With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visiting Las Vegas this weekend, one of the hot topics around the track is gambling — as drivers, crew members and fans all discuss stories of epic windfalls and, perhaps, even more epic losses.
But the action doesn’t stop when the green flag drops Sunday (coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX). It could simply mark the beginning of another Vegas story.
Wagering on NASCAR is quietly gaining a foothold within the Vegas establishment, with major casino sports books offering action. While not the behemoth gambling draw that football (NFL and college) or college basketball have become, NASCAR is making its own mark and could rival hockey in the near future.
"I think it is definitely growing its niche," saidd Todd Fuhrman, senior race and sports book analyst for Caesars Entertainment Las Vegas resorts. "Over the couple of years I’ve been in the business, it continues to grow in popularity. The fans coming to town for the race are always looking for interesting, unique ways to try to bet on the race — whether it is a typical futures board that we offer, head-to-head matchups . . . we’ve tried to increase our prop offering (niche bets) as customer demand for those betting options increases.
"It’s bigger this weekend in terms of what we’ll do, because we know we have that really passionate NASCAR fan base, but it has also increased for the other weekends. The bigger the race, the more buzz it will create. For Daytona, we were extremely happy with the handle that we took in for that particular race. And as it continues to grow and gets more and more mainstream, I think the gambling aspect will grow along with it."
A look around the various sports books in Vegas provides all sorts of different bets available for a race weekend — ranging from traditional odds on which driver will win, head-to-head bets and even how many caution flags we’ll see this weekend.
"There are people who like to back their favorite driver and get a bet down and cheer for them during the week just like they do for the NFL football games or basketball games or whatever," said Paul Hobson, general manager of the Stratosphere. "It’s just another feature of the entertainment that we offer here, for sure. We get pretty decent action on it. It’s not a huge part of our business but certainly something that supports everything else we do."
This weekend, in particular, certain hotels like Caesar’s Palace offer even more wagers than normal since they have a passionate fan base that allows them to "gauge for overall popularity," Fuhrman said.
And, just like other sports, a lot goes into setting the lines for each weekend.
"Typically certain drivers will run better at different racetracks — so that’ll get factored in as one major component," Fuhrman said. "The bigger the name is also going to play a huge role. Take Dale Earnhardt Jr. for example — you’ll never see true odds on Junior to win a race similar to the way you’ll never see true odds on the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series just because they are so popular with the betting public."
Drivers are known for gambling on the racetrack, whether it be while trying to gain position using daring moves or adopting a different strategy in the hope it pays off big time.
So it’s no surprise that, like many others who make the trek to Sin City, drivers are drawn to sports books. And, like so many others, their risk-taking doesn’t always pay off.
"When we came here in the Truck Series," driver Greg Biffle said, "my truck was super, super fast, so I bet on myself to win and lost on the last lap, so ever since then I decided not to bet anymore. I made my motorhome driver bet a little bit of money this weekend. I told him it would be a good idea for him, so we’ll see.
"I look at the odds. It’s fun to look at the odds and see what they are, but it’s neat to come to Vegas. I love to gamble, so this is a great stop for me. I like the West Coast because I get to play in town and I like this racetrack."
Gambling on NASCAR might not be for everybody, but the fact it’s an option and part of the conversation this weekend does have a benefit.
"I wouldn’t put money on any of it. I think they’re terrible odds for everyone. I don’t know how they figure that out," Brad Keselowski said jokingly. " . . . It is interesting to see it. It’s almost more flattering for me to see the sport lined up next to the NBA or NFL and so forth. I don’t know, I guess it’s just kind of a validation of status more than anything else."
And in case you’re wondering, four-time Las Vegas race winner Jimmie Johnson is a 4-1 favorite to win again.