California Horse Betting in October 2022

California horse betting is the only gambling activity in the state that’s fully legal online and in-person.

That makes sense for a state that is home to one of the oldest and most storied horse racing scenes in the US. The first California horse racetrack was built back in 1858, and horse betting has been legal since 1933.

Today, the state boasts four world-class racetracks in Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos Race Course. Legal bets can be placed at a racetrack, online, and off-track in California.

Horse racing is an especially popular activity to bet on in the state because there is no legal sports betting in California.

Below, we’ll give a full breakdown on how to partake in California horse betting, as well as which horse race betting apps we think you should consider using.

Best Horse Betting Sites in California

$200 Risk-Free BetOn First Bet — T&C's Apply
TVG Promo Code

4.8

Best for Overall Quality

Pros

  • One of the industry's best opening bonuses
  • High-quality app and desktop optimized for mobile use
  • Excellent market variety with races across the world

Cons

  • $5 fee for depositing with credit or debit card
Legal in California
Payout Speed 1-2 Days
Bonus Offer $200
Banking Options

The TVG app provides 24/7 horse race streaming to California viewers. Recently rebranded as FanDuel TV, it is arguably the biggest name in online horse betting. It offers a website for desktop as well as a mobile app for iOS (available in the App Store) and Android devices (downloaded directly from the TVG website).

TVG Horse Racing is pretty easy to navigate. Upcoming races are always prominently displayed. You can find a list of all the major races on the left-hand side of the screen. You’ll also see a list of top races, pools, and tracks on the main app page. TVG and its cousin channel, TVG2, are both accessible via live stream at the touch of a button.

TVG has a solid welcome bonus that provides up to $200 on your first single-horse wager. Of course, this bonus is really only useful if you lose your first bet. However, if you win your first bet, you should still be plenty happy. You can use our exclusive TVG promo code to access this offer.

100% Deposit Match Up to $200On First Deposit — T&C's Apply
BetMGM Horse Racing California Bonus Code

4.7

Best for Welcome Bonus

Pros

  • Wide variety of bet types to choose from
  • High-quality app that's easy to navigate
  • Can be tied to MGM Rewards program

Cons

  • Not yet launched in CA
Not Yet Available in California
Payout Speed 72 hours
Bonus Offer $200
Banking Options

Powered by NYRA Bets, the BetMGM Horse Racing app will offer a wide range of promos on an extremely reliable app in California when it launches in the state.

Features will include the following:

  • Live streaming on all events, much like BetMGM Sportsbook offers live streaming for select games
  • Powerful bet tracker and analytics section
  • Access to bets on tracks across the country and around the world

Unfortunately, Californians don’t have access to BetMGM Sportsbook or the BetMGM Casino due to state regulations. But as one of the highest-rated betting apps in the US, BetMGM is always a welcomed addition to an online betting market.

In California, new members at BetMGM Horse Racing will likely receive a 100% deposit match up to $200. Terms and conditions apply.

$200 Bonus CashAfter Spending $800 — T&C's Apply
TwinSpires California Promo Code

4.6

Best for International Races

Pros

  • Intriguing market of races from around the world
  • Consistent stream of ongoing promotions
  • Streamlined interface on mobile app and desktop

Cons

  • Welcome offer requires $800 spent to get full bonus
  • Limited withdrawal options
Legal in California
Payout Speed 3-5 days
Bonus Offer $200
Banking Options

TwinSpires is another great horse betting choice for California residents. It’s named after the twin spires seen at the famous Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s also the main horse wagering website for the Kentucky Derby and several other high-profile races.

TwinSpires features a huge variety of US and international tracks so you can watch horse racing almost 24/7. Even better, you can select your favorite track to see all of its upcoming races. There’s no difference between the in-person bets you can place at TwinSpires’ associated physical tracks and the online app.

