Online Horse Race Betting for Real Money

Horse race betting is considered slightly more difficult than betting on traditional sports. Nonetheless, this form of gambling is still prevalent in many English-speaking countries. Horse race betting hot-spots include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Because these markets are essential for online sportsbook operators, finding a suitable platform to enjoy this hobby doesn’t require much effort.

Selecting the right platform

Most high-profile sportsbooks have a dedicated horse racing section. Some even offer special promotions for horse racing enthusiasts. It’s tempting to go for the biggest bucks right from the get-go, but we recommend screening the available platforms for reliability first. An awesome bonus won’t do you any good if your operator decides to put your cash-out request on permanent hold for no reason.


The best way to verify the trustworthiness of a horse race betting platform is by checking its paperwork. Sites with a global reach tend to operate under licenses issued by Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Malta, and other tax havens. This allows them to avoid high taxation as well as offer better odds and bonuses. The global gambling market is so oversaturated and competitive that operators forced to pay excessive taxes are restricted to fenced markets, such as the French or Spanish betting markets.

Unfortunately, if you live in the United States, you’ll have to choose an unregulated offshore site as US regulations prohibit online sportsbooks from offering their services to US citizens. Fortunately, joining an online sportsbook isn’t a punishable offense, but the current legal framework makes it impossible for US-friendly platforms to get licensed by a reputable regulatory body. For example, Bovada, a well-respected US-facing sportsbook, recently lost its license issued by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission due to government pressure.

Joining an unregulated betting platform is a risky business, so stick exclusively to racebooks that have a stellar track record. Aside from Bovada, the only popular US-facing sportsbook that meets this criterion is BetOnline.

Welcome promotions

The bonus is usually a percentage of the initial deposit. A 100% bonus will match your deposit dollar for dollar, while a 50% bonus will equal half your payment. Unfortunately, welcome bonuses available to horse racing enthusiasts aren’t as generous as the deals offered by online casinos and poker rooms in terms of limits. The industry’s best promotions allow you to claim between $200 and $250, but don’t expect to see offers of this caliber on every site.

On a brighter note, horse racing bonuses tend to be easier to clear; in most cases, you’ll have to wager your deposit five times before being allowed to request a cash-out.

Some operators don’t offer traditional matched bonuses, instead awarding their customers with a free bet. Free bets aren’t available from the get-go. Most operators require you to wager through your initial deposit at least once to gain access to them. However, the winnings resulting from a free bet can be cashed out immediately – you won’t be required to meet any additional rollover requirements. Free bets tend to be even smaller than standard sports betting bonuses. A $50 promotion is considered good, and $25-$30 deals are fairly common.

Best odds guaranteed

Certain sportsbooks guarantee best odds on specific races and bets. Offers of this kind protect you from being ripped off by your racebook – if you find a better starting price elsewhere, your operator will pay you out at the bigger odds. If you’re a profit-seeking horse racing enthusiast, you should take advantage of best odds offers whenever possible as they provide a hassle-free way to get the most bang for your buck.

How horse race betting works

Before you start betting on horses, you should learn to read the odds. Most racebooks express odds in a fractional or decimal format. Some platforms give you the option to switch between the two.

Here are some examples of fractional odds: 4/1, 7/2. They express the relation between your potential winnings (the first number) and your stake (the second number). It’s important to remember that the first number doesn’t stand for the entire payout – if you hit your bet, you will receive both your winnings and your stake. Here’s how you should interpret each of the two examples listed above:

  • 4/1 – if you bet $1, you stand to win $4; thus, if you hit your bet, you will receive $5.
  • 7/2 – if you bet $2, you stand to win $7, and if you bet $1, you stand to win $3.50; thus, if you hit a $2 bet, you will receive $9, and if you hit a $1 bet, you will receive $4.50.

Decimal odds for those wagers are 5.00 and 4.50, respectively. As you can see, the gambler’s stake is already factored in. To calculate your potential payout, you have to multiply the odds by your stake. Consequently, decimal odds are often easier to read for new gamblers.


