"Maybe I have four or five NFR (National Finals Rodeos) in me," Whitfield explained during an autograph signing last week at the MGM Grand. "Right now, I’m going to need shoulder surgery so it hurts not being able to compete."
Although Whitfield could be sidelined from roping for at least a year after surgery, he is prominent in the NFR. His words do carry clout, and he is very much an advocate of opening up betting on rodeo events.
"Anytime you can sit down and wager on something, the stakes go up," he said. "I think gambling in my sport would help. I am personally not a bigtime gambler, but I see what betting has done for sports like NASCAR. Whatever brings more notoriety and recognition to the cowboys and the sport, I am for."
Whitfield first began coming to the season-ending NFR event at Thomas & Mack back in 1990, his rookie season on the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit.
"We drew maybe 8,000 that year," Whitfield said. "Now we’ve more than doubled that, selling out every season. I think it’s time we expand further. There needs to be a new locale, some place that would hold 30,000. Indoors definitely, not outdoors."
Cowboys are legendary spenders in Vegas, which Whitfield notes make this a perfect marriage.
"Money spent brings more money for Vegas, which would make for higher purses," Whitfield said. "Cowboys have always been good to Las Vegas, especially in the casinos. I would hope that in the future we could see our names in the sports book with odds that people can bet on. I know that would be exciting for all of us in the sport."
Jay Kornegay, head of race and sports operations at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook, said that odds were posted on the NFR a few years back when he was at the Imperial Palace.
"We put NFR up during my first or second year at IP," Kornegay said. "A lot of people in rodeo circles frowned upon it and we received some negative feedback from LVCA (Las Vegas Convention Authority). We did not want to create any type of friction between the gaming properties and rodeo so we stopped."
Kornegay said the odds at that time were restricted to major rodeo events such as bull riding and saddle bronc.
"It takes a lot of research to post those types of odds," he said. "If enough people inquire about putting odds up, we might consider doing it. However, that hasn’t been the case. Plus, we would need the NFR’s approval before we would do it again."