NASCAR betting proves to be a winner at Dover

A sports betting station was set up in the shadow of the Monster Monument at Victory Plaza all weekend at Dover International Speedway. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

DOVER — It wasn’t just the 39 drivers in the high-octane Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that were hoping to leave Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway a winner.

Fans were lined up as many as 100-people deep hours before the green flag waved on the race at a sports betting station that was set up in the shadow of the Monster Monument at Victory Plaza.

This time around, fans were a part of the action.

Dover International Speedway officially became the first venue on the NASCAR circuit to offer sports betting on-site this weekend, which revved up thousands of fans who were milling around with driver odds sheets in their hands hoping to pick a winner.

It looked more like a horse race than a NASCAR event. There appeared to be some serious studying taking place with odds sheets in one hand and cash in the other to bet on the race that was ultimately won by Chase Elliott.

“This is the first time I’ve ever bet on a NASCAR race, even though I’ve been following it for 30 years,” said Tony Mendez, of Lewes. “I saw some of the odds and they have some of the guys with really good odds.

“I mean, how can you not pick Jimmie Johnson at 15-1? You can’t really beat that. I follow NASCAR so I’m going to give it a try.”

John Hensley, general manager and senior director of horse racing and sports betting at Dover Downs, was out observing the line of bettors that snaked a good 30 yards long three hours before race time.

He said offering the chance to bet on the NASCAR race on-site, as well as NFL games, Major League Baseball playoffs and other sports, was a no-brainer for the racetrack.

“From a motorsports standpoint none of this has been about a revenue generator, it’s just one more tool for them to have an additional enhancement to the property,” Mr. Hensley said. “I think (speedway officials) have been quoted that it just puts that ticket in your hand and you’ve just got one more reason to watch a little bit longer.

“It engages the fan, attaches them to the brand and attaches them to what Dover International Speedway is already doing. How can you go wrong?”

Susan Coulter has traveled to the NASCAR events at Dover from Columbus, New Jersey, for the past five years.

She said adding the chance to bet on her favorite driver — and even some underdogs facing long odds, such as David Ragan at 1,000 to 1 — adds another layer of excitement to the experience.

“It’s cool,” Ms. Coulter said. “I’m going to try (sports betting) for the first time. I’ve got some people in mind but I’m still looking at some others here.

“I love coming to the races. I was a Jeff Gordon fan, but since he’s retired and we’re from New Jersey we go with Martin Truex (a New Jersey native) and we are also longtime Jimmie Johnson fans.”

Brad Picklyk came to Dover all the way from Nova Scotia, Canada. He had his betting slip in hand and was ready to place “several bets,” including prop bets, such as if the number of the winning car will be odd or even. It turned out to odd with Mr. Elliott driving the No. 9 car.

“This is great,” he said. “I’m going to try them all. I’ll definitely have to bet on Jimmie Johnson because he’s my favorite driver.

“It’s just going to be fun putting some money down and seeing if I’m going to win every week. If I can win some money on a race weekend, well, that’s just an added bonus.”

Delaware Lottery Director Vernon Kirk described it as “Another first for Delaware and the Delaware Lottery.”

“We are very pleased to offer our customers the ability to place wagers at this unique tripleheader at Dover International Speedway,” Mr. Kirk said. “It adds a new level of excitement to the event.”

Mr. Kirk said NASCAR has been just a small part of Delaware’s sports betting scene since it opened in June.

According to Mr. Kirk, about $5,000 on average has been wagered during NASCAR race weekends, amounting to about $53,300 of the overall $37.06 million bet on all non-parlay sports cards since June 5. That’s a minuscule .14 percent of the action, but more is expected now.

Mr. Mendez said he thinks the added attraction of betting can only help spur interest in NASCAR, which has suffered in recent years with low attendance, sagging television ratings and popular drivers retiring.

“I think it’s going to be good for NASCAR to open it up a little bit because football seems to have really taken off with the sports betting since they allowed it several years ago,” Mr. Mendez said. “Now, since they’ve really opened it up with the single-game bets, plus college football and now you can bet on NASCAR, it’s pretty cool.”

There is a group of people who Mr. Mendez said should not be able to bet on the NASCAR races — drivers and their pit crews.

“I don’t think drivers and pit crew members should be able to bet, especially not crew members, who could conceivably change the outcome of a race with a slow pit stop,” he said. “It’s the same thing with football. I don’t think players should be able to bet on their own teams.”

NASCAR was quiet on the subject of betting throughout the weekend, declining to comment to the Associated Press this week and referred to a statement from earlier this year that said it will, “continue to monitor what the (Supreme Court) ruling will mean for individual states and our sport.”

The AP added that NASCAR at some point will likely partner with a task force to monitor integrity within the sport and perhaps write guidelines for the rulebook.

While NASCAR was looking down the road, Dover International Speedway was enjoying its opportunity to offer race fans a unique experience.

“It’s something that no other track has been able yet to do — provide opportunity to get out of your car, stroll through the Fan Zone, place a wager on, say, Jimmie Johnson and (go to your seat to see how it turns out),” Mr. Camp said.

“There’s nothing like that anywhere else. Vegas is Vegas, but the wagering isn’t taken inside the track like it is here.”

Reach staff writer Mike Finney at 741-8230 or mfinney@newszap.com.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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