California horse racing has a long and rich history dating back to the mid-19th century. That tradition is reflected today in the state’s four renowned racetracks: Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Fairgrounds, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos Race Course.
Betting on horse races is an especially popular form of legal gambling in California. The state additionally allows off-track betting at licensed facilities and permits Californians to bet on horse races via advance deposit wagering at multiple online sites.
Read on for wire-to-wire coverage of California horse betting and racetracks.
Best horse racing betting sites in California
Is horse betting legal in California?
Absolutely. Anyone 18 or older can place pari-mutuel wagers on horse races at California racetracks. And numerous off-track betting facilities in the state offer legal horse betting. In addition, there are many satellite wagering facilities that offer betting on simulcast races, including at several tribal casinos.
Can I bet on horse races online in California?
Yes, you can enjoy online horse betting in California at sites that offer advance deposit wagering on races from around the world. The California Horse Racing Board shares a list of these third-party platforms where Californians can create accounts and place wagers on races:
- TVG Racing
- bRacing (bSpot)
- NYRA Bets
Also worth noting, while other types of online wagering on horse racing are not legal in California, racetracks in the state can invite patrons to place wagers online using their mobile devices when at the venue. For example, Del Mar Fairgrounds has its own Del Mar app that allows patrons to log onto the venue’s Wi-Fi and place wagers on their mobile devices.
Meanwhile, both Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields invite visitors to download the 1/ST BET app. Xpressbet manages the 1/ST BET app, which is affiliated with a number of major racetracks around the country.
Quick facts on California horse betting
- Horse betting legalized: 1933
- Regulatory body: California Horse Racing Board
- Where to bet: Privately operated racetracks, racing fairs, off-track betting facilities, satellite wagering facilities (including racebooks at some tribal casinos)
- Online availability: ADW sites such as TVG and TwinSpires
- Popular racetracks: Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Fairgrounds, Golden Gate Fields, Los Alamitos Race Course
- Legal age for horse race betting: 18 or older
Where can I bet on horse races in California?
As far as live horse race betting goes, there are four privately operated racetracks in California, each of which is well-known in horse betting circles across the US (and the rest of the world). There are also multiple racing fairs each year at various locations throughout the state. Here’s an overview of California’s four famous racetracks and other live horse racing locations:
Santa Anita Park
- Location: 285 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia, CA 91007
- Best known for: Hosting the Breeders’ Cup World Championships 10 times
Located in Arcadia a dozen miles or so from Los Angeles, Santa Anita Park is California’s most famous thoroughbred racetrack. Each year, it hosts the Santa Anita Handicap (in March) and the Santa Anita Derby (in April), plus several other important races on the US calendar. The Breeders’ Cup will return to “the great race place” in 2023.
Del Mar Fairgrounds
- Location: 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, CA 92014
- Best known for: Hosting more than 300 events each year
Founded by Bing Crosby in the 1930s, Del Mar Fairgrounds is home to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. The venue can accommodate up to 44,000 visitors, making it the second-largest horse racetrack in the western part of the country, behind only Santa Anita.
Each year the venue hosts major thoroughbred events like the Pacific Classic, the Del Mar Oaks, the Del Mar Debutante, the Bing Crosby Stakes, the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, and more.
Golden Gate Fields
- Location: 1100 Eastshore Highway, Berkeley, CA 94710
- Best known for: Hosting the Berkeley Handicap in November
Situated near the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Fields is the only major thoroughbred track in Northern California. With an 8,000-seat grandstand and room for more, the racetrack typically runs weekend events from December through June and then again in October and November.
The San Francisco Mile Stakes in April and the Berkeley Handicap in November highlight the yearly calendar at the venue. Golden Gate Fields also hosts the El Camino Real Derby for 3-year-olds each February. Winners earn fees-paid berths to the Preakness Stakes, and Rombauer swept both races in 2021.
