NASCAR’s percentage of the national sports betting handle remains tiny. But it’s not as tiny as a few years ago. And that encourages Joe Solosky, the property’s managing director of sports betting, that the national stock car series can use in-race wagering to interest bettors who otherwise patronize football and basketball more regularly.
While many NASCAR fans and potential bettors live within the borders of southern states that have yet to legalize sports betting, laws passed this year to make Kentucky sports betting and online sports wagering in North Carolina a reality signal expansion in the region.
Solosky told Gaming Today:
From 2021 to 2022, handle went up 50%, pretty much exactly. And this year we’re up 53% over last year. I don’t think any other league has grown [that much] in the last three years.”
NASCAR, Solosky said, has improved significantly and notably in Illinois, the fourth-largest sports betting market in the United States, according to the Gaming Today revenue tracker.
That figures to make a debut street race at Grant Park in Chicago an important benchmark for real-time betting interest in the series and for fans dabbling in in-race markets.
“NASCAR was the number one sport in terms of growth year over year in the state of Illinois from 2021 to 2022,” Solosky said. “We had about 91% growth year over year in terms of handle.”
Sports betting is available state-wide via mobile in Illinois, meaning fans can wager while watching the race in person, free from the frustration of television lags.
The premise was supported in another sport earlier this year. The PGA Tour hopes to bolster its appeal through sports betting and saw results in Arizona in February. According to a heat map of betting activity provided by verification and integrity monitor GeoComply, the galleries surrounding the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale lit up with wagering activity during the event.
William Byron celebrates in Victory Lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Darlington Raceway, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Darlington, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)
NASCAR Encouraged by Small Increases in Betting Interest
One percent doesn’t seem like a landmark or a goal. But it is for NASCAR.
“In terms of percentage of handle overall, I don’t even think we’re at that 1% market,” Solosky said. “That would be great. We are probably at around like 0.5%”
Still, NASCAR’s portion of the handle is increasing, Solosky said.
From all the information we got or we have, we’ve gone up from probably 0.1% to 0.5% of total US handle from 2020 to 2023.”
Each state that legalizes sports betting issues monthly handle and betting summaries, but the reports are not uniform. This makes gleaning exact calculations of how much is bet on each sport difficult. Still, it’s generally accepted that basketball accounts for about 35%of US betting handle with “football” a close second at 32%. NASCAR often falls into the “other” category of sports gaining minimal interest. Pro sports leagues don’t want to be neighbors with cricket and team handball on revenue reports.
But Solosky said he’s tracked progress through NASCAR betting partners BetMGM, Wynn, and Penn National Gaming (Barstool).
“I can tell you kind of year-over-year growth, generally across our partners, from 2021 to 2022, handle went up 50%,” he declared. “Pretty much exactly. And this year we’re up 53% over last year.
“Factoring new markets that have opened in 2022 and 2023, we’re outpacing that percentage growth in terms of total addressable markets.”
Martin Truex Jr. wins his second #NASCAR Cup Series race of the season!
— NBC Sports EDGE Betting (@NBCSportsBet) June 11, 2023
NASCAR Benefits From NC, Other Southern States Legalizing Wagering
Illinois is part of NASCAR’s midwestern and western frontiers opened after the series exploded in popularity in the 1980s. But even though 36 states are in some phase of legalizing and implementing sports betting, many in the series’ ancestral Southern heartland have yet to do so.
North Carolina is an important and notable exception as home to a NASCAR production media facility, two tracks hosting NASCAR Cup Series races, and its fleet of teams. NC Gov. Roy Cooper signed a sports betting bill on Wednesday, and state-wide mobile sports betting should launch there within a year.
Solosky hopes that Illinois-type progress can translate to Southern states eventually.
“I imagine that as North Carolina and Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, whatever happens in Florida, as these states continue to go forward, I think that we’ll continue to probably be the fastest growing sport, but probably on an more even accelerated timeline,” he surmised. “Because we have such a concentrated band base in those states.”
NASCAR Seeks Ways to Make In-Race Betting Interesting
Pace of play is crucial for in-event betting markets. Golf and even pitch-clock-era baseball are conducive to it, while racing, where a leader’s tire can blow by the time a microbet has been logged, is more difficult. And potentially frustrating. But Solosky said the series and its sportsbook partners are closer to understanding what its bettors will consume.
“In-race betting will generally mirror the rest of the world and that trend in terms of it being the majority of bets placed,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to give up on that thesis at NASCAR.
“We’re working with operators directly, but I think more importantly on the data-supply side to find people who will be willing to work with NASCAR on creating in-race markets. We have enough data now from 2020 to 2023 to understand what have been the most popular pre-race markets: outright winners. But head-to-head matchups have been huge for us.”
Solosky said the series is still deciding how to dissect races into bettable segments and finding markets — such as leader or top 10 at the end of these segments — that can be popular in-race offerings.
“Nothing groundbreaking, but kind of iterating on what’s worked from the pre-race side and making more shorter cycles for people to bet on during the race, which keeps them more engaged than watching it or if they’re attending the race,” he said.
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This is not an easy process, said Andre Zammit, VP of Sportsbook for Tipico North America.
“It’s extremely difficult,” he said. “You don’t have the element of the driver only, but you have that machine that they’re utilizing. Bookmakers can’t really know what’s happening under the hood, so that becomes a bit more difficult. At the same time, especially with NASCAR, let’s say if we compare it to Formula One, there’s a lot more overtaking happening. Even if you do Racer A versus Racer B, or who will be leading in the next five laps, it’s quite volatile as well.”
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