California horse betting is the only form of gambling in the state that’s legal both online and in-person.
Horse racing has been an integral part of the state’s sports and wagering ecosystem for more than a century. The first horse racetrack in California was built in 1858, and horse race betting was legalized in 1933.
Although the number of total racetracks has dwindled in recent years, California still has four premier venues in Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos Race Course. Santa Anita and Del Mar are seen as two of the world’s best racetracks, and Golden Gate and Los Alamitos provide great horse betting action.
California horse racing betting could see a spike in 2023. Legal sports betting in California was rejected by voters in the 2022 election, leaving horse betting as the best legal option for many.
Below is an in-depth breakdown on how you can get involved with horse betting. We detail the best horse race betting apps, give tips on handicapping, explain how to read horse racing betting odds, and provide a schedule for upcoming horse races in California.
Best Horse Racing Betting Site in California
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
$5 fee for depositing with credit or debit card
Payout Speed 1-2 Days
Bonus Offer $200
The TVG app provides 24/7 live 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 easy to navigate. Upcoming stakes races and handicap races are 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, and it’s simple to bet now. You can find handicapper advice, too, to help make your picks.
FanDuel TV is accessible via live stream at the touch of a button.
TVG has a solid welcome bonus that provides up to $200 in bonus bets on your first single-horse wager. Of course, this bonus is really only useful if you lose your first bet. You can use our TVG promo code to access this offer.
In terms of ongoing promotions, TVG is offering bettors cash back if their horse places second or third in select horse races this winter. And remember the $5 credit card or debit card deposit fees? Those are waived with deposits of $50 or more on Mondays.
Is Horse Race Betting Legal in California?
Yes, via online horse betting sites, at racetracks, or at off-track betting locations. It is also among the small handful of legal 18+ gambling options in California.
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 for the jackpot, 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. (There is no legal greyhound racing.)
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, had passed in this November’s election, in-person sports betting would have been allowed via sportsbooks at the state’s four horse racetracks (in addition to the 66 Indian casinos in California). However, it failed in a landslide at the polls.
Now, interest groups will try to get sports betting on the 2024 ballot. If it passes then, sportsbooks could launch in 2025.
That could help prevent more racetracks from closing in the future, as offering sportsbooks will generate a significant amount of revenue and increase gambler foot traffic at the racetracks.
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 racetrack program to gather information on the horses and jockeys. After making your betting picks, 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.
Is Online Horse Racing Betting Legal in California?
Horse betting is one of the few forms of legal online gambling in California.
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 state 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 racing at horse racetracks around the world, and place your wagers.
You can bet on horse races around the world via horse racing betting sites, including the Breeders’ Cup, Dubai World Cup, Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Grand National, and Cheltenham Festival.
California Horse Racing Off-Track Betting
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 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 from handicappers so you can make informed picks. 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 Location||City|
|Viejas Casino & Turf Club||Alpine|
|Shasta District Fair||Anderson|
|Kern County Fair||Bakersfield|
|Surfside Race Place at Del Mar||Del Mar|
|Redwood Acres Fair||Eureka|
|Fresno Club One||Fresno|
|Fresno District Fair||Fresno|
|Fantasy Spring Casino||Indio|
|Hollywood Park Race Track||Inglewood|
|Barona Resort & Casino||Lakeside|
|Antelope Valley Fair||Lancaster|
|Monterey County Fair||Monterey|
|Lake Perris Sports Pavillion||Perris|
|Alameda County Fair||Pleasanton|
|Los Angeles County Fair||Pomona|
|California Exposition & State Fair||Sacramento|
|National Orange Show||San Bernardino|
|Santa Clara County Fair||San Jose|
|Bay Meadows Race Track||San Mateo|
|Earl Warren Showgrounds||Santa Barbara|
|Santa Barbara County Fair||Santa Maria|
|Sonoma County Fair||Santa Rosa|
|San Joaquin Fair||Stockton|
|24th District Agricultural Association||Tulare|
|Turlock Satellite Wagering Facility||Turlock|
|Solano County Fair||Vallejo|
|Ventura County Fair||Ventura|
|San Bernardino County Fair||Victorville|
What Is Handicapping?
Handicapping in horse racing betting is evaluating the horses from a number of perspectives in order to accurately pick the winner. Some factors to consider in handicapping include:
- Jockey: Who is riding the horse? Is he on a hot streak?
- Trainer: Who trains the horse? How successful is that trainer?
- Past performance: How has the horse performed recently? Has it raced at a certain track before?
- Running styles: How does the horse’s running style suit the race surface — dirt, turf, or synthetic.
- Pedigree: What is the horse’s lineage?
- Betting odds: What are the current odds?
Often, horse racing betting sites will provide advice from a handicapper or group of handicappers to help bettors make their picks for the day.
Other Horse Race Betting Apps
While TVG Horse Racing mostly dominates the horse racing betting space, other brands more known in the sports betting world are trying to carve out a piece of the horse betting pie, too.
Part of the massive Caesars Entertainment empire, Caesars Racebook is live in Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, and Oregon. It offers access to odds from more than 300 horse racetracks across the world. It offers a 100% deposit match up to $250 for a welcome promo.
DK Horse, a joint venture between DraftKings and Churchill Downs Incorporated, will bring the DraftKings brand to horse racing betting. It’s expected DK Horse will be live by the Kentucky Derby in May. It is also expected to be legal immediately in 21 states when it launches, pending approval.
FanDuel Racing, FanDuel’s horse betting app, is legal in Arizona, Calgary, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. FanDuel has a strong presence in the horse racing world thanks to its rebranding of TVG’s network channel as FanDuel TV.
