Horse Betting in Maryland

Maryland is known for its crab cakes, the US Naval Academy, and the incomparable beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. However, Maryland is also an essential part of the horse racing scene in the US. With the second leg of the Triple Crown — the Preakness Stakes — occurring every year at Pimlico Race Course, there is no denying that racing is a big deal in the state.

If you live in Maryland or are planning to visit and are curious about the different options you have for horse betting, you’ve come to the right place. This page has the latest information about everything to do with handicapping in Maryland.

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Is horse betting legal in Maryland?

Yes, wagering on horse races is legal in Maryland. There are three avenues by which you can bet on horse races in the state. These options include placing bets at Maryland’s horse racing venues, wagering at off-track betting locations, or betting online at one of Maryland’s horse betting sites. It’s important to note you cannot make pari-mutuel horse racing bets on the regular Maryland sports betting apps, which launched in November 2022 statewide.

How to bet on horses in Maryland

The first and most obvious way to bet on horse races are to visit the horse racing venues that are located in Maryland.

Of course, the best-known of the state’s half-dozen racetracks is Pimlico. The Baltimore track has been the home of the Preakness Stakes since 1873 and has played host to some of the greatest racehorses ever. Horses like Secretariat, Affirmed, American Pharoah, and Seattle Slew have each found success in the annual “Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.” In addition to the Grade I Preakness, Pimlico is also home to two Grade II and six Grade III thoroughbred races each year.

There are also three other thoroughbred tracks (T) and two harness tracks (H) that hold live races that you can bet on in Maryland, along with Pimlico:

  • (T) Fair Hill Races (Cecil County Breeders’ Fair), 380 Fair Hill Drive, Elkton, MD 21922
  • (T) Laurel Park, 198 Laurel Race Track Road, Laurel, MD 20725
  • (T) Pimlico Race Course, Hayward Ave., Baltimore, MD 21215
  • (T) Timonium Race Course, 2200 York Road, Timonium, MD 21093
  • (H) Ocean Downs, 10218 Racetrack Road, Berlin, MD 21811
  • (H) Rosecroft Raceway, 6336 Rosecroft Drive, Fort Washington, MD 20744

A second way to bet on horse races in the state is through one of the many off-track betting locations found at Maryland casinos and elsewhere. These venues offer simulcast wagering on races taking place both inside Maryland and around the country (and world). Although you cannot get the same visceral experience of watching the horses run that you can at a Maryland racetrack, you can still make all the same wagers that you would at the teller windows at Pimlico or Timonium.

Off-track betting locations in Maryland:

  • Jockey Bar and Grille, Boonsboro
  • Greenmount Station, Hampstead
  • Hollywood Casino Perryville, Perryville
  • Horseshoe Casino, Baltimore
  • Long Shot’s, Frederick
  • MGM National Harbor Casino, Oxon Hill
  • Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore (when not racing)
  • Riverboat on the Potomac, Colonial Beach
  • Timonium Fairgrounds, Lutherville

Finally, people in Maryland can wager at online horse betting sites anywhere that they have access to the internet within the state. These “advance deposit wagering” sites function in much the same way that OTBs do. They offer betting on horse races around the country and world.

Of the sites offering horse betting online, one that stands out is the FanDuel Racing app. In addition to online horse betting, FanDuel Racing also has a broadcast network dedicated to horse racing, so it can provide a variety of useful information.

How pari-mutuel betting works

It’s possible you’ve heard the term “pari-mutuel wagering” in reference to horse racing, but you may not know what the phrase actually means. Essentially, every horse race is a small tournament. All the wagers on each race form a pool just before post time, and the prizes come from this pool minus the cut that the track or OTB or betting site takes for itself.

Because the prize pool is finite, the racetrack hosting the wagers must constantly adjust the payouts that winning bets will receive so that everything comes out even. Although there are programs and algorithms to streamline the process these days, there is still the human touch behind horse racing and betting.

Horse racing bets explained

The most important thing to realize is that with one minor exception, the only finishing positions that matter when betting on a horse race are first, second and third. Therefore, no matter how you wager in most cases, your primary concern is always going to be choosing the horses that will finish in those first three positions.

Straight wagers

Straight wagers are bets on a single horse to finish somewhere in the top three spots:

  • Win: The horse finishes first.
  • Place: The horse finishes first or second.
  • Show: The horse finishes first, second or third.

