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.

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, 5Dimes, 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.

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.

Current Triple Crown Betting Odds

triple-crownThe American Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, or simply “The Triple Crown”, is comprised of three Thoroughbred races: the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs (Louisville, KY), the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course (Baltimore, MD), and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park (Elmont, NY). These three races comprise the pinnacle of not only US horse racing, but of all horse racing the world over. The horses that run these three races are the best champions ever to put hoof to dirt, and as you might expect, the betting action is an absolute frenzy year in and year out. In order to win the Triple Crown, a three-year-old Thoroughbred colt, gelding, or filly must win all three races. The races are held in a five-week window from early May to early June. You can find current Triple Crown betting odds at any top-tier offshore racebook, typically in the form of futures bets. Most land-based tracks and OTBs do not offer futures wagering on the Triple Crown, as these specific wager types are not of the pari-mutuel type.

2019 Kentucky Derby Odds

The 2019 Kentucky Derby futures have been posted at most of the top online racebooks, though Bovada was the first to put together a comprehensive list. The Kentucky Derby will have a maximum field size of 20 horses, though the field is not yet set. As such, you have a larger field to choose from. The top two horses at most books are Game Winner and Improbable, with the remainder of the field trending fairly far behind.

Game Winner +600 Instagrand +2500 Mucho Gusto +3300
Improbable +700 Mucho +2500 Network Effect +3300
Maximum Security +1200 Nolo Contesto +2500 Spinoff +3300
Code Of Honor +1600 Tacitus +2500 Tax +3300
Omaha Beach +1600 Vekoma +2500 US Navy Cross +3300
Cutting Humor +2000 War Of Will +2500 Walking Thunder +3300
Hidden Scroll +2000 Win Win Win +2500 Mihos +4000
Long Range Toddy +2000 Cairo Cat +3300 Mind Control +4000
Roadster +2000 Call Paul +3300 Signalman +4000
Anothertwistafate +2500 Country House +3300 Standard Deviation +4000
Bourbon War +2500 Frosted Ice +3300 Coliseum +500
By My Standards +2500 Galilean +3300 Harvey Wallbanger +5000
Complexity +2500 Gunmetal Gray +3300 Royal Marine +5000
Global Campaign +2500 King For A Day +3300 Knicks Go +10000
Haikal +2500 Maximus Mischief +3300  

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

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

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.

horse-betting-odds

Other Ways To Legally Bet On Horse Races

The above bet types represent the vast majority of wagering options you’re going to find at horse tracks, OTBs, and offshore racebook websites. However, a few land-based venues and nearly all offshore books will offer futures and props for big races.

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.