Legal Horse Betting in Missouri

While pari-mutuel horse wagering in Missouri is legal, there are no operating horse tracks in the state. Meanwhile off-track betting on horse racing is not allowed in Missouri, and online horse betting exists in a legal gray area with only some advance deposit wagering sites operating in the state. Thus while Missouri is technically a horse racing state, in theory, there is not a lot of betting on horses happening within state lines.

The best option for Missourians wanting to wager on horse races is to travel to a neighboring state. Eight states border land-locked MO, and of those only Kansas and Tennessee do not have live tracks, and only Nebraska does not allow online horse betting.

Therefore, while this page is not a tale of galloping horses in the Show-Me State, Missourians seeking information about horse racing and nearby wagering options are in the right place.

Can I bet on horse races in Missouri?

No. Although Missouri law allows pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, no facilities exist to offer it. The chance for a facility with live or simulcast wagering opening in the state is also quite slim, due to a quirk of the law that mandates simulcast wagering take place only on live racing days. Without the option to generate revenue beyond those few dates, the financial outlay for track owners in Missouri would be prohibitive to their survival.

So how do you bet on horses in Missouri? As we mentioned before, your best options for betting on horse racing if you live in Missouri are in neighboring states. The following states on Missouri’s borders all offer live racing:

  • Arkansas
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Nebraska
  • Oklahoma

Many of these states also offer regulated online horse betting, which means that you need only to cross the border to place any wagers. Here is where you can do so:

  • Arkansas
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee

While it isn’t ideal, at least Missourians interested in horse betting have options in practically every direction if they are willing to travel.

The law disallowing off-track betting in Missouri also appears to prohibit online horse betting, often known as “advance deposit wagering.” That said, you will find TwinSpires (for example) does allow Missourians to bet on races.

How horse race betting works

Like most activities, betting on horse racing comes with its own practices and lingo. The first thing to know is about “pari-mutuel wagering,” a standard method of betting on horse races. Essentially, each race is like a self-contained tournament. Every wager on a given race forms a large prize pool of money. It is from this pool that the track collects a percentage as its payment for hosting the race and the bets, with winning bettors dividing the rest.

Once the race ends, winning wagers receive payouts from this pool according to the odds that each horse held at the time the race began (aka “post time”). That’s different from the fixed-odds betting at online sportsbooks, which lock in your odds at the time you place your wager, regardless of how much they change after.

As a general rule, the shorter the odds a horse has, the more people believe the horse will win or perform well in the race. As a result, favorites offer lower payouts, but you will win more often (hopefully, anyway). Meanwhile, bets on long shots pay out less frequently, but they pay more if they do hit.

Types of horse racing wagers

There are many types of bets you can make on horse races. Generally speaking, with most wagers, the only places that matter in a race are first, second and third. With the exception of a superfecta wager (which involves the top four spots), no horse bets concern themselves with horses that finish outside the top three places.

Straight wagers

Straight wagers are bets on a single horse in a single race. You are wagering that the horse will finish in one of the top three positions in the race:

  • Win — A bet that the horse will finish first.
  • Place — A bet that the horse will finish first or second.
  • Show — A bet that the horse will finish first, second or third.

Although straight wagers pertain to a single horse, you can make a combination wager on a single horse to cover more than one position. For instance, if you think one horse will win, you can make a combination wager that the horse will win, place and show. If the horse wins, you win all three bets, and if the horse finishes second or third, you also win (though not as much) as the horse fulfilled the requirement of that portion of the wager.

You may also make straight wagers on multiple horses during a race. Although it costs more, it can be a strategy for giving yourself a better chance to win something, along with providing a scenario by which you could win a great many bets at once. However, if you want to bet on more than one horse, exotic wagers might be worth considering.

Exotic wagers

Exotic wagers involve single bets on multiple horses. The payout that you can hope to realize through exotic wagers is more than you could expect with straight wagers. However, they are a much riskier proposition, as one wrong choice results in the bet losing (much like a parlay in other kinds of sports betting).

Here are the most common exotic wagers you can make if you visit one of the tracks or websites outside of Missouri’s borders:

  • Exacta — You pick two horses to win and place in the race. They must finish in the order that you select for the bet to pay.
  • Quinella — You pick two horses here, as well. However, in this case, they may finish in the top two places in either order, and the wager will still pay. The catch is that you will have to pay twice as much for a quinella ticket as you would for an exacta wager on the same two horses.
  • Trifecta — You pick three horses to win, place and show in the race. The horses must finish in the order that you select for the bet to pay out.
  • Superfecta — You choose four horses to win, place, show and finish in fourth, again in the correct order.
  • Double/Pick 3, 4, 5 etc. — Instead of choosing multiple horses in a single race, you attempt to pick the winner of multiple races. The number next to the bet name is the number of races for which you’ll need to successfully pick the winner in order to receive a payout.

