By Steve Beauregard (Updated April 2021)
Most of the country cannot go online to play poker, slots or table games, yet due to a quirk in the law, you can, in most states, legally bet on horse races over the internet.
First the usual disclosure: I am not a lawyer (although I have watched a lot of “Law and Order.”). What I am, however, is your typical gambler who likes the adrenaline rush of betting on horse racing.
Fortunately, in my state, (Colorado), I can. Likely you can too.
In fact, online horse race betting is legal in 41 of the 50 states.
The Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 allowed race tracks (both for horses and greyhounds), to broadcast their races to other locations and accept bets. Later, in 2000, to keep up with emerging technology, an amendment to this legislation was passed allowing wagering via phone and the internet.
And while the passage of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Enforcement Gaming Act effectively shut down online poker playing for residents of the United States, wording in the UIEGA kept online horse race betting legal. And no, I don’t know why horse racing betting online is legal while poker playing is not.
The caveat here is that your particular state has to agree to allow the interstate horse bet wagering.
Not all states do, and the list of states that allow online horse bet racing changes constantly. Some states allow betting only at certain tracks, on certain websites, and/or will prohibit betting at a track in the bettor’s home state.
My point is that each state is different, and the laws are always being tweaked. I’ll try to keep this list updated, however, the surest way to know if you can legally bet on horses over the internet is to try to bet on one of the legal, legitimate horse race betting sites that are located in the United States.
Here I’m talking about the bigger, reputable sites like Twinspires.com, or BetAmerica.com, or TVG.com. These sites are licensed by gaming commissions in one of the 50 states.
The website will let you know if it is illegal: it simply won’t allow you to register if you choose a state on the “illegal” list.
Here are the nine states where there seems to be consensus that online horse race betting is prohibited:
States Where Horse Racing Betting Online is Not Allowed
Online horse race betting sites like BetAmerica do not accept players from the following states:
New Jersey (see below)
Note that while it is on the list above, betting online on the ponies in New Jersey is legal. However New Jersey only allows online wagering on a sole, state-approved website: 4NJBets.com
Some sites, like TVG, do not accept players from Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin (as well as the other nine states listed above).
Now here are the states where it appears that internet horse race betting is legal and where licensed sites, (based in the United States), are currently accepting players. This is not based on any legal opinion, it’s based on major sites (BetAmerica and TwinSpires), accepting players from the following states:
Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, 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.
Some extra tidbits:
* Contrary to what you find on some outdated sites, online horse race betting is legal in California. The state’s legislature passed a bill allowing interest horse race betting in 2010.
* There was talk that the Georgia state senate would pass legislation that would bring an initiative, allowing the state’s voters to decide if online horse race betting should be legal, however the legislation fell two votes short, according to a group calling itself the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition.
(Photo courtesy of Dennis Forgione via Flickr).