Outside of taking in horse races as a spectator, one of the most popular ways to engage with horse racing is betting on the outcome. Illinois is home to thoroughbred, quarter horse and harness racing.
You can legally bet on horses in Illinois. You can also wager from one of three tracks, several OTB sites or through legal horse betting apps.
Around the Prairie State, there are plenty of ways to bet on horse races. Not all Illinoisans have horse racetracks nearby; however, they still have a choice of convenient horse betting options. You can bet:
If you don’t live close to a live racetrack or OTB betting parlor, betting online can save you some travel. Even if there is a horse racetrack near you, you can opt to place horse wagers online. One of the best parts of online horse racing in Illinois is that multiple mobile racebooks operate in the state. Thus, you can shop for the best horse betting bonuses and odds.
The Illinois Racing Board has a comprehensive list of horse betting rules available online. Here are the main points:
Also, if you’re unsure about any of the rules, you can submit an inquiry to the IRB via email.
All online racebooks operating legally in IL will require you to register for a horse betting account online before you can wager. It is necessary to prove you are of legal age and not on any gambling self-exclusion lists. It’s also vital to combat money laundering and other forms of organized crime.
When you register your betting account, you’ll need to provide the racebook with the following information:
You will also have to enable location services on your device to verify your physical location within Illinois state lines when you place your wagers. In some cases, you might have to download new software because IL racebooks operate within laws and regulations set by each state. Additionally, there are federal prohibitions against gambling outside of legal horse betting state lines.
Some IL racebooks, like TVG, offer mobile apps. You can conduct all your business with the book using that horse betting app, from registration to cashing out your wins.
TVG is among the top online racebooks for several reasons. TVG’s app or website allows users to bet on and watch live racing from over 150 tracks worldwide. To help with your handicapping, the TVG app also offers daily picks and insight from industry veterans like Britney Eurton and Christina Blacker.
TVG also offers a rewards program and frequent promotions for bettors. In addition, app users can take advantage of TVG exclusive content that will enrich their knowledge of horses, jockeys, and trainers.
Other licensed horse racebooks in Illinois include:
Most bettors have a dream of hitting a big payday on an unlikely winner. However, the odds of getting a massive payout on a straight bet are not great. Fortunately, that isn’t the only way to bet on horse races in Illinois. The menu of horse wagers in Illinois includes:
Additionally, you can opt to “box” your bet, which means you put down money on all the possible outcomes in a bet that covers the top two, three or even four horses in a race. Box bets are a way to hedge your wager and increase your likelihood of seeing some return. However, you’ll pay for that diminished risk in a more expensive stake.
Another way to shake things up is a “wheel” bet. This wager involves picking a horse to finish in a certain place. Then, choosing any of the other horses to finish second. For example, you could pick a horse to finish first then wheel the second place with the rest of the horses in the race. As long as the horse you picked to win does so, you already know another horse will finish second so that you would win.
These types of wagers can give you a better return if you’re confident about one horse in one place but not feeling so sure about the rest of the field. Again, you’ll pay for the better odds of winning, though.
The simple term “long shot” means a horse that is unlikely to place highly in a race. Oddsmakers use a lot of information to set their favorites, which includes:
Long shots afford better payouts if they do pull off upsets but, as previously stated, are unlikely to do so given the available data.
Most racebooks use a pari-mutuel wagering system instead of fixed odds. These two systems differ in a couple of ways. First off, your “opponent” in your horse bet isn’t the racebook; the racebook has no stake in your wager. It simply takes a percentage for facilitating the betting. Instead, your “opponent” in the betting is yourself.
The money for winning bets comes from the entire pot of all wagers placed on the same race. So, if you place a winning bet, your payout is not only your stake back but also some of the money from those who placed different bets and lost. For that reason, the dollar amount of the bets in the pot, the number of bets placed and which horse(s) the field of bettors like the most will determine the odds.
In fixed-odds wagering, the racebook would not only have a stake in your wager, but it would set the odds before the race based on which horse it thinks will win.
Most racebooks list their odds in fractional form, like 5/1. Translated to American odds, that would be +500. A basic rule of thumb is that the greater the first number is than the second number (reading left to right), the longer the odds are that the associated horse will win. Determining your potential payout in a pari-mutuel system is identical to doing the same with fixed odds, though. In this instance, if you staked $100 and this horse won, your total payout would be $600 (your $100 bet back, plus $500 in profit).