Once you understand how to read the odds, you need to learn the popular bet types.

Basic bets

Basic bets aren’t called basic because of their limited utility, but because they require you to only select one horse. They should never be viewed as newbie bets. In fact, most successful bettors tend to focus on basic bets and place multi-horse bets purely for fun.

Win – you collect if your horse wins the race. The payoff is higher than in the case of other basic bets. Bet difficulty: average.

Place – you collect if your horse finishes first or second. The payoff is higher than it is to Show. Bet difficulty: easy.

Show – you collect if your horse finishes first, second, or third. This is the lowest-paying wager available in the horse racing world. Bet difficulty: very easy.

Playing it safe

Many risk-averse horse race betting aficionados use a method called “betting across the board” to hedge against minor analytical mistakes and the inherent unpredictability of what transpires on the track. It boils down to placing a Show, Place, and Win bet on the same horse. If your horse wins the race, you get to collect three times because you placed three separate bets. If your horse finishes second, you will also win some money, even though you won’t collect on the Win bet. If your horse finishes third, your Show bet will sometimes cover for the lost Place and Win bets if the odds are long enough. Even if that’s not the case, an “across the board” bet will still result in a smaller hit to your bankroll than a failed Win or Place bet of the same size.

Exotic bets

Exotic bets require you to choose more than one horse or bet on the outcome of more than one race, which makes them significantly harder to hit. Because professional betting involves minimizing the risk factor, many bettors avoid these bets to maximize consistency. That said, exotic bets provide some variety to the world of online horse race betting. If you’re looking for high-risk, high-reward betting opportunities, exotic bets are the way to go.

Quinella – your horses must finish first and second in no specific order. Bet difficulty: average.

Exacta – your horses must finish first and second in a specific order. Bet difficulty: hard.

Trifecta – your horses must finish first, second, and third in a specific order. Bet difficulty: very hard.

Superfecta – your horses must finish first, second, third, and fourth in a specific order. Bet difficulty: tough.

Daily Double – your horses must win two consecutive races. Bet difficulty: hard.

Pick 3 – your horses must win three consecutive races. Bet difficulty: very hard.

Pick 4 – your horses must win four consecutive races. Bet difficulty: tough.

Pick 6 – your horses must win six consecutive races. Bet difficulty: almost impossible.

Boxed bets

You can “box” an exotic bet that typically requires your horses to come in a specific order to maximize the probability of winning. With a boxed bet, you’re betting on every possible combination of a specific set of horses. For example, a standard Exacta bet requires your horses to finish first and second in a specific order. For a boxed bet, the order doesn’t matter. You can add as many horses to your box as you want, but the cost of your bet goes up with every horse you include in your box.

How to turn a profit betting on horse races

Online racebooks offer odds that are lower than the true odds offered by their professional analysts, so theoretically speaking, betting on horses is never “fair.” That said, the juice the operator takes doesn’t change the skill-based nature of this gambling form. If your research is solid and your predictions are on point, you can overcome the oddsmakers’ edge and turn horse race betting into a steady source of income.

Horse race betting is more difficult than betting on traditional sports

Betting on horses is harder than betting on standard sports because you don’t have as much information to work with. This means that your research will rarely be as accurate as the research of a punter who focuses on soccer, basketball, or tennis. You’ll be dealing with many horses that are new to the racing world, and you’ll often have to choose from a pool of horses that have never raced against each other before.

If you don’t mind the additional fog of war, chances are that you will enjoy this form of gambling. If, however, you prefer having unrestricted access to all relevant information, you should consider switching to traditional sports betting.

Compare the odds between platforms and take advantage of best odds guarantees

The most obvious trick in a successful bettor’s arsenal is comparing the odds across several racebooks. If you live in a gambling-friendly country and you’re free to join multiple high-quality platforms, you should always take advantage of this option. The competition between top-tier sportsbooks is fierce these days, and many sites offer special odds on specific races to attract more customers. The price differences might seem negligible, but they compound over time and have a significant impact on your profitability.

