Betting on NASCAR surges

Mar 2, 2004 6:44 AM

Prior to Las Vegas getting a Winston Cup race seven years ago, wagering on NASCAR events was limited to just a few casinos in the city. Sports books at Bally’s, Circus Circus, and Imperial Palace placed an odds-to-win-index on races and an occasional match-up or two for the biggest events, and that was pretty much all there was.

"It wasn’t until that first Vegas Cup race that wagering on NASCAR established somewhat of a niche in Las Vegas," said the Imperial Palace’s Jay Kornegay. "When we saw the initial betting interest at the beginning of that week leading into the first NASCAR weekend, we started to think there might be an interest in other types of proposition wagers.

"Since then, NASCAR betting has just taken off and gotten bigger and bigger every year," Kornegay said.

Not only did the NASCAR fans who rolled into town like the added propositions bets and match-ups, but the locals were also eager to lay down their money at the windows.

"After that first Vegas race, we had several regulars come in the next week asking for the same type of propositions," said Mandalay Bay’s Hugh Citron, who at the time was working at Circus Circus. "We figured as long as there was a demand for it and players would bet into the lines we made weekly, it was worth our while."

Each year the list of proposition bets gets larger, almost to Super Bowl proportions, and in the process the auto racing handle has grown year to year.

"I can’t believe how big this has become in such a short time," said Boulder Station’s Kelly Airgood. "It appeals to so many people, men and women alike, in much the same way pro football does. And because it’s weekly, most fans know all the drivers making it easy to follow on television."

Most bookmakers agree there’s no limit how far NASCAR betting can go because it hasn’t yet peaked. As bettors become more sophisticated and the NASCAR marketing machine grabs new audiences, wagering on NASCAR should continue to reach new heights.

In this weekend’s big race, three drivers are favored at 8-to-1 to win the 2004 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 on Sunday: Jimmie Johnson, Las Vegas’ Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman.

According to odds posted by Station Casinos, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and defending champion Matt Kenseth are next at 10-to-1. Las Vegans Kyle Busch and Brendan Gaughan have been assigned odds of 35-to-1.