Legal USA Online Horse Betting Guide For 2020

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Long before mankind kicked a leather ball or tossed one around a dirt diamond, people were riding on horseback for sport. As soon as horses became domesticated, man realized he could ride these fleet-footed animals. With the riding, of course, came the racing. And with the racing – you guessed it! – came the betting.

Today, the Sport of Kings is still going strong, and most states have active racetracks and horse betting opportunities for avid gamblers. Interstate horse racing betting is even allowed federally, but not everyone can easily participate, especially online. However, our legal USA online horse betting guide explains how you can be a horseplayer without any of the associated legal shenanigans, no matter where you live in the country.  To do this, simply join any offshore betting site listed here, all of which have robust international racebooks with round-the-clock action.

Is Online Horse Betting Legal In The United States?

LawbookHorse racing betting is the "most legal" form of gambling in the US, and it is governed by the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978. This allows the sport to be wagered on across state lines, which is something that the Federal Wire Act of 1961 previously barred. As a result, OTB (off-track betting) facilities let bettors wager on live races from other state's tracks, and domestic online horse racing is legal in over 40 states.

While the UIGEA banking law threatened to derail interstate horse racing by preventing banks from processing gambling-related wagers, the pastime was eventually exempt from the law.

Most states allow for horse racing betting, and many US states offer legal gambling of various other kinds, but not all do. When it comes to the ponies, you might have more local options available than other forms of gaming, but for real convenience, placing your wagers at the legitimate offshore racebooks listed on this page is going to be the real inside track. Also, these books have one major edge: They all support international races from tracks in Canada, Japan, Mexico, the Middle East, the UK, Ireland, and more!

Best Online Horse Betting Site For USA Players

Bovada Sportsbook And Casino
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USA Friendly

Compatibility

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Horse betting is just one of the many features available to players who open up a sportsbook account at Bovada. They are one of the most trusted names in online betting and come highly recommended by our team.

Bovada's racebook is second to none (except maybe Secretariat, but who isn't?), and the site offers dozens of daily races from tracks around the world, all via an easy-to-use mobile interface so your bookie is always in your pocket, and you're always at the starting gate.

 Pros

  • US Friendly - most states accepted
  • Operates under the international Bodog brand
  • Generous 50% bonus up to $250 for sports wagering and horse betting
  • 5% rebate for racebook wagers
  • Easy deposits via credit cards and Bitcoin/Bitcoin Cash
  • Most Trusted - They've never missed a payout!

Cons

  • They only accept U.S. players - no other countries allowed
  • Excluded States: NV, NJ, DE, MD

Legal Online Horse Betting Sites For USA Players

SiteReviewBonus OfferUSAVisit
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Why Does Horse Race Betting Earn Legal Status in America?

Horse racing betting has a storied legacy in the United States, and while it hasn't always been legal, pari-mutuel wagering was first legalized in America in 1908. Most state lawbooks actually consider this type of betting to be different from traditional gambling or sports wagering, because as its name implies, it is pool-based. That's what pari-mutuel means: "mutual betting."

Casinos and sportsbooks employ house-banked gambling, whereas pari-mutuel betting (as used in horse racing, greyhound racing, and jai alai) does not have any entity acting as a bank or lender. Players are paid out according to the amount of money in the pool after the racebook takes its cut, and all payouts are split equally according to the final odds at the start of the race.

This is the legal distinction that has allowed horse betting to remain legal even while sports betting was banned for much of the 20th century in the US. Also, as the chief sport for the aristocracy since America's founding, the pastime's dignified reputation allowed it to maintain a more respected status among lawmakers in general.

