As NASCAR’s playoff season prepares to burst into life this weekend, gambling is on everyone’s mind — and not just because the stock car circuit’s traveling circus has touched down in Sin City.
Sunday marks the start of the 10-week postseason stretch where drivers will be betting on their abilities while also taking the kind of calculated risks needed to maximize their chances of taking home the championship prize in November.
Yet betting itself is also a topic of heavy discussion. With NASCAR looking at ways to boost interest and appeal to a wider audience, the idea of on-track gaming has been consistently broached, especially with federal sports wagering laws having been significantly loosened.
And while it will be every man for himself among the top 16 drivers as they battle for the 2018 title, there was an unified consensus of opinion in the NASCAR community in regards to bringing a slice of Las Vegas-style chance to the racetrack, not just at this location but around the country.
“I think it would be a bonus for the sport to have the betting interest in,” former driver and current NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. told USA TODAY Sports. “I think it would create more excitement, bring more attention, more people in attendance. I can see it having a ton of positives.”
Vegas is a popular destination for race fans seeking to mix high-level action with a mini vacation. Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations for the Westgate Las Vegas sports book, said that Vegas race weekend was “co-champion” with the Daytona 500 in terms of betting popularity.
Kornegay pointed out that many race fans already have the opportunity to place race-day bets from the track by using phone apps, but admitted that installing betting windows would add an interesting twist to the on-site experience. “A lot of NASCAR fans are very loyal in their betting patterns,” Kornegay added. “There are people who place a bet on the same driver every single week — even if that driver never wins.”
With action throughout the weekend, the city is already beginning to fill with race fans, several of whom expressed interest in the future possibility of betting on their favorite drivers at trackside booths.
“It is not going to be like horse racing where the whole event is built around gambling,” Fitch Jenkins, 52, said. Jenkins drives from his home near Salt Lake City every year to watch the racing in Las Vegas. “The NASCAR crowd tends to have a bit of an adventurous spirit so being able to have a small bet might be an extension of that.”
Unsurprisingly, series points leader Kyle Busch, born and raised in Las Vegas, strongly supports the right to bet on race cars.
“I’ve always kind of looked at horse racing,” Busch told USA TODAY Sports recently. “You can go out there and bet on horse racing, but why can’t we bet on racing racing?”
-Martin Rogers/USA Today