Back In Time: Road Wage – Betting No Gamble For NASCAR

Kevin Harvick celebrates following victory in the Monster Energy Cup Series Pennzoil 400 in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images for NASCAR)

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled to strike down the federal law that banned sports betting in most states.

The news sparked a lot of chatter through social media channels rom from those involved in racing about the prospect of sports betting having an impact on NASCAR events at the national level.

My take, I just don’t see this having any substantial impact on NASCAR.

I don’t think the current fan base is really that interested in wagering on races.

On top of that, you have a fan base that has complained a lot in recent years about the costs associated with attending events. I don’t think they’re looking for ways to spend more money at events.

And I don’t think those that are deeply interested in sports betting are going to be flocking to wager on NASCAR events. Betting on NASCAR has never been popular in the legal sports books of Nevada.

That said, in 2001 I wrote this story for the Hartford Courant looking at NASCAR and sports betting.

Road Wage: Betting No Gamble For Nascar
By Shawn Courchesne ~ Courant Staff Writer 
July 16, 2001 

When Elliott Sadler won the Winston Cup Food City 500 March 25 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, Micah Roberts probably had the same reaction as most NASCAR fans.

“Are you kidding me?” Roberts said. “Elliott Sadler?”

Except that Sadler’s first victory meant a big loss for Roberts.

Had someone at the Santa Fe Station casino in Las Vegas bet $1,000 on Sadler to win, that person would have walked away with more than the $124,700 Sadler earned for winning the race.

Roberts, manager of the race and sports book at Santa Fe Station, had Sadler’s win odds at 125-1.

“I mean, Elliott Sadler, how does he get in there?” Roberts said. “Not a popular bet, we only had a few takers on that, but we paid out some money I’ll tell you. I can’t complain, though, we got a lot of publicity out of it, too. You got people cashing in tickets at 125-1, it creates some excitement. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen too often.”

There’s no arguing that football, basketball and baseball still rule the sports books up and down the strip in Las Vegas, but many see the fastest growing bet in town as Winston Cup racing.

And while the NFL, NBA, NCAA and Major League Baseball do their best to distance themselves from sports wagering, which is illegal in every state except Nevada, NASCAR doesn’t have a problem with it.

One big reason is the belief that it would be virtually impossible to fix a race. With a straight odds wager, bets are placed on a single driver to win.

“There’s 43 cars and each car’s got so many players behind it,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “It would take an incredible number of people to be in on something like that, but I would say that we still have to pay attention and be mindful of that.”

But the betting doesn’t stop at wagering on drivers. A matchup bet pits two drivers against each other, with the bettor choosing which one will finish higher. But there are no odds; it is close to an even-money bet.

The thought of fixing a driver vs. driver matchup bet appears conceivable — two drivers agree to let one finish ahead — but the limits placed by the sports books would make the financial gains involved in a deal like that minimal, seemingly discouraging it.

While a five-figure bet on a football or basketball game isn’t out of the ordinary in Las Vegas, most books won’t take more than $1,000 for a Winston Cup wager. The thought of two drivers cooperating to split close to $1,000 in winnings is hard to imagine.


When Jimmy Spencer won the Busch Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1998, one of the first things he exclaimed in victory lane was how excited he was because he bet on himself at 25-1.

A comment like that from Jim Calhoun or Joe Torre would send shivers throughout their respective sports, not to mention investigations.

But NASCAR officials don’t have a problem with it.

“It’s part of the culture in this country and we’re not going to stand in the way of that,” Helton said. “It’s limited and it’s controlled, and we really don’t think it would ever have any effect on the outcome of the events. As long as it maintains those characteristics, then we’re not going to have a problem with it. Our concerns would be if we felt like it was affecting any of the competition.”

Call it the Pete Rose Syndrome, but most drivers say they’ve never even thought about betting on themselves and would never try it. When asked about it, almost every driver mentions Pete Rose without provocation. Rose was banned from baseball for life for allegedly betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds — including some involving his own team.

“When I go to Vegas, I don’t mind playing a few slot machines, but when it comes time to bet that other stuff, I just don’t know much about it,” said Winston Cup driver and Danbury native Jerry Nadeau. “I’m not very good with odds.”

Said veteran driver Brett Bodine: “I never bet on anything other than the blackjack or the craps tables. I’ve never even placed a bet on any sporting event, much less a race.”

Even Kurt Busch, the only Las Vegas native driving in Winston Cup, isn’t so sure.

