The short answer is YES it is legal. As the result of the Interstate Horse Racing Act, it’s been legal at the federal level for decades. There are, however, certain states where it’s not legal, so be sure to check your individual state’s laws. For a more detailed look at the history of and current legal landscape for horse betting see below.
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With the general ambiguity and murkiness surrounding the legality of online betting in the United States, it’s understandable that there’s confusion as to whether it’s legal to bet on horse racing online. In actuality, as I’ve spoiled above, betting on horse racing online is legal on a federal level in the United States (although it is restricted in some states). Despite the government crackdown on online sports betting, poker and casinos, the horse racing industry has largely been unaffected by the uncertainty of today’s digital gaming era. To understand the distinction horse racing has relied upon, it’s helpful to know the history of horse racing and how it became woven into the fabric of American society.
In the late 19th century, the United States was in the midst of incredible expansion fueled by unprecedented technological innovation. This “Gilded Age” was an era of rapid economic development, propelled by the immense growth of the railroad industry. A byproduct of this prosperity was the formation of two of America’s oldest pastimes and traditions: a professional baseball league and a yearly horse race at the Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky.
Horse racing in the United States actually dates back to 1665 when the first racetrack was built in Long Island, New York. Organized horse racing began in the 1860’s when the American Stud Book was first published. In 1867, the Belmont Stakes originated, and in 1873, the Preakness States was first run. Two years later, in 1875, Churchill Downs hosted the first Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs has conducted thoroughbred horse racing and presented America’s “most exciting two minutes in sports” continuously since that first race in 1875. The Triple Crown is a title awarded to a three-year old horse who wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Thirteen horses have won the Triple Crown, including Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and more recently, American Pharaoh and Justify.
Betting on horse racing is a tradition as old as the Triple Crown. Until the advent of off-track betting, horse racing bettors had to go to the actual racetrack to wager on a race. This betting was regulated by each individual state where the tracks were located. Once off-track betting became more prominent and bettors were able to bet on horse races in locations other than the racetrack, the federal government stepped in to regulate the legality of the horse racing industry. This led to the passing of the 1978 Interstate Horse Racing Act, (“the Horse Racing Act”) 15 U.S.C. § 3001 (1978).
Congress Officially Makes it Legal to Bet on Horse Racing Online in the U.S.
The Horse Racing Act applies only to bets that cross state lines as Congress found that individual states should have the primary responsibility for determining what forms of gambling may legally take place within their borders. The law provides that in the limited area of interstate off-track wagering on horseraces, there is a need for Federal action to ensure States will continue to cooperate with one another in the acceptance of legal wagers. As a result, the Horse Racing Act officially legalized off-track horse race betting on a national level.
Once the digital era began, horse racing was surprisingly well situated given the similarity between off-track betting and betting online. In 2000, the Horse Racing Act was amended to include telephone and other electronic forms of wagering in states where that type of betting is legal. Thus, Congress no longer required a bettor to travel to an off-track betting parlor and bet. Rather, it allowed off-track horse race betting from your home, via the internet, or even from your phone. While this is federal law, it applies only to states that allow interstate bets to be either placed, and/or accepted.
The Impact of Recent Legislation
In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“the UIGEA”), which intended to make payment processing for online poker and online casinos industries illegal and added significant layers of punishment to institutions violating the UIGEA. The goal of the UIGEA was to encourage offshore gambling sites to exit the U.S. market by creating a specific law to punish individual and companies that processed payments to these entities. However, the UIGEA did not apply to legal, licensed American-based online horse racing betting. While this law had a huge impact on online poker and casinos, the law specifically allows companies to operate online horse racing betting sites in the United States and to offer wagering options to residents of the United States, in states where it is not forbidden. The UIGEA states that it ‘‘shall not change which activities related to horse racing may or may not be allowed under Federal law.’” Furthermore, it reads: “the term ‘unlawful Internet gambling’ shall not include any activity that is allowed under the Interstate Horse racing Act of 1978.”
Following the UIGEA and going forward, the legality of betting horse racing online in the United States had been cemented and consumers based in states which allow it can comfortably, safely and securely bet online through certain regulated sites, such as TVG and TwinSpires. Our readers can sign up for new accounts at both TVG and TwinSpires and reap the rewards of each site’s various deposit and bonus perks. In today’s ever-changing landscape of online gaming legality, the certainty surrounding betting on online horse racing is comforting.
Good luck as the Triple Crown series quickly approaches.