As you may have guessed, exotic bets are considerably more difficult to win than straight bets. There is no room for error on most of them, and it’s difficult to predict exactly how a race will turn out. The flip side of this risk is the chance for a higher payout than you’d find on most straight wagers. Exotic wagers are not necessarily sucker bets, but it’s important to understand that you will win them far less often than straight bets.

Exotic wager modifiers

Because exotic wagers are so exact, there are several modifiers that you can use to increase your chances of winning. In essence, these options either allow you to negate the requirements for your horses to finish in an exact order or let you pick multiple horses to finish in a single spot.

The downside to using these modifiers is the increased cost. Essentially, the track or site treats these bets the same as if you made individual exotic wagers that covered all the possible outcomes. However, since your horses may finish in multiple orders, you will have to pay as if you bet each one individually. Here are the most common modifiers:

  • Box — The box bet means that the order in which your selections finish is irrelevant, so long as your selections finish in the top three (or four) spots.
  • Key — With a key bet you can designate the favorite as the “key” horse, then select several horses with longer odds to place and show.
  • Wheel/field — Placing a wheel or field bet means choosing the entire field to finish in a particular position. You can also pair wheel or field bets with key bets.
  • Custom/partial wheel — You don’t have to include every single horse in a field bet, either. It is possible to name the horses that you want as part of your field.

The bottom line with betting on horse races is not that you have to know the lingo. The main takeaway is that you can bet in almost any way that you can imagine. If you have a superstition or feeling about a particular race and want to bet in a distinct order or fashion, the track or site will likely be able to accommodate you.

Horse race formats

Not all horse races are the same. Although gimmick races might show up from time to time, nearly every horse race in the US uses one of these formats:

  • Flat — The most common type of race. Horses run on a level track of dirt or grass and bear a single jockey on their backs. Horses running this type of race are usually thoroughbreds or mares.
  • Harness — Horses run on a level track but bear jockeys behind them in carts known as sulkies. Typically, harness race horses are quarter horses.
  • Endurance — These races are no different from flat races in terms of the horses and jockeys. The difference is the longer distance of the race.
  • Steeplechase — Horses race with jockeys on their backs but must negotiate obstacles throughout the course such as low fences, jumping bars and water features.

Horse race designations

As is the case with many human competitions, there are different levels of expertise among horses. Thus, some of the designations that you’ll see next to each race listing allude to the level of competition and past success of its participants. Here are some of the terms you’ll see:

  • Stakes — Stakes races involve the highest-value horses. Their owners or trainers are essentially betting on their own horses because each one must pay to build the race’s purse. The biggest races on the planet, including the Triple Crown, are stakes races.
  • Claiming — Claiming races are for lower-tier horses that may show promise but haven’t broken through to the big-time. Every single horse in the race is for sale. In fact, the price for each horse is in the program for that day’s races. In theory, you could go to the track and buy a horse.
  • Maiden — Maiden races are for horses that have never won a race. One of the horses in such a race will break that streak, but these races are pitting some of the most inexperienced and unproven horses against one another.
  • Allowance — Allowance races might have horses of any skill level, but they limit the weights of both the horses and the jockeys in the race. Thus, they tend to favor the horses and jockeys with the most skill, since they are controlling for two of the biggest variables.

For most casual bettors, the designation for each race is likely no more than an interesting side note. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to know what these terms mean.

How odds work in horse racing

Horse racing odds are pretty straightforward. While other types of sports betting might show odds in a variety of ways, horse races stick with the same standard fractions, with those odds showing the payout ratio for betting successfully. For example, if a horse has odds of 3/1 and it wins, successful bettors would win $3 for every $1 they wagered. So the lower the fraction, the bigger favorite the horse is.

The trick about odds in horse racing, however, is that with pari-mutuel wagering, those odds are not static. You might place a bet on a horse at 4/1, but the odds could move to 2/1 by post time, in which case if your horse won you’d only receive a 2/1 payout. The track moves odds higher or lower based upon the betting. It is important to understand that the odds are merely a snapshot, and it pays to watch how they are moving.