You’ll sometimes see these terms appear as verbs to describe a horse’s finish. For instance, when a horse “places,” it has finished second; when it “shows,” it has finished third. However, if you bet on a horse “to show,” the horse has to finish in third or better, and if you bet on a horse “to place,” the horse has to finish either in second or first for you to win.

Although straight wagers pertain to a single horse, it is possible to place multiple straight wagers on the same horse in the same race. For instance, you could bet that a horse will win, place and show. In this case, if the horse manages to win the race, all three of your wagers win. You can also choose a horse to win/place or place/show, if you like. We suppose it might be possible to select a horse to win and show, but that would be quite strange.

You can also make straight wagers on multiple horses in the race so long as you’re placing your bets individually. If you have a strong feeling about a group of horses, you can bet on any number of them to win, place or show. However, if you want the performances of all the horses tied together in a single wager, you’ll have to make a different kind of bet.

Exotic wagers

An exotic bet is a wager on multiple horses. These wagers function similarly to parlays in sports betting, where every element must be correct in order to pay. However, like parlays, exotic wagers are popular because they offer a chance for much larger payouts than straight wagers.

Here are the different types of exotic wagers that you will find at Maryland betting facilities and on online betting sites in Maryland:

  • Exacta: You choose a horse to win and a horse to place. As the bet’s name implies, the order in which you choose the horses must be exactly right in order for the bet to win.
  • Quinella: You choose a horse to win and a horse to place. However, in this case, the order in which your two horses finish does not matter, so long as they are the first two to cross the finish line. Because you are paying to wager on both possible outcomes, quinellas are twice as expensive as exactas with the same horses.
  • Trifecta: You choose a horse to win, a horse to place and a horse to show. As is the case with exacta wagers, you have to get the order correct.
  • Superfecta: You choose a horse to win, a horse to place, a horse to show, and a horse to finish fourth. The superfecta is the only horse bet that pays any attention to the finishing order of horses outside of the top three. Again, you must get the exact finishing order correct.
  • Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, etc.: You bet on the winning horses in a series of races, rather than betting on several horses in the same race. For instance, a Pick 3 bet would mean that you’re picking the winner of three consecutive races. Under this same heading, a double bet is a wager on winners of two consecutive races.

With the lack of margin for error inherent in most of these types of wagers, you should expect to win them far less often than you would when making straight wagers. However, if you do end up winning, you can realize payouts far in excess of a group of straight wagers on the same horses.

Exotic wager modifiers

Because exotic wagers are so hard to win, you’ll also have options to modify them. These modifiers allow additional ways to achieve the winning conditions for these bets. These additional methods can include the removal of the requirement that the horses finish in a specific order or picking multiple horses to finish in a single spot.

The catch with these modifiers is that they aren’t free. Every add-on that you put on an exotic wager costs money. The effect, mathematically anyway, is a reduction on the payout potential that you might realize from winning the bet. For instance, a bet that pays out $10 is more valuable if you pay $1 to make it rather than $2. Here are some common exotic wager modifiers:

  • Box: A box bet allows you to cover different finishing orders for exacta and similar other bets. You make the same bets you do above, but the order of the finishes no longer matters. Be aware, however, that box bets can dramatically increase the price of a wager:
    • $1 exacta → $2 exacta box (quinella)
    • $1 trifecta → $6 trifecta box
    • $1 superfecta → $24 superfecta box
  • Key: Key bets single out a particular horse to finish first. You choose the horse that you expect to win, then select a group of horses to place and show. As long as the key horse wins and members of the group finish second and third, you win the bet.
  • Wheel: A wheel bet, also called a field bet, is a blanket wager where you select the entire field to finish in a particular position.
  • Custom: You don’t have to confine yourself to the above options, either. If you want to make a wheel bet, for instance, but cut out certain horses from the group, you may do so. You can pretty much bet on most outcomes that you could imagine.

If all these different words and concepts are overwhelming, don’t worry about it. The lingo is just a shorthand to reduce the time you spend at the window. Start out by deciding what and how you want to bet, and concern yourself with what to call your choices later.

Common types of horse races

Another element to understand about horse races in Maryland is the format. Although the flat race is the most popular, there are other options that you might see at various tracks around the state. In fact, some of the tracks feature one format exclusively.