Los Alamitos Race Course
- Location: 4961 Katella Ave., Cypress, CA 90720
- Best known for: Hosting prominent thoroughbred and quarter horse meets
Located in Cypress in Orange County, Los Alamitos Race Course features both thoroughbred and quarter horse racing along with harness racing and Arabian horse racing throughout the year for patrons filling its 12,000-seat grandstand.
For thoroughbreds, the racetrack hosts the Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies each December plus a number of other important races. The venue also regularly hosts quarter horse races with seven-figure prize pools, including the Ed Burke Million Futurity, the Golden State Million Futurity, the Los Alamitos Super Derby, and the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity.
Racing fairs in California
California is home to several racing fairs where horse racing fans can also watch and bet on live racing. The fair season typically runs during the summer months, with the following venues all hosting annual race meets:
- Alameda County Fair (Pleasanton)
- California Exposition & State Fair, aka the Cal Expo (Sacramento)
- Sonoma County Fair (Santa Rosa)
- Humboldt County Fair (Ferndale)
- The Big Fresno Fair (Fresno)
Off-track betting in California
Off-track betting is another popular option available to California horse race bettors. Such OTB sites can be an alternative for those who don’t live near a racetrack where they can wager on live horse races. These facilities have licenses to offer pari-mutuel wagering on live simulcast races happening around the US and in other countries.
Where can I find OTB facilities in California?
There are currently 24 OTB facilities licensed to operate in the state. Some of these are designated “mini-satellite” facilities in bars and restaurants. Most are in Southern California, with a few also in the Bay Area, Central Valley, and Central Coast regions.
In addition, nearly all of the racetracks and racing fair sites in the above lists are open year-round for off-track betting. Only the Humboldt County Fair site in Ferndale does not also offer OTB wagering. Several tribal casinos also have satellite wagering facilities where patrons can bet on horse races.
Here is a complete list of the 24 off-track betting facilities in California and where to find them:
|Antelope Valley Fair||Lancaster|
|The Derby Room, Sports Grill & Turf Club*||Norco|
|Fantasy Springs Resort Casino||Indio|
|Glen Arden Club||Glendale|
|Hollywood Park Casino||Inglewood|
|Lake Elsinore Hotel & Casino*||Lake Elsinore|
|Lake Perris Sports Pavillion||Perris|
|Los Angeles County Fair||Pomona|
|Monterey County Fair||Monterey|
|National Orange Show||San Bernardino|
|OC Tavern*||San Clemente|
|Pechanga Resort Casino||Temecula|
|Sammy's Restaurant and Bar*||Mission Viejo|
|San Bernardino County Fair||Victorville|
|San Joaquin County Fair||Stockton|
|San Mateo Events Center||San Mateo|
|Santa Clara County Fair||San Jose|
|Santa Clarita Lanes*||Santa Clarita|
|Solano County Fair||Vallejo|
|Tilted Kilt*||Thousand Oaks|
|Ventura County Fair||Ventura|
|Viejas Casino & Turf Club||Alpine|
Popular types of horse race betting in California
Horse betting in California includes a variety of bet types, all of which are explained below in detail. The bottom line, though, is that you can find any one of these bets at online horse betting sites, OTB locations, and racetracks in the state.
Single horse bets
There are many different ways to bet on horse races, although the most popular by far is a single horse bet, also known as a “straight bet.” That’s when you bet on a particular horse to win, place or show:
- Win — You bet on the horse to win the race.
- Place — You bet on the horse either to win or finish second.
- Show — You bet on the horse either to win, finish second, or finish third.
Correctly betting on a horse “to win” understandably pays more than betting on a horse “to place” or “to show.” You can also place a “win/place/show” bet, also known as an “across the board” bet, which is essentially three bets in one. And if your horse finishes within the top three, you win the bets for which it matches the criteria.
Multiple horse bets, or exotic bets
You can also place “multiple horse bets.” Like parlays, these involve betting on more than one outcome. People often call such bets “exotic bets” since they go beyond the common single horse bet. Here are some of the main examples:
- Exacta — You bet on two horses, one to win and one to place in that exact order.
- Quinella — You bet on two horses to win and to place, but the order doesn’t matter. This bet costs twice what the exacta bet does; essentially, it is two exacta bets in one.
