California is home to one of the oldest and most established horse race betting scenes in the country. The state’s first racetrack was built in 1858 in suburban San Francisco.
Horse race betting is currently legal in California. It’s likely to stick around for the foreseeable future both at retail tracks and online.
Top Online Horse Race Betting Sites
TVG Betting App
TVG provides 24/7 horse race streaming to California viewers and is arguably the biggest name in online horse race betting. Although it offers a website for desktop and a mobile app for iOS, it does not yet offer an app for Android.
The mobile app 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 a risk-free bet of up to $300. Note that this bonus is really only useful if you lose your first bet. Also, only single win or single-race bets qualify.
TwinSpires Betting App
This is another great horse race 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 $500 within 30 days, you’ll get $100 in free site credit. While this bonus isn’t the largest around, it’s notable because it doesn’t come with strings attached like most other welcome bonuses.
Is Horse Race Betting Legal In California?
California has long been the West Coast horse racing capital and an indirect rival to East Coast horse racing tracks. The state’s horse race betting history began in 1933, when state legislation legalized pari-mutuel wagering. The San Joaquin Fair in Stockton opened its tracks to wagering in August of that year.
Notably, horse racing tracks existed before legalization. The state has a long history of horse race betting that existed “off the books”.
Soon after broad legalization, other California fairs began offering legal wagers at their race tracks. Ever since 1933, horse racing has been allowed and enjoyed by California residents, except for during World War II. During that time, the tracks were used for military production.
The majority of California tracks focus on thoroughbred horse racing. To a lesser degree, you can also find harness races.
Although horse racing has remained a stable gambling activity in the state, the industry as a whole has begun to suffer from lower attendance and lower wages. This is true even with the advent of online horse betting apps. Since 2000, several high-profile tracks have closed, including the Hollywood Park, Solano Fair, and the Bay Meadows tracks.
Recent legislation concerning California horse racetracks includes a 2004 measure that came nowhere near passing. This would have allowed banking games and slot machines to be added to race tracks, turning the establishments into “racinos”. But for now, horse racing tracks are still exclusive to their unique gambling type.
Still, online horse race betting is totally legal (unlike many other types of online gambling activities) in California. The state is pretty relaxed about how and where you can gamble for horse races. You can place bets in-person, online, and off-track. If the Indian led California sports betting bill passes, horse racing tracks would be allowed to offer retail sports betting at their race tracks.
Types Of Horse Racing Bets
There are two broad types of horse racing bets: straight and exotic.
Straight Horse Racing Bets
Straight horse racing 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 a prediction of the place in which a horse will finish. 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 Racing Bets
Exotic bets come in two types: horizontal and vertical. A horizontal bet is a variation of a parlay bet across multiple races. Alternatively, in a vertical bet you must predict the exact order that horses will finish in for a single race.
While it’s not uncommon for horse racing apps to include exotic bets, it’s also not guaranteed. Different horse racing apps will allow different exotic bets depending on legal nuances. Additionally, some horse racing apps may include even more unique bets, like event-specific bets (in which you predict that an event will happen during a horse race).
How To Bet At Race Tracks Online And Offline
Betting At A Race Track
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 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.
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 livestreams 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 27 satellite locations in both southern and central California.
Top Race Tracks For Betting In California
Most of the major race tracks in California are among the best in the nation.
The Santa Anita Park first opened in 1907 before horse racing was officially legal in California. In 1933, after legalization, the race track 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’ World Cup Thoroughbred Champions. 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.
This track, 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 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 race track treats guests to a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay Area. It features a tapeta racing surface, a Lakeside turf course, and a one-mile main racetrack.
Fine dining and entertainment options are in abundance, so there’s always something to do while you wait for your race to start. Additional events over the racing season keep things interesting, and Golden Gate often allows the public to enter at a very low cost.
The race track 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 is one of the oldest race tracks 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 Race Tracks
Santa Anita Park is located very 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 Race Track 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 Race Tracks
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 Race Tracks FAQ
You need to be 21-years-old to place horse race bets in-person or online in California.
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 tribal casinos.
On a side-note, the only reason online horse race betting became legal so quickly in California was because horse racing was already legal at in-person tracks.
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.
While many tracks have closed in recent years, the four remaining are likely to remain at least for some time. They are not currently in any danger of becoming illegal.
This type of betting is extremely common in horse racing. All bets go into a single pool at the track observes and tallies. The track will take a slight fee from the overall pot for running the races.