Everyone Should Be Able To Bet on the Kentucky Derby From Anywhere

Six states don’t allow any horse racing bets, but others still make it difficult.


When the horses run Saturday evening in the Kentucky Derby, there's a good chance more people than any point in recent history will have a bet on the race. In the eight months since the pandemic-delayed 2020 race, legalized online sports betting is quickly being normalized. Voters, politicians, and regulators are increasingly allowing sports betting.

It's actually easier in many states to bet on horse racing than on other sports, since horse racing was exempt from the 1992 federal law that banned most sports betting. But six states (and Washington, D.C.) still allow no betting at all on horse racing. The regulations vary widely in other states, with some allowing online betting but others only letting people bet at certain casinos. North Carolina, for example, doesn't allow bets at horse tracks and only allows bets at two tribal casinos. Texas does not allow online bets on horse racing, but visitors to racetracks can bet on in-person races and on races simulcast from elsewhere.

Without an online option, people may have to travel miles to place a bet on the Kentucky Derby, or try their luck with offshore sportsbooks. But bettors seem to prefer convenient, legalized online gambling and shouldn't have to worry about those options. New Jersey, for example, has a robust casino scene, but more than 80 percent of its sports bets are still taken online.

As for other sports, only nine states allow widespread online betting with multiple sportsbooks. Two other states (including gambling mecca Nevada) allow online betting but only after a user has registered in person at a casino. Several locales only offer one sportsbook for users to place bets with, which can lead to problems for bettors. In Washington, D.C., for example, the only citywide sportsbook is run by the lottery, and the lines offered to bettors are way worse than in neighboring Virginia, where there are multiple sportsbooks. Others only allow sports betting in-person at casinos.

Thankfully, online gambling may soon come to several big states, including Florida and New York. Wyoming legalized online sportsbooks in April, and will even let users bet using cryptocurrency.

Still, there are many states where anti-gambling sentiment runs deep. Utah, for example, allows no betting on horse racing and is one of just three states with no legislation introduced to allow betting on other sports.

For years, sports betting was illegal nationwide (with an exception for horse racing) under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. The Supreme Court changed all that in 2018 when it ruled that the federal law was a violation of the 10th Amendment, thus giving states the option to make their own gambling laws. 

So if people win big on Saturday (or lose but still have fun doing it), they can be thankful that politicians and regulators saw fit to allow adults to spend their money betting on the ponies. Perhaps the people in power will realize that convenient online betting should be allowed for all sports, and not just horse racing.