Florida Horse Betting

Many may not realize it, but the Florida horse racing industry is one of the largest in the country. Horse race betting is also especially popular in the Sunshine State.

Sure, it’s not exactly New York or Kentucky in terms of horse racing prestige. But there are multiple world-class horse racetracks in the state that host lucrative events like the Pegasus World Cup and Florida Derby.

Floridians can bet on horse races at those locations, and can also do so at many pari-mutuel facilities scattered around the state. In addition, horse betting apps such as TVG also accept online wagers on horse races from bettors in Florida.

Here is an all-encompassing guide to horse betting in Florida.

Best site for horse betting in Florida

Get Up to $200 Back If Your First Bet Loses

Is online betting on horse races legal in Florida?

Florida does not allow online gambling, generally speaking. However, the state does permit betting on horse races over online sites that offer advance deposit wagering. Several such sites operate in Florida, the most popular of which is TVG.

Long active in the online horse betting game, TVG offers plenty of options for betting on races in Florida and across the country. What’s more, TVG boasts a 24-hour broadcast network dedicated to horse racing.

As the Florida gambling market continues to mature, some major operators began entering the state. Caesars Entertainment launched a mobile betting app at the start of June. BetMGM also has a presence in Florida, but both online racebooks pale in comparison to the market share of the FanDuel-owned TVG app.

Combine that with an easy-to-use betting app, and accessing online horse wagering is as easy as it gets.

Types of horse bets offered in Florida

In Florida and everywhere else there is legal horse betting, either online or in person, you’ll find many of the same betting options available. What do they mean exactly?

Before we get to some of the standard wagering options, it’s important to understand the term “pari-mutuel wagering.” With pari-mutuel wagering, all bets made on an event go into a pool. Once taxes and house shares are removed, the winners divide the remaining pot.

For bettors, the most important detail to remember is that in pari-mutuel wagering, the odds change as bettors continue to place their wagers. That’s different from fixed-odds betting such as used in most other types of sports betting. In that case, when you place a bet at 3-to-1, you can expect to receive three times your money if you win. However when you place a pari-mutuel wager on a horse to win at 3-to-1, the odds may change after you place your bet. In fact, they can change right up until post time, and whatever the odds on your horse are then will determine the payout you’ll receive if you win.

Keeping that in mind, here are some of the standard betting options you will find when making pari-mutuel wagers on horse races:

  • Win: Just as the name suggests, pick the horse you think will win the race.
  • Place: Select a horse to finish second or better.
  • Show: Bet on a horse to place third or higher.
  • Exactas: Pick the order of the top two finishers. It’s typically a good idea to “box” them. The box makes it so any combination of the selected horses is a winning ticket.
  • Trifectas: Choose the top three finishers in order. You can also elect to box this bet.
  • The Key: Bettors can put a horse in the first spot and add three others in the second and third slots. A trifecta key with the “1” over the “2-3-4” means the 1 horse must win and any combo of the 2-3-4 in the next two slots is a winning ticket.
  • Superfecta: Pick the top four horses in the correct order. The superfecta is often lucrative, but obviously, it’s extremely hard to hit.

There are more bet types to choose from. Those win, place or show bets on a single horse are generally referred to as straight bets, while the wagers involving multiple horses and different combinations of finishes are exotic bets. Beginners are likely better off sticking with straight bets, but many enjoy the exotic bets as they often involve long odds and large payouts although they are much more difficult to win.

Where can I legally place horse bets in Florida?

Florida allows wagering on horse races at popular racetracks like Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs. The state also permits other pari-mutuel facilities around the state to provide televised viewing of races occurring elsewhere and invite patrons to wager on them.

These pari-mutuel facilities (as well as the operating racetracks) are the only places in the state where you can participate in such off-track betting. Otherwise, there aren’t any OTB parlors per se such as you can find in other states.