- Trifecta — You bet on three horses, one to win, one to place, and one to show in that exact order.
- Superfecta — You bet on four horses, one to win, one to place, one to show, and one to finish fourth in that exact order.
- Double (or “Daily Double”) / Pick 3 / Pick 4 / Pick 5 / Pick 6 — You bet on multiple horses to win multiple races (again, much like a parlay).
Such exotic bets are understandably difficult to win, even for experienced handicappers, which means that if you are victorious, they pay out much more than single bets. While exotic bets can be fun, anyone placing them needs to understand they are much riskier than single horse bets and have a much lower chance of winning.
Modified exotic bets
You can further modify your multiple horse bets in various ways, including by removing the requirement to get the order of finish correct for all your horses.
- Box — You bet on all the possible outcomes for your selected horses. For example, a “box exacta” is a quinella (see above). A “box trifecta” is a bet on all six combinations of three horses finishing in the top three spots, etc.
- Key — You bet on one horse to win, then pick several horses to finish in the next two positions (to place and to show).
- Wheel — You bet on the entire field of horses to finish in one particular place as part of your multiple horse wager. For example, with a “trifecta wheel” bet, you might bet on particular horses to win and to place, then bet the field to show.
- Partial — Also called a “partial wheel,” here you bet on part of the field (not all) to finish in a particular place as part of your multiple horse bet.
How do horse racing odds work in California?
California racetracks use fractional odds to indicate the probabilities associated with different bets as well as the payouts should the bet end up winning. Fractional odds look a bit different from American odds (common in US sports betting) and decimal odds (an option you might see in Europe and the UK), but they are essentially a standard practice in horse race betting.
With fractional odds, the lower the fraction, the better the chance the horse will win. Favorites have low fractions, and long shots have high fractions. Thus, the favorite in a race might appear at 3/1 or 2/1 (or even 1/2 or 1/3, if the horse is a heavy favorite), while the long shots could be 30/1 or 50/1 and so on.
Those odds indicate the estimated chance the horse will succeed. Thus, a 2/1 favorite has an estimated chance of winning once if the race were to take place three times. A 50/1 long shot, meanwhile, has an estimated chance of winning once out of 51 tries.
The odds also indicate how much a winning bet pays out. If you bet on a horse to win at 4/1 odds and the horse does finish first, you win four times the amount of your bet. For example, if you bet $2 and won your 4/1 bet, you’d win $8 and collect $10 total (your original $2 plus your winnings).
What is pari-mutuel wagering?
California racetracks offer pari-mutuel wagering on their races, which again is standard practice with horse betting. With pari-mutuel betting, all of the money that people bet goes into a pool. The winners of the bet then divide what’s in the pool, minus taxes, and the racetrack’s share.
With pari-mutuel betting, the odds and thus the payouts depend on how much bettors are wagering on each horse, and they keep changing right up until post time when the race begins. That means you might place an 8/1 wager on a horse to win, but by post time the odds have changed to 6/1. Whatever the final odds are when the race begins determines your payout should your bet win.
That’s different from fixed odds betting. With fixed odds betting, you lock in whatever the odds are at the moment you place your bet. Those odds may change before the contest begins, but that doesn’t affect the odds for your particular wager. That potential for odds to change is something to keep in mind when placing your bet.
Those who enjoy betting on other sports are often familiar with fixed odds betting, as that is standard for most sports betting. Sports bettors who are new to betting on horse races might find pari-mutuel betting a little strange at first, but it is easy enough to understand once you’ve tried it.
California horse betting FAQ
Who regulates horse racing betting in California?
The California Horse Racing Board oversees all matters related to horse racing in the state. The CHRB regulates pari-mutuel wagering on horse races and sets rules for tax revenue, and likewise oversees off-track betting in California. The CHRB also maintains safety standards and regulations for the breeding of racehorses and ensures the health and welfare of horse racing participants.
What is the minimum age to bet on horse racing in California?