It also provides a welcome bonus for new bettors. If you sign up for an account and wager at least $800 within 30 days, you’ll get $200 in free site credit. (Or $400 for $100.)

Is Horse Race Betting Legal in California?

Yes. Horse betting has been legal in California since 1933, when the state legalized pari-mutuel wagering. In a nutshell, pari-mutual wagering is when the racetrack takes a cut of all bets, no matter what, while the bettors are actually wagering against each other, not the house.

Where were the first legal horse race bets placed in California? If you said the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton, congratulations. How in the world did you know that?

That was just the first fair to offer legal betting at their racetracks, though. Horse betting spread like wildfire throughout California after 1933. (Except for during World War II, when racetracks were used for military production.)

Most California horse racetracks focus on thoroughbred racing. However, live harness racing still exists, too.

California used to have many more horse racetracks than it does now. There have been several high-profile closures since 2000. Still, the four California horse racetracks are seen as some of the best in the US. Also, interested bettors can place bets on horse races off-track, too, or via horse racing apps.

If Prop 26, the tribal-led California sports betting ballot initiative, passes in this November’s election, in-person sports betting will be allowed via sportsbooks at the state’s four horse racetracks (in addition to the 67 California Indian casinos).

That could help prevent more racetracks from closing in the future, as offering sportsbooks will generate a significant amount of revenue.

How Can I Bet on Horse Racing in California?

Betting at a Racetrack

If you want to place a bet at an actual racetrack, you’ll need to gather your daily racing form (DRF) and race track program to gather information on the horses and players. After making your betting decisions, you’ll approach the betting window and state the following:

  • the name of your track
  • the number of the race you’ll be betting on
  • the dollar amount of your bet
  • the type of wager you’ll be making (i.e. single, place, show, etc)
  • the number of the horse or the horses you’re betting on

You’ll then confirm the information on your ticket, deposit your wager amount, and go watch the race. When the race is over, you’ll return to the window to collect your winnings if you’re lucky.

Betting Online

You can place horse racing bets using online apps by first registering for the app and providing a small amount of personal information. This includes your name, phone number, and Social Security number (usually the last four digits), along with your birthdate to prove that you’re of legal gambling age.

You’ll also likely need to either provide your address or allow geolocation technology to install on your phone. This allows the app to make sure that you’re placing a bet within California borders.

After registering for the app, you can deposit money into your account through a variety of payment methods. These include credit and debit cards and sometimes e-wallets like PayPal. After funding your account, you’re free to navigate the site, watch live streams of various horse races, and place your wagers.

Off-Track Horse Betting in California

Off-track horse race betting allows you to place horse racing wagers at locations outside the race track. These can be other casinos or businesses that are just licensed to take these kinds of bets. For instance, Hollywood Park is now a Rams playing field. But it’s also a licensed off-track betting facility, so you can place wagers on races that happen elsewhere in California from this location.

Such facilities usually have TVs so you can watch the races, along with program information so you can make informed betting decisions. Players usually use off-track betting locations if they aren’t close to a race track themselves and don’t want to use a mobile app.

Off-track betting is legal in the state, and you can find it in 29 locations in both Southern and Central California.

Here’s a full list:

Off-Track Betting LocationCity
Viejas Casino & Turf ClubAlpine
Shasta District FairAnderson
Kern County FairBakersfield
Surfside Race Place at Del MarDel Mar
Redwood Acres FairEureka
Fresno Club OneFresno
Fresno District FairFresno
Desert ExpocentreIndio
Fantasy Spring CasinoIndio
Hollywood Park Race TrackInglewood
Barona Resort & CasinoLakeside
Antelope Valley FairLancaster
Monterey County FairMonterey
Lake Perris Sports PavillionPerris
Alameda County FairPleasanton
Los Angeles County FairPomona
California Exposition & State FairSacramento
National Orange ShowSan Bernardino
Santa Clara County FairSan Jose
Bay Meadows Race TrackSan Mateo
Earl Warren ShowgroundsSanta Barbara
Santa Barbara County FairSanta Maria
Sonoma County FairSanta Rosa
San Joaquin FairStockton
24th District Agricultural AssociationTulare
Turlock Satellite Wagering FacilityTurlock
Solano County FairVallejo
Ventura County FairVentura
San Bernardino County FairVictorville

Types of Horse Race Bets

There are two broad types of horse racing bets: straight and exotic.

