Pennsylvania offers various options to witness and wager on live events, including horse racing.
The Keystone State has six horse racing facilities: Three tracks devoted to harness racing and another three tracks that host thoroughbred racing. In recent years, the Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion Stakes, held at Parx Casino and Racing during the third week in September, have become vital prep races for fillies as they make their way toward the Breeders’ Cup in November.
The Commonwealth also offers online horse wagering and off-track betting facilities (OTB). PABets (TVG) also offer ways to watch and bet on the ponies without having to leave the comfort of your home.
For those new to horse betting, it can be challenging to place a bet or to read a racing program, though both are easier than they seem. We provide a brief overview, not only on horse racing in PA but on how to wager online and decipher statistics to make your best bet.
TVG has grown since its 1999 debut, now offering an extensive betting menu along with simulcast video. Although TVG was focused more on American racing, over the years, it has expanded internationally. It provides comprehensive coverage of harness racing thanks to its partnership with the American Quarter Horse Association.
Besides offering quality video and replays, the TVG platform is easy to use, does not impede the wagering process with technical glitches, and provides several promotions.
TVG operates under PABets in Pennsylvania and 4NJBets in New Jersey.
Instituted in 2007 and acquired in 2017 by Churchill Downs, BetAmerica offers a mobile app for both Apple and Android users, as well as a website for betting on horse racing, greyhound racing, and fantasy sports.
BetAmerica provides access to more than 400 tracks around the globe. Bettors can also use the service to live stream races or for race replays.
The BetAmeria app is simple to use. If you want to wager, select a race, and then tap on the horses of your choice. You can easily roam through pages, place other bets, and your selections will remain accessible on your screen.
Since Churchill Downs owns the app, it also provides detailed information on the Kentucky Derby, which is held at that facility each year.
Just recently, there was an expansion of BetAmerica, which now conducts a handicapping podcast. The organization may be more involved in video as well as other media productions soon.
Like BetAmerica, TwinSpires is also owned and operated by Churchill Downs.
While TwinSpires is the official online wagering service of Churchill Downs and for the Kentucky Derby, bettors have access to nearly every thoroughbred, standardbred, and quarter horse contest around the world.
TwinSpires employs slick technology, such as being able to view five races at the same time in HD format. Even the most novice bettor will be able to navigate the app and the website.
TwinSpires also provides a rewards club where bettors receive points for their wagers, but what separates this app from its competitors is it offers free past performance data.
TwinSpires also employs a professional handicapping team that is extensively involved in video production.
Like BetAmerica, TwinSpires has recently expanded. Be sure to look for more improvements over the coming year.
Pennsylvania hosts other legal gambling options, such as the state lottery, bingo, casino gaming, and sports betting.
However, horse racing was the first to be implemented in 1959 with the passage of the Race Horse Industry Reform Act. The state granted three racing licenses, applicable to harness racing only. The first track to open was The Meadows Racetrack in 1963.
Legislation for thoroughbred racing passed in 1968, and until 1972, all three harness tracks conducted dual meets. Penn National Racecourse was the first track to host only thoroughbred racing.
Shortly after that, Keystone Racetrack and Commodore Downs followed suit.
The first form of online wagering was operational in 1983, backed by The Meadows ownership group. Called Call-A-Bet, it still exists today as Xpressbet.
Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry experienced several decades of decline, including the closing of Liberty Bell and Commodore Downs. Regardless, the sport and the state pursued forms of online wagering as live handle continued to decrease at an alarming rate.
In 2004, the state passed legislation to construct “racinos.”
Gaming operators are required to join forces with racetracks as those facilities were appropriately licensed. Since then, the number of racinos has exploded across Pennsylvania, and its revenue from casinos/racinos is now second only to Nevada.
Legislation for PA online sports betting passed on Oct. 20, 2017. Its impact on wagering for horse racing is unknown.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) is responsible for overseeing all facets of wagering on horse racing, which includes online wagering, OTBs, and phone betting.
The board must approve OTB parlors and adhere to their guidelines to continue operations. There is also federal legislation such as the Interstate Horse Racing Act (1978), which governs wagering in Pennsylvania.
The Keystone State has six racetracks that offer a live racing product and simulcasting from other tracks throughout the world.
Four of these facilities also operate OTBs.
An OTB is a standalone facility separate from a racetrack that is authorized by the state to conduct legal wagering on horse racing.
Prior to the early 1970s, OTBs were only legal in Nevada.
New York became the second state to institute OTBs in 1970. Pennsylvania was late to the party as horse racing suffered a significant decline in the state until the early 2000s.
