Virginia Online Horse Betting Guide 2024

Horse betting in Virginia gives people in the state the chance to enjoy the pageantry and majesty of horse racing. Whether it’s live racing at the track or simulcasts from races around the country, Virginians can enjoy the excitement of placing a wager on the ponies. Here is everything you need to know about Virginia horse betting.

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Horse betting options in Virginia

At present, Virginia has one thoroughbred racetrack that put on live races. Colonial Downs returned to live racing in April 2019 after six years of quiet on the turf.

The 2023 season runs through September 9, with races each week from Thursday through Saturday. It has included several new additions, most notably the arrival of the Grade 1 Arlington Million. That was part of the Colonial Downs Festival of Racing on Saturday, Aug. 12. That day’s program also included the Grade 1 Beverly D. and Grade 2 Secretariat.

One of the biggest pushes for gambling in recent Virginia history came with the 2018 legalization and activation of historical horse racing machines (HHR) at Colonial Downs. These machines allow players to wager on older races in a hybrid instant-win game that combines horse racing with slot machine play. Since their introduction, HHR machines have been immensely popular and a valuable revenue stream for Colonial Downs.

In addition to the facilities at Colonial Downs, Virginians can also wager on harness racing action at Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock. A total of eight off-track betting locations around the state include:

  • Breakers Sports Grille, Henrico
  • Buckets Bar and Grill, Chesapeake
  • Ponies and Pints, Richmond
  • The Windmill OTB Sports Grill, Collinsville

In addition, Rosie’s gaming emporiums offer off-track betting at Dumphries, Hampton, Richmond, Vinton and, soon, Emporia.

Virginia residents also have plenty of options for horse betting online, with FanDuel Racing as the premier horse betting site.

An account takes minutes to set up. With Virginia sports betting legal and thriving, it would not be surprising to see the options for betting on horse races expand in the near future.

Races to bet in Virginia

Because there are so many ways to bet on horse racing in Virginia, it’s good to keep the sport’s top events in focus. There are several annual races that draw both attention and a lot of betting action from the public.

The three best-known races are the three legs of the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes represent the pinnacles of achievement for most racehorses and trainers in the world.

A horse that can win all three is guaranteed immortality. If you want to bet on horse racing, you shouldn’t miss out on the Triple Crown races.

The US is also home to the Breeders’ Cup, which is a high-caliber race series in its own right. At present, the total prizes and awards at this event top $30 million, while there are hundreds of millions bet on the Breeders’ Cup.

Outside of the US, there are two race events that bear mention. The first one is the Dubai World Cup, an annual thoroughbred horse race series traditionally held in March. This series, which has been in existence since 1996, has the distinction of offering one of the largest purses of any horse race in the world.

In nearby Saudi Arabia, horses can also compete for the big bucks. The Saudi Cup, which is a relative newcomer that only ran for the first time in 2020, has a $20 million purse, the highest in the sport.

How online horse betting works

As mentioned earlier, FanDuel Racing will accept action from Virginia players. Horse racing bettors can also use the Twinspires Racebook VA app.

You will first have to establish an account at your site of choice. Just look for the sign-up location on your display to get started.

Once on the registration screen, you will have to provide several pieces of personal information to the site to create your account. Typical details that online horse betting sites and horse betting apps request are:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Password for the account
  • Phone number
  • Date of birth
  • Physical address
  • Promotional code (if you have one)

After that, you’ll have to make your first deposit on the site. Most horse racing betting sites have several options for making that first transfer, including:

  • Credit or debit card
  • Electronic check (ACH)
  • Online banking or wire transfer
  • Electronic wallet (PayPal, Skrill, etc.)

Once you’ve funded your account, you should be good to go. As a general rule, here’s how you make your selections:

  1. Pick the track
  2. Select the race you want by its number
  3. Enter your bet amount
  4. Choose the type of bet.
  5. Put your money on your chosen horse(s).
  6. Hit submit.