Single Horse Bets

Single horse racing bets, or straight bets, are simple. There are three types: win, place, and show.

When you place a win bet, you are predicting which horse will cross the finish line first. A place bet is predicting the horse will finish first or second. Finally, a show bet is a prediction that your horse will finish in first, second, or third.

Furthermore, you can place bets on multiple horses. The same criteria above apply. For each horse you choose, you need to predict how it will finish.

Exotic Horse Bets

Exocit horse bets come in two main categories: horizontal and vertical.

A horizontal bet is a bet across multiple races. It’s essentially the parlay of horse racing. A vertical bet is a multiple-horse bet for one race.

Some of the most common examples include:

  • Exacta: Bet on one horse to win and one horse to place.
  • Trifecta: Bet on one horse to win, one to place, and one to show.
  • Superfecta: Bet on one horse to win, one to place, one to show, and one to finish fourth.
  • Double / Pick 2 / Pick 3 / Pick 4 etc.: Bet on multiple horses to win multiple different races — this is the horizontal type of bet we referenced above.

You can also modify your exotic bets. Two common examples are:

  • Box: Place bets on every single possible outcome for your selected horses. This obviously costs more money, but it gives you a better guarantee of payout.
  • Key: Bet on just one horse to win, but then pick multiple horses to either place or show for your trifecta bet.

While it’s not uncommon for horse racing apps to include exotic bets, it’s also not guaranteed. Different horse race betting apps will allow different exotic bets depending on legal nuances. Additionally, some horse betting apps may include even more unique bets, like event-specific bets (when you predict that an event will happen during a horse race).

What Is Pari-Mutuel Wagering?

Short answer: It’s how horse betting is legal in California.

Long(er) answer: Pari-mutuel wagering is when bettors compete against each other, rather than the “house” — or, in this case, the racetrack.

Essentially, all bets go into a single pot. Then, all the winnings are distributed out from that pool, as well as taxes and the cut the racetrack takes. This is similar to how California card rooms charge players a fee for using the facility, but the players then compete against each other.

So, in essence, the fewer people who have successful bets, the higher the payout for those successful bettors.

Top Horse Racetracks for Betting in California

Most of the major race tracks in California are among the best in the nation.

Santa Anita Park

Santa Anita Park first opened in 1907 before horse racing was officially legal in California. In 1933, after legalization, the racetrack moved to the San Gabriel Mountains. Several famous horse champions have stretched their legs at this track, including Seabiscuit and Zenyatta.

The track has also hosted famous events like the Breeders’ Cup. It also served as the shooting location for several big movies including Public Enemies.

The track itself is built from a synthetic turf material that’s perfect for serious racing. Its racing seasons are from April to June, September to November and December to April.

Del Mar Fairgrounds

Del Mar Racetrack, just outside San Diego, opened in 1936 and includes a mile-long oval racetrack. During World War II, it served as a production facility for bomber tails. More recently, it held a Bing Crosby racing season in November 2014. In 2017, it hosted the Breeders’ Cup.

The track also hosts summer concerts, making it a great general community and relaxation spot for the locals. Several restaurants and dining options are available within its perimeter, so grabbing a snack while you watch the race is easy.

It features a racing season from July to September and a shorter season in November for several stakes and classic tournaments.

Golden Gate Fields

Golden Gate Fields opened in 1941 but was quickly shut down when World War II started. It reopened in 1947 and now offers excellent horse racing experiences with a stunning view. The racetrack treats guests to a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay Area. It features a tapeta racing surface, a Lakeside turf course, and a 1-mile main racetrack.

