Betting on horse races is not legal in Georgia, even though horse racing itself is legal in the state. As a result, there are occasional horse races in the Peach State, but no one in Georgia is placing any legal bets on horses to win, place or show in those races.
In fact, Georgia law doesn’t allow off-track betting or even betting on horse races online via advance deposit wagering sites. However, lawmakers have recently discussed the possibility of authorizing multiple new tracks and making pari-mutuel wagering on races legal in the state.
Here’s a look at all you need to know regarding Georgia horse race betting, including information about the current status of the law and the prospects for a change going forward.
Is horse betting legal in Georgia?
No, betting on horse races is illegal in Georgia. Racing horses is itself legal, but wagering on those races is not.
Can I bet on horse races at off-track betting sites in Georgia?
No, off-track betting parlors are not legal in Georgia. There are numerous Georgia Lottery retailers all over the state where you can buy lottery tickets. There are also many establishments with coin operated amusement machines you can play to win a variety of non-cash prizes. But no OTB sites.
Can I bet on horse races online in Georgia?
No, you cannot legally bet on horse races online in Georgia, either. Georgia is among the states that prohibit wagering on advance deposit horse racing betting sites like TVG and TwinSpires.
When will horse race betting be legal in Georgia?
Horse race betting will not become legal in Georgia any time soon, it appears. However, the possibility remains a live issue.
Background of horse racing betting in Georgia
Many may not realize that long ago, just for a moment, Georgia almost legalized horse race betting. It didn’t, though, and you can blame the Masters.
Back in 1935, the Georgia House actually passed a bill to legalize pari-mutuel betting but nullified it the next day. Some have speculated that the change of heart was in part due to a new invitational golf tournament at Augusta that had started the year before, the one that eventually would come to be the Masters’ Tournament.
As Preston Dunaway explains in a 2021 article for the Georgia State University Law Review, “the record suggests someone involved with the Masters was concerned about whether folks would be betting on the tournament.”
Dunaway speculates that golfing legend Bobby Jones, the founder and then president of Augusta National, worried that gambling could negatively affect the integrity of his new tournament, and therefore used his influence to help stop pari-mutuel wagering from becoming legal.
In any event, pari-mutuel wagering of all kinds, including on horse racing, remained illegal thereafter. Georgia underlined this in 1992 when it passed the Lottery for Education Act, thereby introducing a new state-run lottery. The new law outlined what types of lottery games were legal while “excluding pari-mutuel betting,” that is, any “system of wagering on actual races involving horses or dogs at tracks which involves the distribution of winnings by pools.”
Current efforts to legalize horse race betting in Georgia
Until recently, it did not appear as if Georgia lawmakers were ever going to show meaningful interest in legalizing any form of horse betting. The topic frequently arose over the years, but with little practical consequence from a legislative standpoint. However, interest in potentially legalizing sports betting and even retail casinos has sparked new debate over other forms of gambling expansion, including horse race betting.
In February and March of 2022, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee considered both a resolution and a bill that would legalize betting on horse racing.
The resolution, SR 131, proposed amending the state constitution to authorize the General Assembly to legalize pari-mutuel betting on horse racing. The resolution needed to receive two-thirds approval from both the House and Senate for a ballot referendum to go before Georgia voters either to approve or deny the amendment.
Meanwhile, the bill, SB 212, outlined what legal horse race wagering might potentially look like in Georgia. Called the Harry Geisinger Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act in honor of a late legislator who was a proponent of horse race betting, the legislation would authorize “a maximum of five equestrian facilities” and allow wagering on races staged at those locations. Besides offering betting on live horse racing, the tracks could also potentially accept bets on simulcast horse races.
That said, only wagering on horse racing would be legal at the tracks, with no other forms of gambling. That includes so-called historical horse racing games, the slots-like machines that some states have permitted. The proposed legislation explicitly excludes tracks from installing HHR terminals.
Currently, many legal race tracks around the country allow slots or other games, making the tracks into “racinos.” Additional gambling options significantly increase those tracks’ popularity and thus their economic stability. Some in GA worry that standalone tracks without any other gambling might have a hard time remaining viable.
