In the summer of 2009, I went to Las Vegas with some buddies to play in a poker tournament.
It all started well enough, but by about day four I was in the midst of a downward spiral of debauchery and bad luck and throwing money away. By day five I was contemplating catching a plane to anywhere but North Carolina and just getting lost in the wilderness, and by day six I looked like I had lost a lot of blood and was wondering if I had enough money to get my car out of the parking deck at the airport.
But it was on that sixth day, I learned a few things:
1. Three days is my Vegas limit.
2. I like gambling on racing.
The Cup Series was racing at Sonoma on my last full day of this trip. For some reason, I wandered into the sports book at the 4 Queens Casino with one of my buddies whose money situation was slightly worse than mine and saw the odds for the race.
Through my haze — and the haze of smoke — I saw that Kasey Kahne, who was still driving for Ray Evernham at the time, was being given 40 to 1 odds. I remembered Dodge had just rolled out this new engine and something told me to give him a roll.
Kahne held off a late charge by Tony Stewart to win his only career road-course race and I left Vegas with a decent amount of money in my pocket — as did a couple of my buddies, including the one who was way down.
And before you think I’m being smug, know this: I returned home to Rockingham to a dead air condition and it took every bit of the money I won to replace it.
I remember sitting in the bar at the 4 Queens yelling at the TV and I have never been as enthralled in a race as I was for this road-course race, screaming for a guy I didn’t really like to win.
This does have a point.
Last week, the United States Supreme Court moved to allow states to legalize sports betting, striking down a 1992 federal law that had prohibited most states from authorizing sports betting.
So, what does this mean for NASCAR? That is up in the air right now, as auto racing really doesn’t have much of an impact on the overall action at a typical sports book, but it could have implications.
Bob Pockrass had a great piece on ESPN last week about legalizing gambling at the racetrack.
NASCAR said in a release that they were monitoring this situation. Pockrass wrote: “And it is likely no one knows exactly what it means. Let’s look at it this way: Let’s say a race generates $1 million in bets. That likely would be $300,000-$400,000 in profit. If the track split the proceeds with a sportsbook that operates automated kiosks, then the track’s take would be $150,000-$200,000. And then there would be any costs for licenses. And taxes. And if split among NASCAR (and 40 teams?), the question would be whether it would be a significant piece of revenue.”
But when Pockrass talked to Micah Roberts, who used to run sports books and now writes columns on gambling and sports better, Roberts said, “Now more than any time ever they should embrace it, because it keeps people involved. It’s great for the sport. It’s a great opportunity.”
Kyle Busch, who is from Las Vegas, agreed.
“It’s fine. It brings and adds more attention to our sport. People will kind of take interest it and find ways to make money around it,” Busch said. “That’s all good. That’s going to have people paying attention and eyes on television. I don’t know why we’re not like horse tracks; bet on us right there at the racetrack.”
That’s my point.
I think I have written enough about NASCAR’s woes as of late. Fans are walking away. TV ratings are in the tank. Sponsors are deserting the sport. Making gambling part of the deal can’t hurt to drive up interest.
It doesn’t have to put money directly into the bottom line through profits made at, or split by, the books. If it drives people to the track, or to download an app through which they can bet, it is creating residual value for NASCAR, its tracks and its teams and everyone’s bottom line and it may save the whole dang thing.
Just like Kahne’s win did for my gambling adventure.
Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.