Here’s a list of facilities in the state where you can bet on horse races, including both the active racetracks and the pari-mutuels:

FacilityCity
Big Easy CasinoHallandale Beach
Bonita Springs Poker RoomBonita Springs
Calder Casino & Race CourseMiami Gardens
Casino Fort PierceFort Pierce
Casino Miami Jai-AlaiMiami
Creek Entertainment GretnaGretna
The Casino @ Dania BeachDania Beach
Daytona Beach Racing and Card ClubDaytona Beach
Derby LaneSt. Petersburg
Ebro Greyhound TrackEbro
Gulfstream Park Racing and CasinoHallandale Beach
Hialeah Park Race TrackHialeah
Magic City CasinoMiami
Melbourne Greyhound ParkMelbourne
Ocala Poker & Jai-AlaiOcala
Orange Park Kennel ClubOrange Park
Orange City Racing and Card ClubOrange City
Palm Beach Kennel ClubWest Palm Beach
Pensacola Greyhound TrackPensacola
Pompano ParkPompano Beach
Tampa Bay DownsTampa
Tampa Greyhound TrackTampa

Horse racetracks in Florida

The number of racetracks in the state has been trimmed down over the decades. However, Florida still features a few popular horse racetracks that host races throughout the year, including some major events on the US racing calendar.

Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino

  • 901 S. Federal Hwy., Hallandale Beach, FL 33009

Gulfstream Park is Florida’s most popular racetrack today. Launched in 1939, the facility underwent a $130 million renovation in 2004, including the modernization of its grandstand and clubhouse. Races are held throughout the year, including major events like the Pegasus World Cup and Florida Derby. The facility also features a casino with more than 700 slots, video poker and electronic table games.

Tampa Bay Downs

  • 11225 Race Track Rd., Tampa, FL 33626

Tampa Bay Downs is one of the most underrated racetracks in America. First opening in 1926, the track currently features a lengthy November-to-May schedule of races that includes many important events, including the Tampa Bay Derby. The track even featured Arabian horse races from the early 1980s through 2003. Over the years the track has undergone many name changes, starting as Tampa Downs, then Sunshine Park (1946-1965), then Florida Downs and Turf Club (1965-1980), then finally Tampa Bay Downs (1980-present). Unlike the other tracks, Tampa Bay Downs has no slots but it does feature the popular 26-table Silks Poker Room.

Hialeah Park Race Track

  • 2200 E. 4th Ave., Hialeah, FL 33013

The legendary Hialeah Park Race Track first opened way back in 1922, becoming Florida’s first famous horse racetrack and for many years host of the famed Flamingo Stakes. It also served as a primary setting for the great gambling comedy Let It Ride (1989). After suffering various ups and downs, the track closed in 2001 and after not hosting races for several years lost its racing license. However, the track reopened in 2013 and now hosts a limited schedule of quarter horse races during the winter. The adjacent casino features over 850 slots and electronic table games as well as a 33-table poker room.

Major horse races in Florida

Florida hosts several major horse races each year, all of which take place during the winter months when the warm temperatures make the state a great destination for events.

Pegasus World Cup

Launched in 2017 at Gulfstream Park, the Pegasus World Cup was once the richest horse race in the world, surpassing the Dubai World Cup by offering a $16 million purse. However, Pegasus World Cup has since fallen back to second place after offering a $9 million purse in 2019. It further reduced the purse to $3 million in 2020, where it has remained since.

The race replaced the long-running Donn Handicap that began back in 1959. The Pegagus World Cup runs each January and invites thoroughbreds aged four years and older to compete. The race is of course named after the winged horse of Greek mythology, a 110-foot statue of which greets visitors to the track.

Florida Derby

The Florida Derby has been running since 1952. It offers a $1 million purse and runs at Gulfstream Park in either late March or early April. The event invites the sport’s top three-year-olds to race to compete.