“By the time I turned 21, I was already on the road racing somewhere and never home, so I never even really got a chance to try gambling in Vegas,” Busch said. “But I’m intrigued by the fact that they’re really catching on to betting on Winston Cup at home. It seems to me it would be great because it’s not just two teams going head to head, it’s 43 guys going at it. I don’t know, I’d probably jinx myself. I don’t know why, even if they say it’s all right to do, it still almost seems like it’s wrong to me.”

Race Brings More Action

Wagering on Winston Cup racing, or any other form of motorsports, was nonexistent 10 years ago. Even through NASCAR’s boom of the mid-90s, few Vegas sports books were putting up odds.

It wasn’t until Las Vegas got its own race in 1998 that gambling on Winston Cup really took off.
Roberts said the nine Station casino properties took NASCAR wagering to a new level when that first race was held.

“We’ve really kind of elevated that game here in Vegas,” Roberts said. “Instead of just doing odds to win, we started doing driver matchups and proposition bets when nobody was really doing that. You just want to do anything to create interest and we’ve really done that.”

While most casinos now offer winning odds, matchups and prop bets for Winston Cup, none offer the selection of Santa Fe Station, where bets also are taken on Busch, Craftsman Truck, CART FedEx, Indy Racing League, Formula One and NHRA drag racing.

“Last year was a great year for betting on racing here and I think all around Vegas,” Roberts said. “I know we handled more on it than we ever had before and we just continue to get more and more people coming in every week. I can’t really give dollar figures, but I can say that what we’ve seen is pretty much rivaling what we’re doing for the NHL.”

With proposition wagers, a bettor can wager on anything from an over/under on the number of cautions in a race to the number of lead changes or number of drivers to lead a lap.

“We try to have fun with the proposition bets,” Roberts said. “At the Sears Point road course we had a prop where it was Jeff Gordon vs. every Ford and Dodge driver. Gordon’s so dominant there that I just wanted to have something interesting for people to bet against him with.”

Roberts, who said he has always been a fan of NASCAR, is responsible for setting the odds at Santa Fe.

“For the most part, what I’ve always done is just pay extreme attention to the past history at that particular track,” Roberts said. “More so than I do how they’re doing currently. I look at things like Rusty Wallace doesn’t really do well at superspeedways, so I’ll have him longer than I would at say a short track where he’s usually up front.”

The week of the Las Vegas race is undoubtedly the busiest for betting on Winston Cup all year. Roberts said the next biggest is the weekend of the Daytona 500.

“The rest of the weeks are all relatively the same,” Roberts said. “We get a group of the same people that come in each and every week putting their $20 or whatever on their driver, but we’re definitely seeing a different type of crowd betting on this than when we first started it. When we started it was really just the hardcore fan that came in. Now, more and more, we see your average regular bettor coming in.”

And the betting isn’t just going on in Las Vegas. The boom of online betting services has brought untold NASCAR wagering. Nearly every large online betting site offers at least NASCAR and Formula One wagering.

“That’s where I think you see more action then we’ll ever see,” Roberts said. “That’s global. Every hardcore fan and every hardcore bettor from across the world is doing it and I know they’re getting a lot of action on it.”

Because every online betting service is based outside of the United States, most in South America or the Caribbean, the numbers are nearly impossible to come by. Representatives of and, two of the biggest online sites, would not return calls regarding NASCAR wagering.

During the weeks leading up the Daytona 500, trucks cruise the boulevards surrounding the track with large placards advertising the odds for drivers on Internet sites.

“I can’t imagine the numbers they get,” Roberts said. “But I went to Daytona this year and everybody that I talked to around there had themselves a bet on some driver, and none of them were with any Nevada books.”


  1. Betting on NASCAR, interesting. If you went by last year and bet money on truex to win on the mile and a half tracks this year you’d have lost. Longshots in NASCAR rarely exist anymore so betting just doesn’t seem feasable

  2. Betting on NASCAR, interesting. If you went by last year and bet money on truex to win on the mile and a half tracks this year you’d have lost. Longshots in NASCAR rarely exist anymore so betting just doesn’t seem feasable

  3. For being someone that likes to bet on sports this is a big deal. Just look at football. If it wasn’t for bookies football would not be as popular. I still think that there is a way to do local racing just like horse racing. They could simulcast it and take a piece out to bump up the purses.

  4. Let them Race! says

    I would like to bet that NASCAR will have even less attendance in 2019 than they have this year. Anyone want to give me 10 to 1 odds?

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