Your bet is now made, and you’re ready to win.

Legal restrictions and requirements for online horse betting in Virginia

However, it’s important to bear in mind that there are some limitations on your betting. You must be over the age of 18, for instance. Each bet must be $2 or more too. The book must pay out a certain percentage of the wager. Make sure that you understand the laws and regulations before you get started.

How to bet on horse racing online

If you’re new to horse race betting online in Virginia, you may be overwhelmed by the number of types of wagers that you can make. Horse racing, as much as any form of gambling, maintains its own set of lingo and definitions that you need to be aware of.

Here is a brief primer for all the horse racing bets you might encounter online in Virginia. One thing to note, however, is that you may read or hear about “straight” and “exotic” bets in horse racing. These words simply define whether you are betting on a single outcome (straight) or on multiple outcomes (exotic).

Another thing to recognize about horse racing is that the lingo below is only a way to communicate with the tellers at the betting windows in a concise manner. If you can imagine a way you want to bet on a race, it is possible to do so. These definitions will just serve to speed the process along.

Traditional types of horse racing bets

  • Win: A win bet is a straight bet on which horse will finish first.
  • Place: A place bet is a straight bet on which horse will finish second. However, a place bet pays for horses that come in first, too.
  • Show: This is a straight bet on which horse will finish third. However, a show bet pays for horses that come in first or second, too.
  • Win/place/show: You can bet on a single horse to hit all three positions in a race. If the horse manages to win, it qualifies as a winner for all three types of straight bets. Win/place and place/show bets are also available, depending on what you want to do.

Types of exotic horse racing bets

  • Daily Double/Pick 3/Pick 4/Pick 6/Pick All: Live horse racing events have a finite number of races in them. You may decide that you just want to try to pick the winner from each race and be done with it. You can take one of these options and select the winner from the next races. If you really want to try to guess right, you can pick the winners for the entire evening’s slate and call it a day.
  • Exacta: At first glance, an exacta bet might appear identical to a win/place bet. However, in this case, you’re selecting two horses, not one, and you are identifying them as the horses to finish precisely first and second in a race.
  • Quinella: A quinella is an exacta bet in which the order of the horses’ finish does not matter. So long as your two designated horses are in the win and place position, the quinella will pay. Be aware, however, that a quinella bet will cost double what you’d pay for an exacta with the same horses.
  • Trifecta: A trifecta wager operates the same way as an exacta bet, except that you are selecting the top three horses to finish and the exact order in which they will finish.
  • Superfecta: A superfecta wager is also in the family of wagers about which horses will finish first and in which order they will finish. It might be helpful to think of a superfecta as a “quadfecta,” since you will be designating the first four horses to finish the race and the order in which they will arrive.

Other types of horse racing bets

Box

A box bet is a modified version of the exacta, trifecta, or superfecta wager. Players still choose the same number of horses to finish first, second, third, and so forth, but the box takes away the need to select the order of finish.

The quinella bet we described above is the same thing as an exacta box. Like we mentioned in that section, be aware that box bets will be more expensive than their unboxed counterparts.

In fact, the price will multiply by the number of outcomes that you’re now covering with the box. So, while an exacta box only has two outcomes instead of one (hence the doubling of the price), a trifecta box has to account for six possibilities. For every dollar you plan to wager on a straight trifecta, you will have to multiply by six to get the cost of a boxed trifecta.

Wheel

Predicting the winner of a horse race is difficult. There might be times when you have no idea who might win, but you’d still like to bet. The wheel bet allows you to wager on the field in certain positions. Thus, you have the wheel bet to help you.

First of all, you have to decide if you’ll bet a full wheel or a partial wheel. A full wheel means that you are betting on every horse that is running. A partial wheel means that you will designate a selection of horses from the field to finish in certain positions.

Wheel bets are almost always used in combination wagers. Let’s say that you are confident that horse No. 1 will win and horse No. 2 will place in a race. However, you came to the track to bet trifectas, so you need to pick a third horse to show.