Major Horse Races And Events For 2020

2020 Triple Crown Races

  • 2020 Belmont Stakes - June 20, 2020
  • 2020 Kentucky Derby - Sept 5, 2020
  • 2020 Preakness Stakes -  Oct 3, 2020

Other Notable Races

  • 2020 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe – Saturday Oct. 3, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020
  • The Everest 2020 – Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020
  • 2020 Breeders Cup – Friday, Nov. 6 - Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020
  • 2020 Japan Cup – Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020
  • 2021 Pegasus World Cup – January 2021
  • 2021 Saudi Cup – February 2021
  • 2021 Dubai World Cup – March 2021

How To Bet On Horse Racing 101

two horses racing iconIf you want horse racing bets explained, this is where we break it down. As stated above, these types of wagers are largely pool wagers, or pari-mutuel in nature. Whenever you place a bet on a horse, the odds you see aren't necessarily going to be the odds you get once all the betting is in. As the lines change, your payout potential does, too. This is the main distinction of the pari-mutuel system from typical sports wagering.

While the American moneyline is used for most sports bets, horse racing usually uses fractional odds at state-based tracks. Offshore betting sites, however, use the moneyline, as it's easier to understand. Here, we will give an example of both, using some famous horses from history in a fictional race:

  • Secretariat 1/3 (-300)
  • Citation 3/2 (+150)
  • Seattle Slew 2/1 (+200)
  • Justify 5/2 (+250)
  • Count Fleet 3/1 (+300)

Here, Secretariat is a heavy favorite at 1/3 or -300. As such, a $300 wager would pay out $100 if the greatest racehorse of all time wins. Behind him, Citation is at 3/2 odds, or +150, meaning a $100 wager pays out $150 for a win. These are the basics of how to read fractional and moneyline odds. Note: Horse odds may also be written as 1:3 instead of 1/3, for example, but these mean the same thing.

Remember: The odds reflect the money in the pool at the time you place your bet, and these will change as more wagers come in and more people place the same bet you do. Some tracks used to offer "insurance" on horse wagers where your odds were locked in, but this is an old practice that has largely fallen out of fashion and disrupts the pari-mutuel status of the wagering.

Types of Horse Racing Bets

There are only two basic categories of horse racing wagers: straights and exotics. However, there is also a lot of potential modification and minutiae within these bet types to be aware of, and veteran horseplayers make use of complex parlays when chasing the biggest payouts. You don't need to read some nonsense like Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies – just study this quick primer and you'll know all you need to in order to get started.

1: The Straight Bet

With a straight bet, to give it to you simply, you are betting on a given horse to either take 1st, 2nd or 3rd place. Betting on a horse to take 1st is called a "Win" bet. Betting on a horse to take 1st or 2nd place is called a "Place" bet. And betting on a horse to take 1st, 2nd, or 3rd is a "Show" bet. In horse racing parlance, you may hear straights referred to WPS (Win/Place/Show) wagers. Betting on a horse to win outright pays more than the others wager types, as Place and Show wagers give you much better odds of hitting.

2: The Exotic Bet

More complex than straight bets, exotic bets are parlays where you have to guess the exact order placement of multiple horses in one or more races. The most common types are listed below:

  • Exacta – Pick the 1st and 2nd place winners of a single race in order
  • Trifecta – Pick the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners of a single race in order
  • Superfecta – Pick the 1st, 2nd, 4rd, and 4th place winners of a single race in order
  • Quinella – Pick two horses to take 1st and 2nd in no particular order
  • Daily Double – Pick the correct winners of two races
  • Pick 3 – Pick the correct winners of three races
  • Pick 4 – Pick the correct winners of four races
  • Pick 6 – Pick the correct winners of six races

3: The Boxing Bet

Boxing is simply a horse racing betting strategy where you place your chosen ponies in a "box" and bet on all the various outcomes of a given exotic bet when you're not confident about the order in which the horses will finish. For example, in a trifecta box, you can "box" three or more horses into one wager, and they can finish in any order and you'll still get paid out. A quinella bet is technically a two-horse "boxed" exacta.

All boxing your bet does is allow you to easily wager on all possible outcomes for a given wager type. You can box a trifecta among four horses, five horses, or even more. For example, In the case of a five horse boxed trifecta, if any three of those horses finish 1-2-3, you are paid out. You can also box superfectas.

Of course, boxing your bets is expensive, because you have to put up the initial money for each possible result. There is a threshold after which boxed bets experience a point of diminishing returns, so make sure to crunch the numbers when boxing horse racing bets.