Fine dining and entertainment options are in abundance, so there’s always something to do while you wait for your race. Additional events over the racing season keep things interesting, and Golden Gate often allows the public to enter at a very low cost.

The racetrack has two racing seasons from August to September and October to June. Throughout the year, it hosts a variety of derbies and All-American tournaments.

Los Alamitos Race Course

Los Alamitos is one of the oldest racetracks in the state and includes an extremely luxurious setting where you can watch races in comfort. The track was renovated in 2014 and now welcomes thoroughbred meets.

It offers year-round nighttime quarter horse racing and daytime thoroughbred racing during several months of the year.

Other notable events include several local derbies, a “Champion of Champion” tournament, and quarterly high-stakes tournaments. Membership tickets are available for extra perks like guaranteed tables. Other benefits include box eating, extra parking stickers, and even admission to various important races throughout the year.

Southern California Horse Racetracks

Santa Anita Park is located close to the Los Angeles metropolitan area and benefits from its close proximity to several foothills and the Angeles National Forest.

Address: 285 West Huntington Dr., Arcadia, CA 91007

Del Mar Racetrack is located just north of San Diego and almost right on the coast. Visitors are only a short walk from the beach and the club is located right off the highway for easy access.

Address: 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar, CA 92014

Los Alamitos is in Long Beach, CA, and is also only a short distance from the coast. Its proximity to other metropolitan establishments makes finding other entertainment easy while you’re waiting for your race to start.

Address: 4961 Katella Ave, Cypress, CA 90270

Check out our Guide to Gambling in Southern California

Northern California Horse Racetracks

Golden Gate Fields is located in Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has a wonderful coastal aesthetic and generally pleasant weather.

Address: 1100 Eastshore Hwy, Berkeley, CA 94710

Check out our Guide to Gambling in Northern California

California Horse Betting FAQs

What’s the minimum age for horse betting in California?

You need to be 18 years old to place horse race bets at a racetrack, online, or off-track in California. It is one of the various options for 18+ gambling in California.

Do you have to pay taxes on your horse betting winnings in California?

Yes, you do have to pay state and federal taxes from your horse betting winnings, which is considered gambling income in California.

Why doesn’t California offer sports betting when it does offer horse betting?

It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact reason. It might be because of interest groups that want to block gambling activities that would compete against Indian casinos. However, California sports betting could soon be legalized when residents vote for either Prop 26 or Prop 27 this November. Prop 26 would legalize in-person sports betting at casinos and horse racetracks. Prop 27 would legalize online sports betting.

On a side-note, the only reason online horse betting became legal so quickly in California was because betting horse racing was already legal at in-person tracks.

What’s the difference between thoroughbred horse racing and other types?

Thoroughbred horses are versatile and can cover good ground with decent speed. Quarter horses, on the other hand, tend to be faster, while Arabians tend to have better endurance.

Is horse betting likely to go away in California or become illegal?

While many racetracks have closed in recent years, the four remaining are likely to remain at least for some time. Betting on horse racing is not currently in any danger of becoming illegal. Not only are they prominent in California, but Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos Race Course are four of the more well-thought of horse racetracks in the US. California horse racing isn’t going anywhere.

What is pari-mutuel horse betting?

This type of betting is extremely common in horse racing. All bets go into a single pool that the track observes and tallies. The track will take a slight fee from the overall pot for running the races.

Can you bet on the Triple Crown horse races from California?

Yes, you can bet on the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes from California. In fact, you can bet on horse races going on across the US and throughout the world with simulcast betting at racetracks or via horse betting apps, like the TVG app.

About the Author

Amber Hoffman

Amber is the Managing Editor of California Casinos. She writes for a variety of websites in diverse industries, including gaming and travel and is a fan of international football (not "soccer") and Gaelic sports.