The expansion of legal betting across the United States is creating opportunities on multiple levels for NASCAR to grow the sport, both by increasing engagement with its current fans and by attracting, through gambling, new fans to racing.
That’s the mindset of Joseph Solosky, who took over as NASCAR’s Managing Director of Sports Betting this past March.
There are droves of NASCAR fans who have either never bet on sports at all or have never wagered on a stock car race. Educating and engaging these fans from a wagering perspective represents a major opportunity for the sport, Solosky believes.
The larger nut, though, is converting people who enjoy watching and wagering on stick-and-ball sports into racing fans.
“The big slice of the pie is the people who are not watching NASCAR but who may be betting on other sports, and introducing them to in-race odds or educating them on how NASCAR betting is different from other sports,” Solosky said. “(We are interested) in getting them to bet on the sport and then watch the sport and then hopefully go to a race where we can acquire them as fans.”
Live betting — wagering that takes places after an event has started — is a relatively new concept for the American sports bettor. In Europe, it represents the majority of betting handle. That means live betting — or “in-race” betting as it applies to NASCAR — is a major opportunity for U.S. sports properties to drive fan engagement.
Think of this example: You bet pre-race Denny Hamlin at 8-1 odds to win Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Twenty laps in, Hamlin is involved in a wreck and is out of the race. Instead of tuning out, you open your betting app, see what in-race odds are available and fire away on another bet or two. Again with some action on the race, you become more engaged, and there’s a better chance you’re sticking around until the checkered flag.
Solosky came to NASCAR from Sportradar, a company that provides odds and other data to sportsbooks, leagues and media companies. As an executive with the company in Europe, he noticed live betting comprised between 75-90% of the overall handle, depending on the event.
For NASCAR, “I could see that number jumping up to (a similar range), probably 70, 75 percent within five years,” he said.
“We’re at just the beginning of in-race betting for NASCAR,” Solosky added, “and it’s been fun to watch the numbers and the reporting we’re getting from clients on the increased engagement from fans. We saw a report from the Daytona 500 where an operator did 90% of their total revenues in 2020 just at the Daytona event in 2021. And I attribute a lot of that to in-race betting. We’re at a really good spot with the introduction of in-race betting.”
Seamus Magee, a Sports Trader at BetMGM, one of NASCAR’s three official sportsbook partners, said the company has offered in-race betting on every Cup race this season, in addition to some Xfinity and Camping World Truck races.
“In-play betting is such a big part of the future landscape of betting in the United States, and NASCAR is certainly one place where we can try out new things that fans will really enjoy,” Magee said.
Micah Roberts, a former Las Vegas sportsbook director who now covers NASCAR on a variety of platforms, added of in-race betting, “I think that’s the best way to create a new audience. … It’s exciting, and it makes it more fun to bet as you go.”
Where we are, where we’re going
As Solosky embarks on his mission to drive NASCAR’s sports betting initiatives, a key objective is to increase the amount of money bet on the sport. He estimates NASCAR now accounts for about 1% of the overall sports betting handle across the nation, in line with estimates from multiple bookmakers.
Solosky says increasing the NASCAR handle doesn’t have to come at the expense of other sports; conversely, different sports can complement each other.
“In growing our handle, we’re not looking to take away from other sports, we’re looking to grow the pie,” Solosky said. “That may be co-creating experiences for people who are betting the NFL to get them to go to NASCAR events or bet on NASCAR events. These are ways I think that we can grow our handle.”
Beyond live betting, there are countless opportunities for bookmakers to create new ways for fans to bet on sports, including NASCAR. What you see on your betting app today is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The props available on a NASCAR race will increase in the years to come, with competition driving that innovation.
“That’s something we’re always trying to do, no matter the sport,” Magee said of posting new betting markets. “We try ways to differentiate our product as much as we can, any way we can get an advantage over our competitors.”
Ed Salmons, a Las Vegas bookmaking veteran, sees NASCAR as an important piece of the sports betting landscape.
“It’s a niche sport, and there are people who like it. It certainly has its place in the gambling world. There’s a big market for it,” Salmons said. “… It definitely has its place.”