  • Flat: Competitors race around a level surface of dirt or grass. Each horse bears a jockey on its back. Four of Maryland’s tracks primarily offer flat races:
    • Fair Hill Races
    • Laurel Park
    • Pimlico Race Course
    • Timonium Race Course
  • Harness: Harness races are the other major race format that is fairly common in Maryland. Horses still have jockeys, but they pull them in carts called “sulkies.” Maryland is home to two harness tracks:
    • Rosecroft Raceway
    • Ocean Downs
  • Steeplechase: Steeplechase races are a bit less common. Racers navigate around a track populated with various obstacles such as low gates, hurdles, and water features.
  • Endurance: Endurance races are more of a type of race than a format, in the sense that they could theoretically occur on any track or race, regardless of its setup. They’re just longer, requiring the horses to cover greater distances than in other races.

Horse race designations

Not all horses are equal, even in the world of racing. There are many different levels for race horses, and most of them are not Man o’ War or Justify. Races will have different designations to denote the general level of all the horses in the event.

  • Stakes: These races are for horses at the highest level of racing. It’s no accident that Maryland’s leg of the Triple Crown is called the Preakness Stakes. In a stakes race, the owners of the horses each pay a fee to feed the prize pool, and the winner of the race takes the bulk of the purse.
  • Claiming: A claiming race is for lower-tier horses who either haven’t broken into the big races yet or are simply not likely to be that successful. The word “claiming” race stems from the fact that each horse in the race is for sale. The purchase price will even appear right in the program.
  • Maiden: Maiden races are for horses that haven’t managed to put it together for a win yet. It might be that the horse is brand-new and hasn’t had a chance to race before, or if it has raced, it has yet to win. Generally speaking, maiden races feature quite inexperienced horses.
  • Allowance: An allowance race puts caps on the weights that both the horse and jockey can have on race day. Since the allowances equalize two of the biggest variables in a horse race, these races are tests of both the horses’ training and the jockeys’ skill.

How do horse betting odds work?

The odds in horse racing are in the same fractional format that you may have seen elsewhere. However, let’s look a bit deeper at the meaning of the odds themselves.

For example, the track putting a horse at, say, 4/1 (or 4:1 or 4-to-1) is estimating that were the exact same race to occur five times, the horse would win once and not win four times. Thus, for every dollar that you wager on the horse, you receive four in return if the horse ends up winning.

Also keep in mind that horse betting employs the pari-mutuel wagering system, which is different from the fixed-odds betting system in other sports betting. When you bet on a football game (for instance), whatever the odds are when you place your bet will determine your payout. But with pari-mutuel wagering, the odds when you place your bet don’t matter. Rather, the odds at post-time are what will determine your potential payout.

Thus you might place a bet on a horse to win at 6/1 odds, but by the time the race begins the odds have fallen to 4/1. If your horse wins, you’ll receive a 4-to-1 payout.

Types of bonuses at MD horse betting sites

For horse racing betting sites, the competition is only seconds away at all times. Therefore, each one that’s available in Maryland is likely to offer various bonuses and promotions to try to attract and keep your business. Although the promos can change on a regular basis, they almost always fall into one of the following categories:

  • Welcome bonus/no deposit bonus: In an effort to get you to register for an account, the site just gives you site credits or bonus bet vouchers to make some wagers. If you win, you keep the profit. If you lose, you haven’t lost anything of your own.
  • Deposit: The site adds a set percentage to the amount that you deposit into your account. The percentage varies, but it can be as high as 100%, especially if you’re making your first deposit. However, the bonus will take the form of site credits, not actual cash, so you’ll need to bet with them a few times to release them as withdrawable money in your account.
  • Insurance: You make a wager, and if it loses, the site refunds all or a portion of your wager as bonus dollars or bonus bets. You will then need to wager the bonus funds again, but if you win, you get the winnings from that wager.
  • Pay boost: The site offers to pay out more than the actual odds on the bet would suggest. Typically, pay boosts are reserved for exotic wagers, which are higher risk and carry less exposure for the site.
  • Rewards: Receive perks for continued play. Loyalty programs are quite common and generally are free to anyone with an account.

Horse betting strategy tips for rookies

If you are an old pro when it comes to betting on horses, then you know what to do at the track or OTB. However, if you’ve never handicapped before, it can be a challenging proposition. This section is designed to give you a baseline of horse betting knowledge for your first visit.

