Texas Horse Betting

If you’re interested in learning about betting on horse racing in Texas, you’re on the right page. Horse betting is one of the few types of gambling that is legal in the state. Although the legal options are largely just in the three largest metroplexes in Texas, that still means a sizable chunk of people can bet the ponies in the Lone Star State, if they like.

Although it hasn’t always been available, betting on horse races is both a fixture and an afterthought in Texas these days. Horse racing probably reached its zenith in popularity in Texas some time ago, and there’s no expectation that crowds are going to increase at the state’s tracks anytime soon. However, despite a moderate hiccup in 2015, the tracks aren’t going away, either.

A recent regulatory scuffle between the state’s regulator, The Texas Racing Commission, and a new federal regulator, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, has decimated racing handle at all Texas tracks, and there is no clear resolution to this conflict. The result is that out-of-state wagering is no longer on the menu at Texas’s three tracks and the states cannot rely on that revenue to fund purses.

Texans are fortunate that a 2019 law creating an escrow account for the industry has allowed purses to be subsidized by tax revenue generated through horse tack and feed sales. How long this safety net will hold is anyone’s guess, but the future of Texas horse racing looks much more grim than it did a year ago.

Read on for all the latest information about horse betting in Texas.

Is horse racing legal in Texas?

Yes. Betting on horse racing in Texas is legal at approved racetrack locations in the state. Voters approved pari-mutuel betting on races as a referendum measure in 1987. There are three active racetracks in the state where visitors older than 18 can place a wager on live races. In addition, these facilities offer simulcast wagering on races around the country.

Can I bet on horse races online in Texas?

No, horse race betting online in Texas is prohibited. As well, a bitter dispute between the Texas Racing Commission, the state’s regulator, and the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority, a new federal regulator, has led the state to stop exporting its racing signal to other states for the purpose of Advanced Deposit Wagering.

The state is nothing if not consistent on these decisions, and therefore does not allow horse betting online in Texas, just as it prohibits other types of online gambling. That means top horse betting sites like TVG do not permit Texans to place wagers through their platforms.

Quick facts on Texas horse betting

  • Horse betting legalized: 1987
  • Regulatory body: Texas Racing Commission***
  • Where to play: Racetracks in Arlington, Fredericksburg, Houston, and Selma
  • Online availability: None
  • Popular racetracks: Lone Star Park (Grand Prairie), Sam Houston Race Park (Houston), and Retama Park (Selma, near San Antonio)
  • Minimum age for pari-mutuel wagering: 18 years

*** The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, a federal regulator, is in a regulatory standoff with the TRC, and neither side is willing to give an inch.

Where can I bet on horse races in Texas?

At present, there are four locations with race dates scheduled in Texas. Three of them are permanent facilities located in major metropolitan areas. A fourth is a county fairground which is the only facility of its type in operation in Texas.

Gillespie County Fair

  • Address: 530 Fair Drive, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
  • Top races: GCFA July Firecracker Futurity, Gillespie County Fair Futurity, Gillespie County Derby

Gillespie County Fair is the lone Class III racetrack facility in Texas. The location in Fredericksburg offers pari-mutuel wagering during four weekends in July and August of each year. The racing acts as part of the finale of the fairgrounds’ season of events that lasts from Easter through the end of summer. In fact, the final event of the season is the Gillespie County Derby. However, the simulcast facility on the fairgrounds runs year-round.

Lone Star Park

  • Address: 1000 Lone Star Parkway, Grand Prairie, TX 75050
  • Top races: Steve Sexton Mile (G3), Texas Derby

Lone Star Park is one of three Class I racetracks in the state of Texas. It is located in Grand Prairie and serves residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Lone Star hosts two racing seasons during the year. Thoroughbreds run in April through July, while quarter horses compete from September through December. The biggest day of the year for the track is Lone Star Million Day, which takes place on Memorial Day and features the $300,000 Texas Derby and one of the only graded races in the state, the $400,000 Steve Sexton Mile.

Retama Park

  • Address: 1 Retama Parkway, Selma, TX 78154
  • Top race(s): Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame, Texas Stallion Stakes

Retama Park is located in Selma, a suburb of San Antonio. Unlike the other two Class I facilities in the state, Retama Park only has quarter horse race dates on its official schedule. It is also offering far fewer race days than the other two tracks, with only 22 days of racing between July and August. Retama Park is notable, however, for its use of a betting app, MBet. While it does require that players use Retama’s internet as a way of geolocating them on the premises, it is the only limited online horse betting available in the entire state.