Tracks would contribute 3.75% of revenue to the state in order to help fund education, health care, rural broadband, and gambling addiction services. The bill would also create a Georgia Horse Racing Commission to provide oversight.
The Senate committee supported both the resolution and the bill, but the legislation failed to advance any further to the full House or Senate. Thus there would be no ballot referendum on whether to legalize horse race betting for Georgians to vote on in 2022.
It is likely the issue will return during the 2023-24 legislative session. However, given the need to amend the constitution before any gambling expansion can occur, the process by which any form of legal horse race betting might come to Georgia will take a while to complete.
Popular types of horse racing bets
Horse race betting takes many forms. You can bet on a single horse to win, place or show. You can also bet on multiple horses to finish in a variety of combinations, multiple race results, and other “exotic” wagers.
Single horse bets
The most popular “straight bets” in horse racing are on single horses to win, place, or show:
- Win — Bet on a horse to win the race.
- Place — Bet on a horse to finish first or second.
- Show — Bet on a horse to finish first, second or third.
Betting on a horse to win pays out more than betting on a horse to place or show. You can additionally place an “across the board” bet (or “win/place/show” bet), which is essentially making all three of these bets (to win, to place, or to show) as a single bet, and if your horse does finish in the top three, you win the appropriate payout.
Multiple horse bets
You can bet on more than one horse, as well, a kind of wager that might be likened to parlays in other types of sports betting. Some examples:
- Exacta — Bet on two horses, one to win and one to place in the correct order.
- Quinella — Bet on two horses to win and place, but the order doesn’t matter.
- Trifecta — Bet on three horses: one to win, one to place and one to show in the correct order.
- Superfecta — Bet on four horses to finish in the top four spots in the exact order.
- Daily Double/Pick 3/Pick 4/Pick 5/Pick 6 — Bet on winners of multiple races.
These bets are sometimes called “exotic bets,” distinguishing them from less complicated straight bets. The odds are often long on these bets, meaning they don’t win that often but can pay out handsomely if they do.
Modified exotic bets
When betting on horses, you can complicate things even more with these other options:
- Box — Bet on all possible combinations of multiple horses finishing in the top spots (e.g., a “box trifecta” is a bet on three horses to finish in the top three in any order).
- Key — Bet on one horse to win plus any of several horses to place and to show.
- Wheel — Another multiple-horse wager in which you pick horses to finish in certain spots plus the entire field to finish in a particular place (e.g., a “trifecta wheel” means picking one horse to win, another to place and any horse from the rest of the field to show).
- Partial — Like a wheel bet, but betting on only part of the field as part of a multiple horse bet.
How to read horse racing odds
Fractional odds in horse betting
When you look at a list of horses in a given race, you’ll see fractions reflecting the current odds next to the horses’ names. Fractional odds are standard in horse race betting, with the favorites having the lowest odds or fractions (e.g., 3/1, 2/1) and the underdogs having the highest (e.g., 30/1, 50/1).
Those fractions indicate both the estimated probability a horse will win and the payout for a winning bet. A favorite listed at 3/1 (or “3-to-1”) is implying a one-in-four chance of winning. In fact, to be precise, those 3/1 odds are the odds against the horse winning. In this case, if you bet $2 and win that 3/1 bet, you’d win $6 and get back $8 total (your winnings plus your original $2).
Meanwhile, a horse with odds of 30/1 is a long shot to win, implying only a 1 in 31 chance of finishing first. If you bet $2 on such an underdog and won, you’d win $60 (getting back $62 total).
How pari-mutuel wagering works
Pari-mutuel wagering is also standard when it comes to horse betting. It differs from other kinds of sports betting in one key aspect. Most sports betting involves fixed odds, meaning whatever the odds are when you place your bet, those are the odds you’re using. But with pari-mutuel wagering, the horse racing betting odds can change after you place your bet, and when they change, that means your potential payout changes, too.
That is to say, in pari-mutuel wagering, the odds and thus the payouts change depending on how much bettors are wagering on each horse. You could make a bet on a horse listed at 5/1, but by the time the race begins, the odds could be 3/1 (if the horse is a popular pick and many have been betting on it). If your horse wins, you’ll get a 3/1 payout, not a 5/1 payout.