If joining multiple platforms sounds like a hassle to you, we recommend selecting a racebook with a best-odds guarantee. You won’t land the best prices on every race, but you’ll be in a better situation than a punter who relies on a single platform with no guarantees at all.

Research horses and the jockeys

As mentioned above, you won’t have access to complete information for all races. However, this only increases the value of your research. Never skip your homework – it’s the only way to come out ahead in the long run.

Start by researching the horses’ form. Analyze recent results, consistency, and the jockeys’ track record. When researching a specific horse’s past results, always check the grade of its recent races – excellent performance in low-class races isn’t indicative of good performance during a major race.

Consider the distance of the race. Most horses have strong distance-related preferences and won’t perform well in races that don’t match them. This sometimes extends to a strong preference for specific race tracks – some horses do better on specific courses than they do on others.

Avoid inherently risky bets and go for maximum value to remain consistent

If you want to be a successful bettor, avoid placing risky bets. Try to assume the mindset of a scientist; don’t act like a lottery aficionado. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should always go for the option that comes with the highest probability of receiving a payout. Always try to assess the value of your bets. If you have to choose between a 50% bet with 4/1 odds and a 60% bet with 2/1 odds, always choose the former as its expected value is higher. Naturally, nobody is capable of calculating the exact probability of any specific horse winning a specific race, but it’s the principle that matters: always look for bets where the odds seem higher than the actual chance of winning. This is where your profit comes from.

Don’t be the guy that always bets on the favorite. Because the racebook doesn’t give you true odds, this strategy will cause you to lose money in the long run. Always analyze the relation between the odds and the results of your research. Sometimes betting on the favorite is the right move; other times alternative bets have more value.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to wager on every race. If your research suggests that assessing the value of available betting options is impossible, wait for a better opportunity. Remember – good things come to those who wait.

Horse racing glossary

Across the board: a bet on a single horse to Win, Place, and Show.

Bankroll: the money you use for betting.

Basic bet: a wager that involves selecting a single horse.

Boxed bet: an advanced wager that covers more options than a standard exotic bet.

Daily Double: a bet that requires the gambler to predict the winner of two consecutive races.

Exacta: a bet that requires the gambler to predict the order of the first two finishers of the race.

Exotic bet: a wager that involves selecting multiple horses or one horse across multiple events.

Expected Value: the value of a bet in mathematical terms, abbreviated as EV. When the odds
are higher than the probability of winning, a bet is considered EV-positive (EV+). Conversely, when the odds are lower than the probability of winning, a bet is considered EV-negative (EV-). The goal of a profit-oriented bettor is to place EV+ bets while avoiding EV- bets.

Pick 3: a bet that requires the gambler to predict the winner of three consecutive races.

Pick 4: a bet that requires the gambler to predict the winner of four consecutive races.

Pick 6: a bet that requires the gambler to predict the winner of six consecutive races.

Place: a simple bet that wins if the horse selected by the gambler places first or second.

Quinella: a bet that requires the gambler to select the first two finishers of the race in no specific order.

Show: a simple bet that wins if the horse selected by the gambler places first, second, or third.

Superfecta: a bet that requires the gambler to predict the order of the first four finishers of the race.

Trifecta: a bet that requires the gambler to predict the order of the first three finishers of the race.

Win: a simple bet that wins if the horse selected by the gambler wins the race.

Horse race betting FAQ

Q: Can you turn horse race betting into a steady source of income?

A: Yes, it is possible to turn horse race betting into a steady source of income. This requires a lot of effort, dedication, and experience. Gaining this experience will most likely cost you some money if you’re new to this form of gambling, so don’t expect consistent results right from the get-go.

Although the prospect of earning money online via gambling might sound enticing, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard if you’re entirely new to horse race betting. Start slow – if you end up enjoying it, you will spend more time doing research, which will naturally turn you into a better punter.

All in all, the research requires so much heavy lifting that someone who doesn’t love horse racing is highly unlikely to become a pro.

Q: Do online bookmakers offer any special promotions for horse race betting fans?