Rather than trying to figure out which horse will cross the line after your two frontrunners, you can simply tell the clerk that you want to bet a “trifecta wheel 1-2-all.” At that moment, you have placed a full wheel bet.

There is some strategy to this kind of wager. If you’re picking a selection of horses, you want the horse with the longest odds to succeed. So, in the example above, you’d be happiest if No. 1 won, No. 2 placed, and No. 8, at 100:1, showed. You still win the bet, but you would get an extra bump in the payout because of the unusual finish from your wheel bet.

However, let’s say that you are still sure about No. 1 and No. 2, but you also think that horses Nos. 6 to 8 have no chance of coming in third. So, instead of having to pay to include them in your wager, you can simply say “trifecta wheel 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5.” This type of bet is a partial wheel since you did not include the entire field.

You may also hear discussions about key wagers. A key bet is merely a type of partial wheel where the only concrete selection you make is the winner of the race. The rest of the places can be a mishmash of horses that you think will finish behind your surefire leader.

If all this seems confusing, don’t worry. Just make sure that you know what you’re trying to do with your bet. It might help to write it down before you approach the window.

How horse betting odds work

Whether you bet online or live, horse racing revolves around the odds that the track or site places on each horse to win. It’s important to understand what odds mean and how they work.

First, odds are a basic way to express how often a horse will win against the other horses in the field. In other words, odds are an expression of the chance that your horse will come in first.

When you place a bet, the track or site will tell you exactly how much you can expect to receive if your horse wins. At first glance, the math that generates your payout number might seem mysterious, but it’s actually fairly straightforward.

How to read odds and calculate payouts

The number that you receive as your payout amount is the profit from the odds added to the amount of your wager. For now, let’s set aside your wager amount and just talk about the calculation of your profit.

No matter what odds are listed, you need only divide the first number by the second number to get your profit multiplier. Once you have figured out this amount, you multiply it by your wager amount to figure out your potential profit on the bet.

You might see all sorts of odds listings on a horse race. There might be horses listed at 2:5, 3:1, 9:5, 20:1, or 100:1. However, the procedure remains the same for all of them. So, consider the following:

  • 2:5 becomes 0.4
  • 3:1 becomes 3
  • 9:5 becomes 1.8
  • 20:1 becomes 20
  • 100:1 becomes 100

Then, you need to multiply your bet by this number to figure out the profit. So, if we were to bet the minimum amount in Virginia, $2, here’s what our potential profit on our bet would be:

  • 2:5 → $0.80
  • 3:1 → $6
  • 9:5 → $3.6
  • 20:1 → $40
  • 100:1 → $200

Your payout amount would be this number plus your bet amount. So, since we bet the minimum, here would be our payouts:

  • 2:5 → $2.80
  • 3:1 → $8
  • 9:5 → $5.6
  • 20:1 → $42
  • 100:1 → $202

Although you may need a calculator to speed the process along, figuring out what the odds mean for you is straightforward. As it turns out, picking the correct horse is still the hard part about betting on horse racing.

Pari-mutuel vs. fixed-odds betting

It’s important to know when considering odds whether they are fixed or pari-mutuel. An easy way to remember the difference is to think of pari-mutuel as betting for a “mutual” benefit.

In pari-mutuel betting, your wager is part of a pool. The vig, or the house’s interest in your individual wager, is removed. This is because there is only one possible outcome as far as which horse will win each race and the house knows it will keep all the losing wagers.

Because the number of bets placed on each possible outcome can change, your odds will fluctuate. That will continue until the time the book closes wagering on the race.

Fixed odds, on the other hand, are solely based on the likelihood of the outcome you select. Your bet is just between the house and you. The benefit is you know what your payout will be if you win the second you make your bet and that won’t change.

There is also a downside because the house works its vig into the odds. Essentially, you’re paying the house for taking your bet, even if you win. Which odds are better depends on many factors, like how confident you are that your horse will win.