4: The Keying Bet

Let's say you've been following the ponies for a bit and you have a very strong feeling about how a particular horse will run on a dry track vs. its competition, but you're less sure which horse will finish 2nd, 3rd, and so on. This is where you can make a keying bet. This is done by placing the bet on the horse you have "keyed" to win and then selecting all other possible horses to finish in the top, though in no exact order.

Lawbook

Are Online Horse Betting Sites Legit?

There are two main types of online horse betting: domestic and offshore. Domestic racebooks are licensed and operated by US-based companies on US soil, and all betting laws apply to them. Offshore sites are simply racebooks that are located outside of US jurisdiction where America has no legal influence. Both of these avenues are legitimate, though you will get more bang for your buck (or oof for your hoof!) by using offshore racebook sites.

If you use an online racebook from a reputable offshore operator like those listed here, not only is the service a legitimate one, but it's also much more robust. Offshore books set their odds and lines based largely on the current odds at the tracks for the races on offer. However, since they have many more bettors in general than an average racetrack, that line will move, and the pool-based payouts are going to be different than at land-based tracks by the time the betting is closed and the gates are open.

That said, despite operating on a different (and larger) pool of wagers, the wagering itself – and the straights and exotics available to choose from – are identical to what you'd find locally. An added benefit of offshore sites is that they also have futures on the biggest races (like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes), as well as Triple Crown winner futures and other props that US-based race betting operators can't offer.

How Many Horse Races Are Covered Each Day At Offshore Racebooks?

A domestic racetrack operates most days of the week during the racing season, and there are generally two seasons per year. Horse racing is mostly year-round. Each racing day, you can find 4-8 races at any given track, and thanks to interstate horse racing, that really adds up. Horse bettors rarely have much downtime if they access to domestic online racebooks.

However, offshore racebooks offer all these races plus full daily racing slates from tracks in multiple other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, England, Ireland, and even various Middle Eastern nations. Additionally, betting on the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, and other popular races like the Pegasus Cup and Breeder's Cup can all be found at reputable racebooks online. When you use an offshore betting site to play the ponies, you can basically play all day, every day, year-round.

What is the State of the Horse Racing Industry Online?

Since horse racing is exempt from most gambling laws, you may think that online racing is the largest American legal gambling industry right now. However, betting on racing is actually on the decline and has been since the 1970s. This decline can be attributed to many things, but the number-one reason is that there are so many other betting options now that better suit the younger generations.

Horse racing may be older than other sports, but horse racing betting cannot compete with the NFL betting, NBA betting, NCAA betting, and other major sports wagering markets. Then, of course, there are other gambling options like poker, casino games, bingo, and more. Adding it all up, horse racing becomes a niche sport, and that niche has actually grown smaller, not larger, since becoming accessible online. That is starting to change finally, however.

What has been getting more people over to racebooks recently has been a two-punch combo. For starters, quality offshore betting sites offer so many other gaming options to entice players in other markets (like sports bettors or blackjack players) to test the horse racing waters. Secondly, with legalized sports betting taking root in dozens of states, more people are becoming familiar with wagering in general, and they're starting to take interest in the ponies again.

New Jersey racebooks, for example, are doing much better since the overturn of the PASPA sports betting ban. But most states don't offer online casinos, so for gamblers who want to play the slots, hit the felts, and bet on the horses, offshore is the best, most comprehensive solution.

Legal Virtual Horse Racing

One of the betting markets gaining popularity quickly – particularly due to various 2020 races being rescheduled or canceled due to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic – is legal virtual horse racing. All the most reputable betting sites in the industry offer virtual sports betting, and simulated horse racing has long been a core part of that.

While the betting structures are the same (straights, exotics, etc.), virtual racing doesn't involve real horses and isn't based on the historical performances of past or present ponies. Instead, this market uses certified and audited random number generation (RNG) technology to present "fictional" horse races that gamblers can wager on. Races are run every few minutes, and at the close of betting, you can actually view entire videos of the simulations. These races are available 24/7, and you will find them in the sportsbook section of your chosen site rather than the live racebook section.

