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Horse Racing Betting

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Horse racing is one of the world’s most popular spectator sports and one of the most popular sports to bet on. With hundreds of horse racing events taking place throughout the year, there are plenty of opportunities to bet on horse races. The introduction of the Interstate Horseracing Act in 1978 opened up the US horse betting market, giving more people the chance to wager on horse races across the country. If you’re completely new to betting on horse racing, or just want to learn more about betting on horse races online, US has everything you need to know.

US Horse Racing Betting History

For many years, US bettors had to visit a racetrack to bet on horse races across most of America, which meant that horse wagering opportunities were pretty limited. However,  in 1978, the Interstate Horseracing Act (IHA) legalized off-track horse race betting, with Congress ruling that each state should have the freedom to determine what forms of gambling should legally take place within their border. Of course, this didn’t apply to all forms of sports gambling, until the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018.

The IHA opened up the US sports betting market, meaning bettors could wager on horse racing events at off-track betting parlors, where simulcast wagering allowed bettors to bet in the same betting pool. Eventually, the horse racing betting market opened further, leading to the popularity of online sites for horse race betting. The betting pools for US horse betting sites are joined with other racetracks.

When you bet on horse racing in America, you’ll be making a pari-mutuel bet. This means that, rather than betting against the house as you would at an online casino, you’re betting for your share of a betting pool, comprised of other punters’ wagers. Racetracks and betting sites are allocated a proportion of this pool for running costs, and the rest of the pool is divided among winning punters.

Bet on Horse Racing Online in these US States

While betting on football and other sports isn’t yet legal in all US states, Americans have much more freedom when it comes to betting on horse racing events. However, while betting on horses at racetracks and off-track betting facilities is legal in many states, online horse racing betting isn’t legal in all jurisdictions. The top US horse racing betting sites accept bettors from:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

While each of these states permits online horse racing betting sites, the exact regulations regarding how residents place bets can vary. For example, bettors in Arizona may access the betting site, but they must place wagers over the telephone.

Major US Horse Racing Events

With horse racing events throughout the year, horse racing fans have plenty of betting opportunities throughout the year. These best horse racing betting sites offer markets events across the world, including the Grand National and the Melbourne Cup, but these are some of the biggest horse racing events in America.

Kentucky Derby

3The Kentucky Derby is America’s best-known horse racing event and takes place at the world-famous Churchill Downs racetrack in Kentucky. It takes place annually on the first Saturday in May and is the first event in the US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. The race is a one-quarter mile long and sees 20 horses compete. Horses must travel along the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races across the world, to make it to the Derby, where there’s a total prize pool of $2 million.

Preakness Stakes

This annual horse race is the second leg of the US Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing and takes place in Baltimore, Maryland on the 3rd Saturday in May. Horses must be at least three years old and a thoroughbred to qualify for the 1.2 mile race on dirt track.

Belmont Stakes

Belmont Stakes is held in New York on the first or second Saturday of June every year. Also known as the ‘Run for the Carnations’ because of the white carnation blanket awarded to the winning horse, this race is 1.5 miles long. As the final leg of the Triple Crown races, the field is often the smallest of the three.

The Breeder’s Cup World Championships

This competition is the culmination of the US thoroughbred-racing season and is help. Horses must be nominated to compete in the various races that take place across the weekend, which means only the best of the best compete. Race distances over the weekend range from 5.5 furlongs to 1.5 miles, though the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the defining event of the race. This race is limited to 14 starters, all competing along the 1.25 mile track for their share of the $6 million prize purse.

Picking a Winner

There’s no simple answer when it comes to picking a winner in horse racing. Betting on a horse according to its race name is just a popular tactic among more casual bettors, but there are a few factors you should research before you bet on the horses.

Previous performance and recent races are a good place to start, but you should look a little deeper than simply where the horse has placed. You should consider the distance of the race, as well as the design of the racetrack, considering the ground type and any obstacles along the way to determine which horses are likely to come out on top.

Some of the best online horse betting sites have information on past performance, which means you can get clued in on the horse racing stats and head over to make your bets in just a couple of clicks.