A: Yes, horse race betting is a favorite pastime, and many sportsbooks offer special promotions explicitly designed with horse race bettors in mind. These promotions range from special welcome bonuses to best-odds guarantees, some being very lucrative. If you’re interested in learning more about these bonuses, refer to the “Selecting the right platform” section of this article.

Q: Exotic bets are notoriously hard to hit. Is there any reason to place them if I want to turn a profit?

A: Exotic bets are often considered to be entirely luck-based, but you can reduce the luck factor by utilizing the option to box your bets. For example, a boxed Quinella bet with three horses isn’t significantly harder to hit than a basic Win bet, assuming you do your research correctly.

Nevertheless, adding more bets to the box can get expensive as each combination carries the price of an additional wager of the same type. In the end, everything boils down to the expected value of each available betting option. There are times when a Quinella, Exacta, or even Trifecta can give you plenty of bang for your buck, but because the calculations involved can get complicated, and boxed wagers are expensive, most bettors avoid these options altogether.

Q: What’s the difference between a Quinella bet and a boxed Exacta bet?

A: Payout conditions are identical for both options, but the prices and odds are different because a Quinella is a single bet, while a boxed Exacta is technically two bets. Consequently, a boxed Exacta bet gives you more options. For example, if you favor one horse over another, you can place a $6/$4 boxed Exacta ($6 on the favorite finishing first, $4 on the favorite finishing second) over a $10 Quinella.

Q: What’s the safest way to bet on horse races?

A: The safest way is to bet on Show. This allows you to collect a payout if your horse comes in first, second, or third. Betting across the board is the second safest option – in this case, you’re placing a Win, Place, and Show bet on the same horse. That way you reap the full benefits if your horse places first, score a decent payout if it finishes second, and minimize or even completely negate your losses if it places third.

Q: How can I deposit to an online racebook?

A: All legitimate online racebooks support a wide range of deposit options. However, keep in mind that some of these options might be unavailable in your area of residence. In most jurisdictions, you’ll get to choose between a Visa/MasterCard payment, an e-wallet transfer, and accessible local money processing services.

Important: if you’re a US-based player, avoid credit card payments. Financial institutions are required to block money transfers to offshore gambling sites, and the reported rejection rate is over 35%. You won’t face any consequences if your payment gets blocked, but it’s always better to use a 100% reliable method and save yourself some time and frustration.

Q: If I win some money, how will my racebook pay me?

A: Your racebook will pay you when you request a cash-out, which involves selecting a payment method and verifying your identity by providing a scan of a government-issued ID and a utility bill. In most cases, there’s going to be a significant overlap between the supported withdrawal and deposit options. However, the availability of specific options might be restricted due to your banking history. For example, many bookmakers will allow you to cash out via an e-wallet only if you’ve already used it to fund your account in the past.

Keep in mind that most online racebook operators have withdrawal limits – if your request exceeds them, you will be paid in weekly or monthly installments. In some cases, you might be able to avoid this problem by selecting a different cash-out method with a higher limit. Usually, high-rollers and big winners are recommended to order a check by courier.

Q: What about cryptocurrencies? Can I use Bitcoin to fund my betting account?

A: This depends on your area of residence. If you live in Europe and are free to access big international sites, your best option is to join Bodog. Unfortunately, most Europe-facing sites have no incentive to introduce cryptocurrency payments. US-facing sites, on the other hand, are more likely to support BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies because this allows their customers to avoid unreliable credit card payments.

History of horse race betting

Horse racing is as old as horseback riding and was practiced by many ancient civilizations, such as Ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. This should come as no surprise – equestrian skills played an important role in warfare up until and including the World Wars.

Thoroughbred racing as we know it today developed in 17th century England and quickly became popular with the British aristocracy. As Britain expanded its empire, horse racing spread across the world. The fact that the most important race tracks are located in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand is a testament to the origins of this exciting sport.

In those countries, horse race betting was first available exclusively on race tracks, but as gambling regulations became less strict, it spread to off-site outlets. This trend continued as the first internet sportsbooks went online. To this day, racebooks remain an integral part of most major betting platforms.

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