BetMGM Horse Racing
Although it’s currently only available in Ohio, Florida, and Louisiana, BetMGM Horse Racing is expected to make its way to other states soon. Partnered with NYRA Bets, BetMGM Horsr Racing has odds from more than 200 horse racetracks across the world.
PointsBet Horse Race Betting
PointsBet announced in October a partnership with 1/ST Technology to develop a PointsBet Horse Race Betting app. BetPTC.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of PointsBet, already runs a quality horse betting platform with a $200 sign-up bonus. You can expect the bones of BetPTC to form the foundation of a PointsBet horse racing app.
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
Exotic 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. Here are some betting tips and two common examples:
- 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?
Pari-mutuel wagering is the secret sauce that allows real-money horse betting in California to be legal.
Here’s how: With pari-mutuel wagering, horse bettors compete against each other rather than against the racetrack. You may be familiar with this type of betting because it’s also how California card rooms remain legal. Their players compete against each other, rather than against the house.
With horse racing betting, all wagers go into a single pot. Then, once the race is decided, winnings get divvied out to whomever won their bets. Before that, however, the racetrack takes out taxes and whatever cut it takes from wagers. This is how racetracks make money from horse betting.
So, in essence, the fewer people who have successful bets, the higher the payout for those successful bettors.
How Do Horse Racing Betting Odds Work?
Horse betting in California, and everywhere around the world, uses what’s called fractional odds.
Most gambling enthusiasts are either used to American odds (+150, -200) or decimal odds (1.87, 3.35 — common in Europe and the UK). Fractional odds work just the same. They simply look a little different.
In the simplest of terms, favorites are listed next to lower fractions, and underdogs are listed next to higher fractions. The lower the fraction, the more handicappers believe a horse can win its races.
So, if you see 3/1 next to horse A and 8/1 next to horse B, horse A is deemed more likely to win the race. Translated to American odds, 3/1 (or 3-to-1) is +300 with an implied win probability of 25%. Meanwhile, 8/1 (or 8-to-1) is the same as +800 odds with an implied win probability of 11.1%.
If they’re heavy favorites, some horses will have fractional odds of less than 1 — so 1/2, 2/3, etc. When you see those odds, that’s the same as negative odds in American odds. So, 1/2 (or 1-to-2) is the same as -200 with a 67.7% implied win probability.
These odds also dictate how much money you win on your wager. All you have to do is multiply your bet by the fractional odds line.
So, if you win a $5 bet on a horse with 4/1 odds, you’d win $20 (5 x 4 = 20) plus your original $5 for a total payoff of $25. You’d only get $7.50 back if you win that same $5 bet on a horse with 1/2 odds (5 x 1/2 = 2.5).
Translation: If an underdog wins, the bettor wins more money. But, obviously, an underdog doesn’t usually win.
Where to Watch Horse Racing 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 season runs from December-June.
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 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.
Horse Racing Tracks in Southern California
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
Horse Racing Tracks in Northern California
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 Racing Schedule 2023
Here are the notable horse races happening at California horse racing tracks to start 2023. They all take place at Santa Anita Park, which opened its winter and spring season on Dec. 26.
Here are all the races through the rest of February.
|Sweet Life Stakes - Grade III ($100,000)||Feb. 11, 2023||Santa Anita Park|
|Lady of Shamrock Stakes ($100,000)||Feb. 12, 2023||Santa Anita Park|
|Wishing Well Stakes ($100,000)||Feb. 18, 2023||Santa Anita Park|
|Spring Fever Stakes ($100,000)||Feb. 19, 2023||Santa Anita Park|
|Tiznow Stakes ($100,000)||Feb. 20, 2023||Santa Anita Park|
|Santa Ysabel Stakes - Grade III ($100,000)||Feb. 25, 2023||Santa Anita Park|
|Baffle Stakes ($100,000)||Feb. 26, 2023||Santa Anita Park|
California Horse Betting FAQs
Yes, horse betting is legal in California. The state first allowed pari-mutuel wagering in 1933. In modern times, California horse bettors can gamble on horse races at the racetrack, at simulcast betting facilities, at off-track betting locations, and online.
Yes. Online horse betting is one of the few legal forms of online gambling in California. Residents can place wagers on any horse race happening around the world via horse betting apps like TVG. The minimum age for online horse race betting in California is 18.
The California Horse Racing Board regulates all horse racing betting and pari-mutuel wagering in California. It also is responsible for overseeing racetrack safety and promoting horse racing as a whole.
Del Mar and Golden Gate Fields both take cuts ranging from 14% to 23.68%, depending on the type of wager. Santa Anita Park and Los Alamitos Race Course don’t list their cuts on their websites, but the general range across the US is usually 14-20%.
Yes, you do have to pay state and federal taxes from your horse betting winnings, which is considered gambling income in California. You would enter your horse betting winnings under “other income” on your federal Form 1040 and use that to report your federal adjusted gross income on your state return.
There is live horse racing in Southern California 10 months a year, spread out at three different racetracks. The Del Mar season runs from July to September. Los Alamitos runs a brief live racing season in September. And Santa Anita Park has its winter and spring season from December to June.
The only months without live horse racing in Southern California are October and November.
Golden Gate Fields, located in Berkeley, is the only licensed horse racetrack in Northern California. It runs its annual fall meet from October through December.
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.
Pari-mutuel wagering allows horse racing betting to be legal in California. With pari-mutuel wagering, horse bettors gamble against each other — not the racetrack. All wagers go into a single pool that the track observes and tallies. The track makes its money by taking a percentage cut of the pot every day.
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.