Horse Racing Betting Markets

You’ll have a few different options when it comes to betting on horse races.

Straight Wagers

Straight wagers are bets on just one horse in that race

  • Win- You’re betting that your horse will come in first place, and this bet will only pay out if your horse wins.
  • Place- This is a bet that your horse will come first or second.
  • Show- Show bets put money on your horse placing first, second or third.

Exotic Wagers

Exotic wagers are bets on multiple horse in one bet, upping your potential profit. 

  • Exacta- This is a bet that two horses will come first and second in exact order and will only pay out if the horses finish in the order you predict.
  • Quinella- Similar to an exacta bet, but you aren’t predicting the order in which your two horses come first and second.
  • Trifecta- You’re betting that three horses will finish first, second and third in exact order.
  • Superfecta- A superfacta is a bet on four horses finishing in the top four places in exact order.

Horse Racing Betting Odds

You’ll need to have a basic understanding of how betting odds work before you bet on a horse racing event. US horse betting sites tend to display horse betting odds in fractional format, but you might see betting odds displayed in American or decimal format. However the odds are displayed, they indicate the same thing: the betting site’s prediction of whether the horse will win, or place, in a race.

Horse racing odds are a good place to start when it comes to betting on horse races, but betting on the bookies’ favourite doesn’t guarantee you a winning bet. Horse racing betting odds can vary between sportsbooks, so we’d advise comparing betting sites to find the best price.

Here’s a real-world example of how horse racing odds work:

At a Churchill Downs horse race, the betting site has odds priced a moneyline bet for Princess Warrior to win at 7/5. This means that, if the horse were to win, you’d win $7 for every $5 wager. So, if you were to make a successful $50 bet, you’d land a total of $350.

Want to know more about how odds work? Check out our guide on how to read betting odds.

Mobile Horse Racing Betting

There might only be a handful of states that permit mobile sports betting, but mobile betting on horse racing is available across much of America. The best betting sites have mobile betting sites and apps for iPhone and Android users, which means you can bet on horses on your phone wherever you are in a state with legal online horse racing betting. 

Whether you want to bet on horse racing, or bet on any other sports online, you can count on to bring you the very best betting sites, as well as the latest US sports betting news

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to bet on horse races online?

Yes, if you’re betting at a licensed US betting site. Each state has its own racing commission that sets laws on betting on horse racing events, regulating both racetrack betting and online horse racing sites to ensure compliance with that state’s horse racing betting laws. These commissions also ensure that betting sites are secure, protecting bettor’s personal and financial information. Offshore gambling sites don’t offer the same security guarantee as they aren’t regulated by a governing body.

Can I claim a bonus at horse racing betting sites?

Yes. The top horse racing betting sites have a range of bonuses and promotions to reward punters. While matched deposit bonuses and free bets are the most common welcome bonus, some sites have VIP programs and wager reward schemes through which customers are rewarded for wagering on the site. These rewards vary from cashback schemes to invitation-only special events. 

What is the legal age for betting on horse races?

This depends on the state you’re betting in. While some states permit betting on horse racing from 18, others stipulate that residents must be over 21 to gamble.

Can I stream horse racing events on horse racing betting sites?

Yes. You can watch high definition live streams of hundreds of races around the world, as the action is underway. Most sites even allow customers to stream these events on their mobile. You’ll need to create, and verify, your online horse betting site account to view these live streams, and there may be a limit to how many videos you can stream in a specified time. 

Do online horse betting sites offer markets on international horse racing events?

Sure. Whether you want to bet on Kentucky Derby horse races, the Grand National or the Melbourne Cup, there are plenty of international horse racing betting markets at the top betting sites. 

The people behind this page's online gambling content experts helped write, edit and check the content on this page:

Jake is a gambling content specialist for, with a focus on the regulated US market. He is responsible for producing news content for News, state guides for US and has interviewed several senior executives within the gambling industry. Jake previously wrote for Gambling Insider and LGBT+ news site PinkNews.