Where can I watch horse racing in Georgia
Equestrian activities are popular in Georgia, even if there aren’t any traditional thoroughbred racetracks currently active. The state is home to an active thoroughbred industry, and dressage is popular in the state, as well. For racing fans, meanwhile, there are a couple of big events in Georgia each spring.
Originally called the Atlanta Steeplechase, this annual equestrian event dates back to 1966. For many years, it took place near Cumming, then in 1994 moved to Kingston Downs in Rome. In 2021, it relocated once more to the Foxhall Resort near Douglasville.
The event features multiple races, and its popularity peaked in the 1990s, when total purses added up to nearly $200,000. The Georgia Steeplechase is a more modest affair these days, although it always attracts an enthusiastic crowd each spring.
Hawkinsville Harness Festival
There is also the Hawkinsville Harness Festival, which takes place each spring in Hawkinsville, aka the Harness Capital of Georgia. The festival first began way back in 1894. While live harness racing is the highlight, the festival also features local music, food, and arts and crafts.
What benefit would legal horse betting potentially bring Georgia?
Those in favor of legalizing horse race betting in Georgia have bolstered their position with arguments about the revenue and employment opportunities the industry could bring to the state.
A percentage of the revenue from legal horse race betting would likely help fund educational programs in Georgia. The Georgia Lottery presently supports both the HOPE Scholarship and Georgia Pre-K Program. It is likely a portion of any horse betting revenue would also help fund those same programs.
How much revenue could Georgia horse race betting generate and what other benefits could the new industry bring? It depends on who you ask.
For many years, the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition has lobbied for legal horse racing betting in the state. The group commissioned a study in 2019 in which a research group examined the potential impact of three new horse racing tracks with pari-mutuel wagering and historical horse racing machines. That study suggested an impact of $3.2 billion and the creation of nearly 20,000 jobs during the first year.
Meanwhile, a more recent Georgia Southern University study sponsored in part by lawmakers hoping to legalize horse betting concluded that it could potentially add $1.28 billion to the GA economy each year and create 15,800 jobs over the industry’s first decade. Such figures account for the possible creation of associated activities like thoroughbred breeding.
While these estimates may be optimistic, Georgia undoubtedly represents a potential opportunity for a new horse racing industry. The state already has a thriving equine sector that the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Equine says has an annual impact of $2.5 billion on the state’s economy. According to Atlanta Magazine, of the nation’s 20 largest metro areas, Atlanta is the only one without a horse racing track.
There’s room for growth, to be sure. That said, it’s unclear whether horse racing betting in Georgia will ever have the chance to leave the starting gate.
Georgia horse betting FAQ
In most states, the minimum age to wager on horse races is 18 years old. That could be the minimum in Georgia, as well, meaning it would match the age requirement for playing the Georgia Lottery. It depends, however, on the legalization process. For instance, if horse betting were to become legal as part of a larger gambling expansion, the minimum age to participate might be 21.
The Georgia Lottery Corp. currently oversees the lottery and other forms of gambling in the state. In the past, some lawmakers have proposed creating a horse racing division in the GLC that would provide oversight. However, more recent legislation has suggested creating a new horse racing commission in the state.
That would depend on the sports betting legislation. While some lawmakers have proposed wider gambling expansion, including retail casinos and racetracks (with legal pari-mutuel wagering), others have focused solely on legalizing sports betting without including horse betting.
That also remains to be seen. It’s possible Georgia legalizes live horse betting at tracks in the state but no other forms of wagering on horse races. That said, it would seem likely that the tracks will also be able to offer off-track betting on simulcast races, in which case you may be able to bet on the Kentucky Derby while on site.
Florida has both operating racetracks and legal horse betting. In fact there are several thoroughbred racetracks in the state, some of which also allow slot machines. North Carolina has no operating racetracks but does allow off-track betting at racebooks in the two tribal casinos in the western part of the state. Alabama also allows off-track betting at licensed locations, while neither South Carolina nor Tennessee permits wagering on horse races at either racetracks or OTB parlors.