As there is no history to draw from for virtual horse racing, it cannot be handicapped in the traditional sense, and the only clue you have to the strength of each horse is in the odds themselves. Still, for fans of video poker, slots, and other RNG casino games, virtual horse racing is an easy way to learn about the sport and makes it a breeze to transition to live horse racing betting.

List Of US States That Have Legal Horse Betting

While horse betting is legal in the following states, even if you don't reside in one of those states you can still legally bet with an offshore site as long as it's licensed in a jurisdiction that offers legalized gambling. The gambling laws in America don't actually make the act of betting illegal, they merely make it illegal for domestic operators to accept wagers. In other words, placing a bet with your local unlicensed bookie isn't illegal, but that bookie is breaking the law to accept it. Check out our legal gambling states in the U.S. section for a more comprehensive overview on each state's laws.

Alabama Illinois Nebraska South Dakota
Alaska Indiana Nevada South Carolina
Arkansas Kansas New Hampshire Tennessee
Arizona Kentucky New Jersey Texas
California Louisiana New Mexico Utah
Colorado Maine New York Vermont
Connecticut Maryland North Dakota Virginia
Delaware Massachusetts North Carolina Washington
Florida Michigan Ohio West Virginia
Georgia Minnesota Oklahoma Wisconsin
Hawaii Mississippi Oregon Wyoming
Idaho Missouri Pennsylvania
Iowa Montana Rhode Island

A Brief History Of Horse Racing Betting

Horse racing is the Sport of Kings for a reason, and thought it started at least as far back as 1000 BC, its charm and intrigue persist to this day. In the US, while horse racing was organized as early 1665 when the first track was built in Long Island, the sport as we know it today started only after the Civil War (1868) upon the development of the American Stud Book. The book is now owned by The Jockey Club, which continues to compile a complete bloodline lineage of every Thoroughbred racehorse in American competitive history.

Most racehorses today are, in some part, the offspring of Man o' War, the 1920 Preakness and Belmont winner and Blood-Horse Magazine's GOAT. He didn't win the Triple Crown, as his owner held him out of the 1920 Kentucky Derby. However, the reason Man o' War gets the nod over Triple Crown champion and record-holder Secretariat (Blood-Horse's number-two horse of all time) is simply due to the fact that as a stud, Man o' War is the direct ancestor of so many champions of the 1900s and 2000s.

Today, with the sport finally experiencing an upswing thanks to legalized sports betting and expanded gambling in the US (though there are ironically still no racetracks in Nevada, the gambling capitol of the world), we are looking forward to a historic revival. The purses for major races are bigger than ever, and betting interest is growing. If you want to play the ponies, now is the best time to learn about the world's oldest sport.

Online horse racing betting is also largely legal in the US, as it is governed by a different set of rules than traditional gambling or sports wagering. Domestic operators are also not restricted by the Federal Wire Act, and they are able to combine their betting pools across multiple states (much like the Powerball lottery system). However, some states still don't have horse racing or online betting, which is why offshore sportsbooks all offer comprehensive international racebooks.

While there is nuance to the horseplaying hobby, it is straightforward enough for beginners and deep enough for veterans. Online access to horse racing betting at offshore sites has opened the entire world to American bettors, and though wagering over the Internet can never replace sitting on Millionaire's Row at the Kentucky Derby while sipping mint juleps and flailing your fancy hat, it is a great way to stay connected to the pastime and make real money enjoying the world's greatest athletes.

Other Legal Betting Options

Horse betting is not the only exciting sport to bet on. Learn how wide the scope really is when it comes to legal online sports betting.

Here are some additional online gambling sports betting markets to get in on:

Legal US Friendly NFL Betting

Legal US Friendly NBA Betting

Legal US Friendly MLB Betting

And for some non-sports related online gambling action, the following markets are also available at all the best online racebook sites:

Legal US Friendly Casinos - We only list the most reputable casinos listed here.

Legal US Friendly Poker Sites - There are only a couple but they are gems.

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