Horse betting site bonuses

If you happen to visit one of Missouri’s neighboring states where you can bet on horse races online, you can take part in wagering through your mobile device or laptop. As long as you have a wireless internet connection and are in a legal state, you can access sites like the TVG horse betting website.

One of the best parts about online horse betting sites, however, is the presence of bonuses, which can bolster your overall bottom line. Here are some common bonuses you may encounter through online horse wagering:

  • Welcome — The site puts bonus dollars or bonus bets into your account as a reward for signing up.
  • Deposit — The site usually matches a certain percentage of your deposit up to a set amount of bonus money.
  • Insurance — An insurance or cash-back bonus compensates you for any net loss that you incur on a specific set of bets or during a specific time period.
  • Odds boost — The site artificially inflates the odds on particular types of bets for a given race.
  • Loyalty — Like casinos, horse betting sites may have loyalty programs from time to time. These programs then provide perks based on your wagering on the site.

Strategies for beginning handicappers

Horse bettors who take their craft seriously have strategies, algorithms, and research tactics that help them maximize their returns. This section is not for them. Instead, the tips below are some general rules of thumb for novice bettors. If you fall into that category and take a trip from Missouri to a neighboring state to bet on horses, keep these things in mind:

  • Get a program. As you enter a track, there will be a booth of track employees offering a program for a few dollars. Buy it. It has vital information about the races for that day, including the types of races and a detailed history of each horse’s past performance.
  • Take note of the opening odds, then monitor. Another item to bookmark in your program is the opening odds for each race. As the races come up on the live board, monitor the progress of the odds from their opening marks. You can quickly get a sense of where people (especially the experts) are putting their money.
  • Understand that the field is the true favorite. The favorites in a race are the horses more likely to win. However, it’s important to understand that all those odds are relative to the field. That is, they are the chances to win versus someone else winning. In most cases, even the favorite is still an underdog overall.
  • Don’t trust long shots. With that said, don’t go too hard the other way, either. Long shots usually have such long odds for very good reasons. Typically, they haven’t done well before, so the oddsmakers assume they won’t begin doing so. Of course, there can be exceptions.
  • Look for value. The best thing to do is look for horses that are undervalued. Perhaps a horse is usually slow but does well under the particular track conditions present at your facility. Maybe a horse has been in a recent slump but has switched back to a jockey with more success. A horse that usually races in higher stakes but has dropped down to this race is also probably of a higher caliber.
  • Stay away from exotics for now. Given the potential payouts for exotic wagers, it may be tempting to try to figure out a terrific exacta bet or to put a trifecta box on the three lowest-odds horses in a race. Don’t do it. Those payouts are high because they are unlikely to win.
  • Bet with throwaway money only. The last tip is one that applies to Missouri casinos, the Missouri Lottery, and any other gambling activity that you might decide to try. Do not bet with money that you need for other necessities. Always gamble responsibly.

Missouri live racing venues

There are no live racing venues in Missouri. Efforts to revive the industry over the years have come up short, and even the Missouri Horse Racing Commission is inactive at present.

The nearest place to bet on horse races is the FanDuel Sportsbook and Race Course in Collinsville, Illinois. The former Fairmont Park is a 12-mile drive from the center of St. Louis. Other somewhat-nearby venues to Missouri include Fair Meadows in Oklahoma, Lincoln Race Course in Nebraska, and Prairie Meadows in Iowa.

Note that we don’t mean to suggest these tracks are close to Missouri. They are just the closest and the best of the limited options that Missourians have at their disposal, relatively speaking.

Missouri horse betting FAQ

What is the minimum age to bet on horse races in Missouri?

Although there are no active outlets to offer betting on horse racing in Missouri, the law clearly states that participants must be 18 or older in order to bet.

What Missouri agency regulates horse racing?

The Missouri Horse Racing Commission. However, the commission has not met for several years and does not have much reason to do so.

Are proceeds from horse betting taxable?

Yes. If you do visit a horse track or play on a horse betting site and live in Missouri, you should prepare yourself to pay both federal and state income taxes on any winnings. Gambling winnings are taxable as income, no matter how large or small they are.

Can I bet on horse races at Missouri casinos?

No. There are no racebooks at any of the Missouri casinos. Missouri statutes prohibit off-track wagering, and simulcast betting is only legal on live race days, of which there aren’t any presently in Missouri. All of this means there are no options for betting on horse racing at any MO casinos at present.