One thing to say before we talk about these strategies, however, is that they are not a guarantee of success in any way, shape, or form. Winning consistently in horse race betting is difficult and usually takes years of work. Many handicappers use sophisticated algorithms, techniques, and knowledge to make their decisions. The tips below are merely an effort to give you a decent chance at making the right pick from time to time.

  • Buy the program. Horse tracks and OTBs generally sell programs for a few bucks. You should buy one. The program contains valuable information about each race on the docket at that track or location.
  • Read the opening odds and compare. One of the biggest clues about the outcome of a race is not so much where the odds stand at the moment, but rather how they move. Read the opening odds for each race in your newly acquired program and compare them to the listings as they come up on the board. Take note of any horse that seems to be moving in one direction or another, particularly if its odds are getting closer to even money (1-to-1). If a horse’s odds are improving over time, it’s a good sign that the “smart” bettors think its chances of winning are better than the advertised estimate.
  • Don’t just bet on the favorites. Most races will feature a clear favorite to win. Its odds will be far closer to 1-to-1 than any other horse or, in some cases, may offer worse-than-even money (where the odds denominator is larger than the numerator). Keep in mind the chance that another horse will prevail is almost always higher than the chance any one horse will come out on top. In other words, don’t slavishly bet on favorites and expect to win money in the long run.
  • Don’t go crazy with long shots, either. Long shots can be enticing options because of their payout potential. After all, it doesn’t make sense to try to get $4 for every $1 you bet when you could get $100 for every $1. Certainly, there have been some high-profile long shots that have come in. Everyone remembers the 2022 Kentucky Derby winner, Rich Strike, winning as an 80-1 underdog. However, realize that there are usually good reasons that horses aren’t expected to win.
  • You’re looking for value. The reason why you buy a program and keep track of the moving odds is to look for value. You want to try to find horses that the odds undervalue and that present an opportunity for profit. Probe the information sheets about each horse’s racing history. Look at the current track conditions and see how the horse has previously raced under those conditions. Observe recent races. A favorite might be on a downswing, and there might be an opening for an upset.
  • Stick to straight wagers. It’s understandable that the exotic wagers such as quinellas, trifectas, and the like might be appealing. They offer bigger payout potentials and can make your whole evening if you hit one. However, the payouts are larger because they are riskier. Although exotics can be part of an overarching strategy down the road, we recommend that you bet on straight wagers only until you get more experience.
  • Don’t bet the rent or any other necessity. Finally, it’s important that you don’t wager any money that you need for other purposes. Even money earmarked for a restaurant visit or another minor expense should not be subject to wagering at Maryland horse betting venues. Take only money for which you have no other use planned.

Maryland horse betting FAQ

What is the gambling age for horse betting in Maryland?

You must be 18 or older to bet on horse races in Maryland.

Who regulates horse racing in Maryland?

The Maryland Racing Commission. Although Maryland has a conglomerate regulator for most types of gambling — the Maryland State Lottery & Gaming Control Agency — horse racing still falls under the purview of a separate commission.

Do I have to pay taxes on winnings?

Yes. As a general rule, bet winnings are taxable in whatever jurisdiction the bet takes place in, including Maryland. Maryland, for its part, requires that income tax be automatically withheld if the winnings are over $5,000 and are at least 300 times larger than the wager. Additionally, any winnings that total more than $500 require you to file a separate form, Form 502D, with your taxes when you file your Maryland income tax. Make sure to keep records and be ready to give some back to the government if you start making scores at Maryland racetracks.

Are there any racebooks at Maryland’s casinos?

Yes. There are racebooks and/or off-track betting facilities at four of the six casinos in Maryland. You can place wagers on horse races at MGM National Harbor, Ocean Downs, Hollywood Casino Perryville, and Horseshoe Baltimore. Ocean Downs also has live racing options right there on site.

Can you bet horse racing on a sports betting app?

Pari-mutuel horse racing bets cannot be placed on regular online sports betting apps in Maryland. You need a specific horse betting app, such as TVG.

Can you bet on the Kentucky Derby in Maryland?

Yes. Sites like FanDuel Racing and racebooks across the state offer betting on the Derby, along with races such as the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup.

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