This race takes place five weeks before the prestigious Kentucky Derby. Therefore, it’s used as one of the primary prep events for the first leg of the Triple Crown. Many horses that have won the Florida Derby went on to win the Kentucky Derby as well, including most recently Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016) and Always Dreaming (2017).

Other significant horse races happening in Florida each year include the following, all three of which are part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule of qualification events:

  • Holy Bull Stakes (Gulfstream Park, Jan.) — replaced the Flamingo Stakes in 1990
  • Fountain of Youth Stakes (Gulfstream Park, late Feb.) — also a prep race for the Florida Derby, first ran in 1945
  • Tampa Bay Derby (Tampa Bay Downs, March) — has run annually since 1981

Greyhound racing comes to an end in Florida

Florida was the first state in the country to legalize pari-mutuel wagering on dog races way back in 1931. Ninety years later, the state became one of the last in the country to make dog racing illegal.

In between, Florida became known as the greyhound racing capital of the US, particularly during the latter decades when it was one of only a few states still allowing it. In some cases horse racetracks in the state were converted to greyhound racing venues, and the sport continued to thrive into the 2000s. However, much as horse racing began to decline in popularity, so, too, did greyhound racing. Animal rights activists and others also complained about the treatment of man’s best friend at the tracks, thereby helping build sentiment to put an end to dog racing in the state.

In 2018 Floridians approved Amendment 13 with just over 69% of voting in favor of “prohibiting wagering on live dog races, including greyhound races, held in Florida and banning dog races in Florida on which there is wagering.” The vote forced all of the state’s greyhound tracks to discontinue dog racing by the end of 2020. At the time there were still 11 such tracks in operation, and soon each began to close one by one. The last to run a race was the Palm Beach Kennel Club on Dec. 31, 2020.

While some of the facilities shut down, some have remained open as card rooms. Others continue to offer off-track betting on simulcast horse races and/or betting on jai-alai. Thus while you will still see places like the Palm Beach Kennel Club open for business, know that you will no longer be seeing any dog racing at those facilities.

History of Florida horse racing

Horse racing had already been a popular activity in Florida when the state legislature was able to override the governor’s veto and legalize pari-mutuel wagering in 1931. By then Hialeah Race Park had already begun to emerge as one of the nation’s best known tracks. Over subsequent years Hialeah would host the annual Flamingo Stakes, an important lead-up race to the Kentucky Derby.

The Sunshine State’s warm climate made it the perfect place for winter racing. This trend continued in the absence of major winter events up north with Gulfstream Park and other Florida tracks also hosting many major events during the century’s middle decades. Later during the 1960s Florida become a hotspot for harness racing. Pompano Park started holding regular harness meets, and Seminole Downs soon followed suit. Calder Race Course opened in 1971 and soon became another favorite thoroughbred racing venue, especially for winter events.

Unfortunately, the state’s horse racing industry took a downturn in the 1970s, when some of the smaller tracks converted to greyhound racing facilities, including Seminole Downs. However, Gulfstream Park continued to excel despite the declining interest in racing across the state. Gulfstream eventually overtook Hialeah as Florida’s premier racetrack and still holds this distinction today.

Hialeah’s decline continued to the point where it finally closed its doors in 2001. The once-renowned track has since undergone major changes. Thanks to a deal between the state government and the Seminole Tribe, Hialeah was able to reopen as a racino and now offers slot machines and occasional quarter horse racing.

In 2014, Churchill Downs took over operations at the Calder Race Course, renaming the track Gulfstream Park West. The track featured a popular fall schedule of races over the next several years before finally shutting down following the 2020 season. Meanwhile, Pompano Park, a.k.a. “The Winter Home of Harness Racing,” ran its last race in 2022, closing its track and continuing as a newly renovated casino under the name Harrah’s Pompano Beach.

Horse racing is now largely consolidated to a small number of pari-mutuel facilities in Florida, with Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs and Hialeah Park Race Track (as it is now known) the only major tracks currently hosting races.