Although Illinois isn’t home to any of the Triple Crown races, these events each year are still the pinnacle of the sport for both horse bettors and fans. For that reason, many of the live tracks and OTBs in Illinois will have special events around them. Additionally, the online racebooks typically reserve some of their best bonuses for these events. You’ll also find the most information on horses that are part of the fields for these races as well.
The Kentucky Derby typically happens on the first Saturday in May every year and is the first leg of the Triple Crown. The Derby takes place in Louisville at its namesake dirt track, which is 10 furlongs (1.25 miles). The usual field size is 20 horses, which are usually 3-year-old thoroughbreds. Because the event takes place in Kentucky instead of Illinois, IL bettors will see a few nuance differences in their wagering activity as opposed to when they are betting on races that happen in the state. Mostly, that involves tax rates on winnings that differ from Illinois to Kentucky.
Usually, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the second leg of the Triple Crown takes place at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The Preakness Stakes is a bit shorter, at 9 furlongs (1 3/16 miles). The field is also smaller at just 14 horses. Again, the race is typically run by 3-year-old thoroughbreds. If the winner of the Kentucky Derby is in the field for the Preakness, it is not uncommon for that horse to be the favorite in this race as well, especially if the horse won the Derby easily. However, there’s no guarantee that the horse will be the favorite because the field of contenders can change greatly from the Derby to the Preakness.
The final leg of the Triple Crown happens at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. The usual date is three weeks after the Preakness, again on a Saturday. The Belmont Stakes track is the longest of the three legs at 12 furlongs (1.5 miles). Again, 3-year-old thoroughbreds typically compose the field. True to the pattern, the field of horses can change from the Preakness as well. The field can be as large as 12, although it’s typical for the field to be smaller. If a horse as won the Derby and the Preakness, that horse is among the top contenders in the odds.
In Illinois, you’ll find three distinct types of races for horses. These vary in the attributes of the horses and the details of the tracks, along with the rules of the race. Tracks around Illinois offer these various types of racing according to their facilities and interest.
The three Illinois racetracks welcome bettors and fans throughout their seasons with several amenities, including beverage and food service, VIP seating and simulcasting for races that take place elsewhere.
Located in the Chicago suburbs, Churchill Downs is the long-time operator of this property. This facility is perhaps most famous for the abundance of dining options on-site and offering a great variety of aesthetics and menus.
Formerly known as Fairmount Park, FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing purchased this property in 2019 so it could get a sports betting license in Illinois. The action hasn’t missed a beat since, giving horse racing fans in the greater St. Louis area an option for live races.
Also in the Chicago suburbs, Hawthorne Racecourse offers a busy schedule of racing action for most of the year. For bettors and fans who prefer an emphasis on the variety and volume of live events, this is a fantastic venue.
Currently, there are more than 20 off-track betting parlors in Illinois, although the law allows for more than 40. All are affiliated with one of the state’s live tracks and offer pari-mutuel wagering on the track’s races and action via simulcast betting as well. While the tracks are split between two of the bigger metropolitan areas in the state, the OTBs are a bit more evenly distributed. Thus, people in rural areas of Illinois have better access to OTB betting parlor than tracks. Among this list, you’ll hopefully find one close to you.
The IRB is the governing body for horse racing in Illinois. It ensures licensees’ compliance with all regulations and statutes. The board has been around since 1933 and has oversight over any race for any prize in Illinois. That oversight guarantees fairness and integrity in the races and the betting markets set upon them.
The current members of the board are:
The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is essentially a nonprofit trade association for horse owners and trainers in the Land of Lincoln. The group is active at Arlington and Hawthorne racecourses. In addition to advocating for horsemen’s rights, the association provides a number of other benefits and services.
The members of the association’s board of directors are:
Although it was taking place on an informal basis for over a century prior, the state of Illinois formally legalized pari-mutuel wagering on horse races in 1975. The action came with a comprehensive set of regulations and created the Illinois Racing Board.
Hawthorne Park became the first licensed live racetrack in the state shortly thereafter, as it had been in continuous operation on the racing side since the 1880s. However, horse racing in Chicago dates back to much earlier. Records show live races in the Chicago metro area in the 1830s. It’s a safe bet that wagering was happening on these 19th-century races, albeit unregulated.
Although the past half-century has seen the closures of several other tracks in IL, the survivors have robust action and seem in a good position to keep betting on horse races in Illinois alive for decades to come.