How to claim a horse race betting bonus

One of the great things about betting on a horse racing site is the availability of bonuses. Because competitors are a click away, sites have to do everything they can to keep you happy and loyal to them.

As a result, you can realize many bonuses through horse sites. These sites run promotions constantly, and they vary their focus to try to appeal to everyone at least part of the time.

There is likely no better horse racing site in Virginia (or anywhere else) than FanDuel Racing. So we will use examples from FanDuel to detail all the types of promotions that you may encounter.

Bonus bets

Bonus bets are a good way to get started with online betting. The site will award you a voucher that is good for a bet up to a certain dollar amount. Depending on the offer, the site might limit the bet in some way, but there is no reason not to accept one of these offers.

Typically, bonus bets are most likely to be found as an enticement for new players. True to form, FanDuel offers new accounts a  No Sweat First Bet on their first single horse win bet.

Deposit bonuses and fee refunds

Another type of bonus that you’re likely to encounter will relate to your deposit in some way. In many cases, the site will pledge to match all or a portion of your deposit amount and place it into your account. You will usually have to wager through the bonus money at least once to release it (which is known as playthrough), but it’s a great way to add to your bankroll.

You may also find sites that will kick back a portion of your deposit to you if you deposit on certain dates. For instance, a site may pledge to return deposit fees to players if they can make a transfer during a particular timeframe.

Although these types of bonuses can come with strings attached, such as the aforementioned playthrough requirement and time limits to redeem, deposit bonuses can be an easy way to pump up the bottom line on your account. If you think that you can satisfy the terms of the offer, make sure to claim it.

Also, many of these offers may require some sort of promotional code to trigger them. Check this site and your preferred horse racing site for any special codes before you make your fund transfer.

Insurance or cashback bonuses

Insurance or cashback bonuses are not unique to horse betting sites. However, they are good things to have because of the inherent risk associated with betting on the ponies in Virginia (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Basically, insurance bonuses act exactly like insurance in other arenas. If you make a bet on a specific type of race, the sportsbook will refund your bet.

Now, there are a couple of catches to this type of bonus. For one thing, insurance is only good up to a certain wager amount. In most cases, you will be out of luck on any money lost over this threshold.

The other thing to keep in mind is the fact that you may receive your insurance money in the form of site credit or bet vouchers. Although some sites might issue refunds as cash, it’s good to read the fine print before you sign up.

FanDuel Racing, for example, allows users to receive a bonus back up to $5 if your wins bet finishes second or third. Be sure to check out the list of eligible races to opt in for the offer.

Rewards and loyalty programs

Like casinos, many horse betting sites offer reward or loyalty programs designed to reward players who continue to make wagers on the site over time. Generally speaking, you earn points or some other kind of measure for every dollar that you wager.

Those points are redeemable for playing cash, prizes, or other perks. If the site is part of a wider network, you might even be able to use the points for tangible rewards like restaurant meals.

Added money and splash pots

Sometimes, the site will simply want to encourage play on a certain bet, certain track, or certain race. So, in addition to the money that you could win for betting correctly, the site will add money to the pot for all winning bettors to share.

Some sites offer players the ability to share in prize pools if they can predict designated races correctly. Regardless of the odds that you must overcome to win your bet, all winning bettors will receive an equal share of the pool.

Free-to-play promotions

Free-to-play promos are excellent because they are open to every single person of age in the country, not just Virginia. Because there is no cost to enter, it’s technically a sweepstakes giveaway.

The exact task(s) that you must perform to become eligible for the prize vary quite a bit. In most cases, it is rather difficult to realize any kind of return.

However, free-to-play promotions are one of the few times that nothing ventured can turn into something gained. TVG, for example, offered players a shot at a $5,000 prize if they could pick the winners of five consecutive races. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth a shot.

Referrals

Finally, horse betting sites are always on the lookout for new players. One of the easiest ways to acquire them is through word of mouth, so many sites will pony up cash if you can refer one of your buddies to the site, and he or she becomes an active member.

