds, given that they are taxed, but they could be a good option depending on your preference. The choice is up to you.