Sam Houston Race Park

  • Address: 7575 N. Sam Houston Parkway W., Houston, TX 77064
  • Top race(s): John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3), Houston Ladies Classic (G3)

Sam Houston Race Park is a large facility in the northwestern area of Houston. It hosts both thoroughbreds and quarter horses for live races, and is home to two graded thoroughbred races — the John B. Connally Turf Cup and the Houston Ladies Classic Stakes, both of which are Grade III events. Sam Houston is also the only Texas track to offer race dates in January and the only facility to operate both of its seasons back-to-back. In other words, there is live racing there almost continually between January and June each year.

Are other racetracks likely to open in Texas?

Probably not. As it turns out, there are three other racetracks on the books with the Texas Racing Commission. However, one of the tracks, Manor Downs, is permanently closed. The other two — Laredo Downs and Valle de Los Tesoros — apparently never finished construction or held a race. Thus the four above locations will likely remain the status quo for horse racing for the time being.

However, state rules allow for more racing and tracks. The three permanent parks are the maximum the state allows under Class I licenses, but smaller facilities and county fairs like Gillespie can also apply for licenses. However, licensed Class II, III and IV applicants are limited in terms of the number of race dates they may offer, so the financial motivation to pursue a license likely isn’t there for most eligible locations.

Is there off-track betting in Texas?

Technically yes, but it’s not that far off the track. Each of the four currently operating facilities maintains a simulcast venue somewhere on its premises. Usually, the simulcast theater is only steps away from the track itself. These OTBs allow for betting on horse and dog races around the country and are open year-round.

However, there are no standalone off-track betting facilities in Texas. If you want to make a bet on a horse race while in Texas, there is no way around the fact that you will have to travel to one of the four places in the state with pari-mutuel betting.

Types of horse racing bets in Texas

Although Texas takes a rather muted approach to horse racing, the types of bets that you can make in the state are the same as you’ll find elsewhere. If you’ve never tried betting on horses before, the many types of wagers can be overwhelming. Here’s an explanation:

Straight wagers/single-horse wagers

Horse race bets tend to fall into one of two categories. If your bet depends upon the performance of a single horse, then you’ve made a single-horse or “straight” wager. Here are the common types of straight wagers:

  • Win: Your horse must win the race outright.
  • Place: Your horse must win the race or finish second.
  • Show: Your horse must win the race or finish second or third.

Win bets pay more than place bets, and place bets pay more than show bets because of the increased risk of each position. It is also possible to place multiple straight wagers on the same horse in the same race. In other words, if you believe a horse is going to win, you can also bet on the horse to place and show, since a successful win bet would also result in payouts for those wagers.

Exotic wagers/multiple-horse wagers

Some players prefer to wager on how multiple horses will place in a single race or multiple races. These are often called “exotic” wagers, presumably because they can get quite complex. Here are the common types of exotic wagers:

  • Exacta: You wager that two horses will finish first and second in a race, and they must finish in the order you pick for the bet to win.
  • Quinella: You wager that two horses will finish a race first and second, but the order is not important. Quinellas are twice as expensive as exactas because you are paying for both outcomes. In effect, quinellas are a matching pair of exactas.
  • Trifecta: You wager that three horses will finish a race first, second, and third, and you must get the order correct.
  • Superfecta: You wager that four horses will finish a race first, second, third, and fourth, and you must get the order correct.
  • Pick 3, Pick 4, etc.: Wager on the winning horse for three, four, etc. consecutive races. Pick bets are analogous to parlays in sports betting.

Exotic wager modifiers

As the number of horses you choose increases, so too does both the risk of loss and the potential profit. In other words, a superfecta will pay more than a trifecta, a trifecta more than an exacta, and so on.

However, exotic wagers also offer several potential bet modifiers that can increase both the complexity and price of the bet you wish to make. These modifiers also make it possible to wager in almost any way you want on a horse race. Here are the main variants you may use:

  • Box: Every single combination of your selected horses is now a valid winner. A quinella is an exacta box, for instance. Prepare to pay for each combination, though. For instance, a $1 trifecta bet balloons to $6 if you want to box the same bet, because there are six combinations in which three horses might finish.
  • Key: You designate one horse as the eventual winner (the “key”), then select several horses as possible finishers in the place and show positions. Key bets are good if there’s a clear favorite in a race but the rest of the field is a bit murky.
  • Wheel (field): A wheel or field bet selects the entire slate of horses to finish in a particular position. You can choose one or two individual horses to win and place, but then designate the field as the show finisher. In those cases, the best thing to happen is for a long shot to finish third.
  • Partial wheel: You don’t have to bet the entire field if you don’t want to. Instead, you can designate a portion of the field to finish in a particular spot as a partial wheel bet. For the most part, you can place a wager on any combination of horses that you like.