OTBs came to be because some thought it would diminish engagement in illegal gambling activities. However, the industry did not consider that it would also decrease live betting at the tracks.
Therefore, the 1978 Interstate Horseracing Act established a system between the tracks, the state, and the OTB parlors. The act implemented guidelines on how to divide OTB proceeds among all the industry players. Also, OTB parlors couldn’t conduct business within 60 miles of any racetrack.
OTBs were a method the racing industry embraced, not only in Pennsylvania but around the world to increase revenue. Furthermore, the premise behind offering exotic wagering, such as exactas, trifectas, and superfectas, to appeal to bettors.
Most states have systems where a bettor must pay an OTB a certain tax that is deducted directly from a winning wager. In Pennsylvania, OTBs can charge admission, but there isn’t a surcharge on winning bets from OTB parlors.
Many OTB parlors now use systems in the Caribbean and Central America, which provide several incentives to bettors, such as rebates.
Parx Casino and Racing currently operates three off-track betting (OTB) facilities, as two parlors closed.
They are referred to as turf clubs and are as follows:
Penn National Gaming is responsible for two OTBs in Pennsylvania, which are:
The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono recently closed its fourth OTB location in Carbondale but still is responsible for:
The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington, PA, opened three OTBs in the past but, currently, only one remains.
Although the Keystone State does not have races steeped in history and TV coverage like the Triple Crown, the Pennsylvania Derby is a popular race. The $1 million event runs 3-year-old colts and geldings on their way to year-end division honors.
First conducted in 1979, the race achieved graded-stakes status in 1981. It is held at Parx Casino and Racing, which was previously Philadelphia Park and Keystone Park, and is 1 1/8 miles.
The list of winners includes many thoroughbred champions:
Math Wizard won this year’s edition, who established himself as one of the top horses in his division with this signature victory.
The Pennsylvania Derby’s female counterpart, the Cotillion Stakes, has also become a key race for 3-year-old fillies. It is contested at 1 1/16 miles, is also a Grade 1, $1 million event.
First held in 1969 at Liberty Bell, it moved to Parx after thoroughbred racing became legal, and facilities could be constructed for racing.
Winners of this race include thoroughbred champions Shuvee, Susan’s Girl, Ashado, and Untapable.
This year’s winner was Street Band, who is a leader in her division and being considered for a championship at the end of the season.
The Triple Crown is an honor awarded to a horse that wins three races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, over six consecutive weeks.
All three races came to be at different years, with the last being the Kentucky Derby in 1875.
Churchill Downs Inc., which also owns the platforms BetAmerica and TwinSpires, holds the Kentucky Derby each year on the first Saturday in May in Louisville, KY. It is one of the most popular and wagered-upon events in all of the horse racing and is one of the races most horse riders covet.
Known as “the Run for the Roses,” the race’s 1.25 miles is considered the “classic” distance in the sport and establishes a horse as one that can cover a route of ground. Male horses carry the same weight of 126 pounds while fillies that enter the race carry 121 pounds. The field has been limited to 20 entrants for more than four decades.
The Preakness Stakes is held two weeks after the Kentucky Derby at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD. It was first run in 1873 and is the shortest of the three Triple Crown races at 1 3/8ths miles. Called “the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans,” the Preakness is limited to 14 entries with the same weights as the Kentucky Derby.
The Belmont Stakes is conducted three weeks after the Preakness at Belmont Park in Jamaica, NY. It was first instituted in 1864 and was held at other tracks before its permanent placement at Belmont Park in 1905. Known as “the Test of the Champion,” the Belmont is the longest of the three races, and horses must travel 1.5 miles to reach the finish line. The field is limited to 16 horses, and the assigned weights are the same as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Only 13 horses have captured the vaunted Triple Crown, with Justify being the most recent in 2018. Although Sir Barton was the first to accomplish the feat in 1919, the term was not official until 1930.
Although the process can be a bit daunting for a beginner, betting is relatively straightforward and can be done either through a live teller, standalone machine, online, or over the phone.
Here are simple instructions to follow:
For instance: Parx Racing, Race 5, $10 to win on No. 5.
You can redeem winning wagers either through a teller, direct deposit for online platforms or from standalone machines.
Cash or a bank account is also not necessary. Vouchers, which operate directly like greenbacks, are simple to use and can be cashed in at any time.
Like wagering for the first time, reading a horse racing program can be a challenge.
A lot of data is available, such as workout times, horse placement in a race, and how a horse performs at a certain distance or over a specific surface.
Here is an outline on how to make the best use of the program: