Legislation establishing commercial casinos and sports betting in Texas do not address online wagering on horse racing in or out of state.
As such, Texans can bet on horse racing, including the Kentucky Derby, at the state’s three full-time horse racetracks: Sam Houston Race Park in Houston, Retama Park in suburban San Antonio and Lone Star Park in Arlington. A fourth racetrack, Gillespie County Fair outside of Fredericksburg, opens for a few weekends in July and August and takes bets during its short season.
Off-track betting is technically legal in Texas though the only OTB facilities are simulcast venues located on the premises of the state’s four racetracks. So, if you’re not in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio or Fredericksburg, those venues won’t help you much.
Casino legislation supports horse racing but does not address online wagering
House Joint Resolution 97, filed by Rep. Charlie Geren, privileges the state’s horse and greyhound racetracks when identifying sites for commercial casinos.
It even uses gaming revenue for the “reform and revitalization of the horse racing industry.” It does not, however, expand the law to allow racetracks to take online wagers on horse racing in Texas.
Language in Geren’s legislation clarifies that HJR 97 does not address “placing, receiving, or otherwise knowingly transmitting a bet or wager by a means that requires the use of the Internet.” In short, it does not allow for internet wagering on horse races in or out of state, including the Kentucky Derby.
Sports betting legislation carves horse racing out of its regulated markets
Senate Bill 715 and House Bill 1942 clarify that the term “sports wagering” does not include “horse racing or greyhound racing regulated under [the] TexasRacingAct.”
The practical reason for the exclusion is that Kolkhorst and Leach’s bills deal with fixed-odds wagering, where an entity (typically a sportsbook) sets odds for bettors and takes a risk of losing money to bettors savvy enough to beat their odds.
Parimutuel horse and greyhound racing function differently. In the parimutuel market, bettors generate odds based on the popularity of the bets placed on certain animals. The “house” does not get involved in those odds, and instead takes a cut of the winnings and pays out the rest from the losers to the winners. That system is not the business of Texas’s current online sports betting legislation.
Plan ahead and place your Kentucky Derby bets in person
Texans looking to get in on Kentucky Derby action will need to plan ahead. Since horse race betting in Texas is entirely in-person, a trip to one of the state’s three full-time racetracks is the only way to legally play the ponies.
May 6 is Kentucky Derby day, and Lone Star, Sam Houston and Retama (simulcast only in May) will be open to take bets. Retama Park features MBet, a way for Texans to bet online through a smartphone while on the Retama premises. Geofencing technology ensures that the MBet app will only work while at the racetrack, but the app represents the only form of limited online horse-race betting in the state.
Each track’s opening times are as follows:
- Lone Star Park: 10 a.m. simulcast venue; 10:30 a.m. race track main gates
- Sam Houston Race Park: 8 a.m. gates, 9:30 a.m. admission fees for both simulcast venue and race track
- Retama Park: 10:30 a.m. gates for simulcast venue