Understanding horse racing odds

Although there are several ways to display odds in gambling, horse racing uses a format that is relatively easy to understand. As long as you understand fractions, you should be fine.

The odds for each horse in a race will appear as a fraction. The lower the fraction, the higher the expectations of the horse. Therefore, a horse at 2/1 is more of a favorite than a horse at 3/1 or 4/1. If you wager on a horse at 2/1 and the horse wins, you’ll receive $2 in profit for every $1 you bet.

However, it’s important to understand that the odds on horses are not static. They can change frequently, particularly as post-time approaches. This is the difference between pari-mutuel wagering (which horse betting uses) and fixed-limit wagering (such as in other types of sports betting).

If you pay attention and notice that one horse’s odds seem to be decreasing (from, say, 3/1 to 2/1), it can be a good indicator that experienced handicappers believe the horse to be a good bet to win. In such cases, it might be a good idea to make a bet on that horse, too.

In general, horse odds will place every single horse — even the favorite — as an underdog to the field. In other words, a horse at 2/1 might be the favorite to win, but potentially only once if the exact same race were to run three times.

Occasionally, however, a horse may appear as a true favorite if its pedigree and race history really stand out. In that case, you may see a fractional odds listing with a higher number in the denominator, like 2/5. In those instances, a bet might be quite likely to win, but it won’t pay very much. In that example, you would only receive $2 of profit for every $5 that you bet, so you’d have to judge whether the reduced outlook was worth the better chance of a win.

Texas horse racing betting FAQ

Who regulates horse racing in Texas?

The Texas Racing Commission. It oversees all four horse racing venues in the state and approves all race dates. However, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, a newly-minted federal regulator, has provided a check on the TRC leading to a regulatory standoff.

What is the gambling age at Texas horse tracks?

You must be 18 or older to bet on horses at any of the tracks in Texas.

Do I have to pay taxes on winnings from horse races?

Yes. Although there is no income tax in Texas, winnings from Texas horse tracks are taxable income according to the IRS, just like any other type of gambling income.

Is there any simulcast wagering at Texas casinos?

No. There is no simulcast wagering on horse races at any casinos in Texas. That means no OTB wagering at the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel in Eagle Pass, the state’s only full-fledged tribal casino, nor at Naskila Gaming in Livingston.

Can I bet on the Kentucky Derby in Texas?

Yes. Any of the four simulcast facilities in the state will book wagers on the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup and any other prestigious horse race around the country (or world).

Texas horse racing history

Given Texas’ longstanding reluctance about legal gambling, the authorization of horse (and dog) tracks in 1987 came as a bit of a surprise.

After all, every form of gambling had mostly been illegal in the state since 1903, and save for a brief dalliance in the 1930s, horse racing was part of that blanket prohibition. In the decades since then, law enforcement had targeted wagering several times over the years, and Texas was mostly a wasteland for gamblers.

The modern version of horse (and dog) betting in Texas, which officially began in 1989, predated the Texas Lottery and was the only form of legal gambling in the state other than charitable bingo for a time. Since then, the three Class I facilities and multiple county fairs have offered races during their prescribed seasons of thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. There are now more than 100 total race days in Texas during the year. Some of those races have been quite prestigious. The Breeders’ Cup made a stop at Lone Star Park in 2004, and Sam Houston Race Park has played host to the Bank of America Racing Challenge several times.

Despite this quiet success, horse racing has never been a comfortable fit for the conservative interests in the state, and there has always been the chance that it could end. It almost did in 2015 after a dispute about historical horse race replays threatened to shut down the entire horse racing industry in Texas. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and Texans retained their ability to place wagers on horse races.

As far as the future of horse tracks in Texas goes, it may become linked with the effort to legalize sports betting in the state. If the Legislature decides to allow sports betting, the tracks themselves are the most natural venues for retail sportsbooks. If the tracks are not able to offer legal sports betting, it’s not certain if they will be able to maintain their existence. Nothing regarding sports betting will happen until 2023 at the earliest, however.