You must be at least 18 years old to bet on horse races at any of California’s racetracks, at off-track betting locations, or online via advance deposit wagering sites.
Do I have to pay taxes on my horse betting winnings?
Yes, winnings on horse racing are subject to taxation, like most gambling income in California. California actually does not take state tax from lottery winnings, but with horse betting winnings you do have to pay state and federal taxes.
Do California tribal casinos offer horse betting?
Yes, many tribal casinos in California do have racebooks where patrons can wager on simulcast horse races. Since sports betting is not legal in the state, you’ll find racebooks but no sportsbooks in the casinos.
Can I bet on the Triple Crown horse races from California?
Yes, you can bet on all three Triple Crown races — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes — from California. You can do so in person at any off-track betting site or other satellite wagering facility, including at the racebooks in many tribal casinos. You can also make your bets via advance deposit wagering sites like TVG and others.
History of horse racing in California
California saw its first horse racetrack arrive in 1858 in Pleasanton near the Bay Area. You could wager on horse races through the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th, but in 1909 the state banned it.
The golden era of horse racing in the Golden State
In June 1933, California voters approved a measure to legalize pari-mutuel wagering on horse races and establish the California Horse Racing Board. In September, Californians got their first taste of legal pari-mutuel wagering on horse races at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona.
Soon some of the state’s most famous racetracks opened. Santa Anita Park ran its first races with pari-mutuel betting in late 1934, and the following year staged the first Santa Anita Handicap with a $100,000 purse, the largest in the US at the time.
Then in 1937, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club ran its first races at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with co-founder Bing Crosby in attendance. Openings at Bay Meadows (1934), the Hollywood Turf Club (1938), and Golden Gate Fields (1941) followed, and California swiftly became a prime destination for horse racing fans across the country.
Subsequent decades saw more horse racing milestones in California. In 1951, the horse Citation won the Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park, becoming the first thoroughbred ever to cross $1 million in career earnings. In 1977, Golden Gate Fields set a new attendance record when 26,108 fans watched the California Derby.
In 1984, Santa Anita Park hosted equestrian events for the Olympics. The following year, Santa Anita set a new single-day attendance record when 85,527 turned out for the Santa Anita Handicap.
Off-track betting arrives, but Californians say no to racinos
In 1985, off-track betting on horse racing became legal in Northern California. Then two years later it became legal in Southern California, as well. Advance deposit wagering on horse racing via online sites was made legal in 2002.
Horse racing continued to thrive in the state until the 2000s when the industry as a whole took a downward turn. In November 2004, California voters weighed in on Proposition 68, an initiative designed to bolster the failing horse racing industry.
A “yes” vote would support requiring tribal casinos either to pay increased taxes on slot revenues or allow a select number of racetracks and card rooms to add slot machines themselves. Californians thought little of the idea, and 83.78% voted against Proposition 68.
Soon thereafter, several historic racetracks closed in the state. Among the closures were Bay Meadows (2008), Solano Fair (2009) and Hollywood Park (2013), and the surviving tracks added several of those venues’ events to their schedules.
Industry under fire after the increase in racehorse deaths
The industry took another hit in 2019 following a series of racehorse deaths at California tracks, raising the ire of animal rights activists and earning the attention of lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
At Santa Anita Park alone, 37 racehorses died at the track during 2019, and the other venues saw similarly alarming numbers of fatalities. The deaths occurred with such frequency during the early part of the year that Santa Anita closed down on multiple occasions to investigate. There were fewer deaths the following year, but a dark cloud remains over the sport.
According to the California Racing Board, California racetracks reported 96 racehorse fatalities in 2020. Another 71 occurred at the state’s racetracks in 2021, the last being original 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, who collapsed at Santa Anita following a workout. About two-thirds of the racehorse deaths at California tracks in 2020-21 resulted from injuries while racing or training.
In September 2020, Newsom signed a pair of bills into law designed to increase safety and transparency in horse racing. In 2022, Santa Anita celebrated its safest meet in history, with the track proclaiming itself the safest horse racing venue in North America.