Columnist Jeff Haney: Motor sports betting goes full throttle in Las Vegas

After seven years of big NASCAR races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it looks as if wagering on motor sports has fully matured.

In those first couple of races — the Las Vegas 400 was won by Mark Martin in 1998 and Jeff Burton in 1999 — local sports books offered betting on which driver would win, and not much else.

For Sunday’s UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at the Speedway, however, Las Vegas betting shops have rolled out an extensive menu of wagering options, including head-to-head matchups, various over/under bets and a selection of propositions worthy of a major event on the sports calendar.

The amount of money bet on those propositions now easily exceeds the amount bet on individual drivers to win the race outright, says Micah Roberts, the sports book director at Palace Station.

“For a lot of racing fans coming to Las Vegas, whether they’re coming from California, or abroad, or anywhere else, this is their eighth time in Las Vegas for the race,” said Roberts, an expert in motor sports oddsmaking. “They’re educated in the betting (aspect), and they’re ready to be taken to the next level.”

No official figures are compiled by the state on how much money is wagered on auto racing in Nevada. In reports from the state Gaming Control Board, auto racing is still lumped into the “other” category of sports betting, along with golf, tennis and the like. The “other” category typically accounts for less than 10 percent of the $2 billion or so bet on sports in the state annually. (Only football, basketball and baseball are singled out.)

But Roberts said he has seen a sharp increase in the handle each year, which has prompted oddsmakers to expand the number of betting options on auto races — especially the big NASCAR race in Las Vegas, which is the most heavily bet race in local sports books, having surpassed the Daytona 500.

“They want more options than just betting the winner, and the props are a reflection of that demand,” Roberts said. “Look at something like the over/under in the margin of victory in the race. If the last 30 or 40 laps are run under a green flag, it’s probably going to go over, but if not, there’s a good chance it will go under. That’s essentially what you’re betting on.

“People look at it like a 50-50 proposition, like betting on a football game. They like betting propositions like that because it’s not as hard as picking one winner from the entire field of drivers. (Props are) a big reason that we’ve seen the volume (of betting) increase so much throughout the city.”

The margin of victory over/under for Sunday’s race has been set at 1.522 seconds at Stations, with a slight premium on the under.

Other creative props involve an over/under on the number of the winning car; how many cautions will be used; and the first letter of the winning driver’s last name (see separate listing of props, this page). There is also wagering available on Saturday’s Busch race and Friday’s qualifying.

To win the UAW-DC 400 outright, Roberts has Kasey Kahne listed as a 7-1 favorite — but he said the drivers to watch are those from the Roush Racing team, due to their track record at LVMS.

The odds on five Roush drivers — Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth — have been shaded down in anticipation of strong performances Sunday, Roberts said.

Busch is an 8-1 shot to win the UAW-DC 400, followed by Kenseth (10-1), Martin (12-1), Biffle (12-1) and Edwards (22-1).

“Not any one of them is favored, because they’re all about equally good,” Roberts said. “Roush guys have won five of the seven Cup races here, and they also won five of the 15 other races, between truck races and Busch races.”

Kahne earned his status as the favorite to win the race with sparkling performances in testing at LVMS, Roberts said.

“A couple people who were out there at the track said his times were the fastest,” Roberts said.

Las Vegas Situs Judi Poker sports handicapper Patrick Bartucci, who studies stock-car racing as well as other sports from a betting perspective, also likes team Roush on Sunday.

“Many of the Roush cars that did well in California (in the Auto Club 500 on Feb. 27) will also do well here,” said Bartucci, online at patricksfreepress.com.

He’s particularly high on Kenseth, who has won the past two UAW-DC 400 races at LVMS, in 2003 and 2004. Bartucci said he took a piece of Kenseth at 12-1 and likes him at any double-digit odds.