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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 …