Some platforms entice new players to try out their products with these programs. For example, if a new customers signs up and deposits using an existing player’s referral code, both parties receive a bonus to their accounts. It’s not much, but it’s a great way to pick up some extra cash for very little effort.

Major US horse racing events

Horse racing comes in many formats. There are quarter horse races, maiden races, allowance and claim races, and other types of contests that run almost every weekend in the US. However, for most people, the grandest races in America are thoroughbred races.

The best-known horse race in the country, the Kentucky Derby, is a thoroughbred race. So are the other two members of the fabled Triple Crown, the Preakness and the Belmont. If you’re talking about the true events of horse racing, you’re usually talking about thoroughbred races.

The following are some of the most prestigious thoroughbred horse races that occur in the US each year.

The Kentucky Derby

There is no other horse race that captures the attention of the American public like the Kentucky Derby. The annual race is the capstone and marquee event for the Kentucky Derby Festival, which occurs for two weeks before the race. Few events celebrate a callback to earlier times quite like the Derby, and between the big hats, the mint juleps, the winner’s blanket of roses and the immortality that follows its winners, you will never mistake the Derby for a different or lesser event.

  • Usual date: First Saturday in May
  • Location: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Track: Dirt, left-handed
  • Purse: $3 million

The Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Stakes is the middle race of the Triple Crown and likely the least-known of its legs. However, the Maryland-based horse race is worthy of consideration and praise in its own right. The parties in its infield are legendary, and any race festival that has featured a contest of racing port-a-potties can’t be overlooked.

  • Usual date: Third Saturday in May
  • Location: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore
  • Track: Dirt, left-handed
  • Purse: $1,500,000

The Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes is the third and final leg of the American Triple Crown. Every horse that has managed to capture that elusive prize has done so at this race. It is the longest and oldest of the three prestigious events and is commonly called The Test of the Champion due to its grueling nature and incredible importance to horse racing history.

  • Usual date: First or second Saturday in June
  • Location: Belmont Park, Elmont, New York
  • Track: Dirt, left-handed
  • Purse: $1.5 million

The Breeders’ Cup

The Breeders’ Cup is the touring band of prestigious horse races in America. The annual race series travels to a different track in the US (and once in Canada) to run more than a dozen races. As many as half of the races in each year’s event are classified as Grade I events, and purses routinely swell over $1 million.

  • Usual date: Varies, but usually late in the year to serve as a capstone event for the season
  • Location: Varies. Santa Anita Park and Churchill Downs have been the most-often-used venues.
  • Track: Turf or dirt, left-handed
  • Purse: Varies, but usually in excess of $20 million for all the race events

The Travers Stakes

The Travers Stakes is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. In fact, according to various classifying bodies, it is the third-highest ranked race in the world, behind only the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. In other words, in the minds of some observers, it surpasses the Triple Crown member race Preakness Stakes in terms of its regard. The Travers is named for a former president of the Saratoga Racing Association and is commonly referred to as the “Midsummer Derby” due to its typical date. Like the Belmont, the winner of the Travers is covered with a blanket of carnations.

  • Usual date: August
  • Location: Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs, New York
  • Track: Dirt, left-handed
  • Purse: $1,250,000

Horse race betting tips

With all these options available in Virginia, you might be fired up to get out there and try to bet on the ponies.

However, there are a few horse racing tips to keep in mind that will hopefully help you play for longer, understand what to look for, and win more often.

Here are our tips for how to make the most of your horse betting experience.

1. Plan ahead and take your time

Horse racing is distinct from many other forms of gambling because of its pacing and the amount of information you have at your disposal. You can usually begin gathering information about the races you’ll bet on hours before they run. There is no reason that you have to go into a horse betting session without knowing the details of each horse in each race.

2. See the story that the odds are telling

One of the first details you’ll notice about any horse race is the posted odds for each horse. Obviously, you want to take note of those numbers, as they represent the track’s view about how the upcoming race will go.

However, you shouldn’t just look at which horse is the favorite and close the book. Look to see how the other odds are stacking up against the favorite’s odds.

3. See the story the race guide is telling

Once you’ve got a picture in your mind about how the track expects the race to go, it’s time to see how the bookmakers arrived at that number, and whether you agree with their assessment. Look at the historical performances of each horse, and see how long ago they were. Examine how each horse performed at the track or at similar tracks.

What you want to find, if possible, is either confirmation that the bookmakers have it right or evidence suggesting that they may have it wrong. Figuring out whether you agree with the posted odds is perhaps the key question to answer to guide your betting.

4. See the story that other bettors are telling

Some people take horse racing betting quite seriously. They usually have systems and algorithms and strategies in place to analyze each race as quickly, efficiently, and accurately as possible.

Now, unless you’re friends with one of these folks, you won’t know what they are thinking. However, what you can do is watch how the posted odds change as the race approaches.

Make a note of the odds from the moment you first see them. Then, keep an eye on how they are moving. If one horse or another seems to be drawing some attention, there might be a good reason for it.

5. Keep your betting simple for now

Your final action will be to place a wager, of course. However, it’s a good idea to keep things pretty basic when you’re just starting out. You can have plenty of excitement, thrills, and profit if you stick to the straight win, place, and show bets (or a combination of the three). For now, leave the exotic stuff to the other folks at the track.

If you need to find information about races, there are plenty of online resources. However, with a 24-hour network dedicated entirely to horse betting, it’s hard to imagine that you can beat the service at FanDuel Racing. Make sure to stop by and see if it has any information about the races you want to bet.

Virginia horse betting FAQ

Yes. Betting on horse races, both live and online, is legal in Virginia. In addition, players can bet on historical horse races at thousands of machines around the state.

The year 2023 marked the best ever for taxable revenue in the history of the Virginia Racing Commission. The agency’s 2023 annual report revealed that Virginia bettors wagered over $4.3 billion on racing and racing-type activities during the year. The vast majority of this wagering was on historical horse racing, which accounted for almost $4.16 billion. The remaining amount of almost $149 million was on actual horse race betting.

Historical horse racing is a gambling game that combines elements of both horse racing and slot machines into a single instant-win machine. These devices, which are placed in locations around Virginia, allow players to bet on horse races that took place far in the past.

So far, Virginia has placed almost 2,800 HHR terminals. In 2023, these terminals accepted wagers in excess of $4.3 billion.

Yes. There are multiple sites, including FanDuel Racing, that will accept wagers on the Kentucky Derby in Virginia.

If you visit Colonial Downs or one of the off-track betting locations in Virginia, you will have the opportunity to spend a couple of bucks on a racing form. You should absolutely do this, as the racing form is one of the most valuable pieces of information that you can get.

Racing forms have information on every single horse in every single race. Although the listings themselves can look intimidating at first, the form will lay out exactly the task ahead of each pony for that day.

At the top of each horse’s page, you can see information about the race that horse will run. You can find out about the types of horses to race, their weight allowances, and any stipulations for horses that are involved in the contest.

Below, you can see the historical information about the horse you’re considering. You can find out how the horse ran in previous races and some subjective observations about how it did so.

Pay special attention to two elements of this listing. For one thing, look at how the horse has performed recently and/or if it has had a long layoff since its last race. Those pieces of information can give insight into how the horse will run today.

Make sure also to compare the type of track and track conditions that the horse is running today vis-a-vis historical performances. Look at how the horse has run at this same distance, what style of horse it is, and what its race preferences are.

You should also look at the competition from one horse to another. If two horses have run against each other before, then it’s valuable to know which one performed better.

All of these elements are not sure-fire indicators of a horse’s performance, of course. Horses, it seems, have good days and bad days, just like people.

However, horses tend to be who they’ve always been, so make sure that you give the racing form an in-depth perusal before you make a decision on a race.