Sadler encourages NASCAR to make big bet on gambling
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Elliott Sadler wants NASCAR to roll the dice.
Or at least, he figures, a few betting windows can be added to race tracks across America.
Amid sagging television ratings, dwindling attendance and longtime sponsors pulling out of the series, the former Cup driver and current Xfinity Series contender thinks NASCAR should embrace race-day gambling.
“I think attendance would double tomorrow,” he said Friday at Indianapolis, site of this weekend’s Brickyard 400. “I told them they should get an 18-wheeler and take it track to track. That would be my No. 1 suggestion.”
NASCAR will give the idea an initial whirl in four weeks at Dover, Delaware.
While many state governments seek new revenue sources and many leagues find themselves rethinking policies after a Supreme Court decision in May opened the door to legalizing sports wagering everywhere, it’s a novel and complicated concept for a sport so deeply-rooted in the Bible Belt.
“As states consider, legalize, regulate and offer sports betting, those licensed to offer sports betting may differ,” American Gaming Association spokesman Casey M. Clark said in a statement to The Associated Press. “In Delaware’s case, the track is on the property of a licensed casino that offers legalized sports wagering. For others to follow suit, their state laws and regulations would have to allow for it either in proximity to a licensed operator, like they do at Dover, or in statute that enables tracks to offer wagering.”
Currently, sports wagering is not legal in Indiana.
It’s unclear whether there would ever be enough support in the state legislature to pass. Even if new laws were adopted, Cup officials and race organizers would also likely have to consent.
Any step along the way could become the pitfall.
“If the state legislature ever thought that was something that could work, I think the technical rights holder of this event is NASCAR,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said as rain saturated the historic 2.5-mile oval Friday afternoon. “So I think NASCAR would have to first believe they’re comfortable with some type of on-track betting and then I guess we would have to look at that on our own and decide whether it made sense.”
Friday’s scene around the speedway illustrates why Sadler believes gambling could solve NASCAR’s ills.
Just two days before the 25th Brickyard race is run at one of the world’s most revered racing venues, cars moved briskly along city streets, parking lots were mostly empty and aside from barriers preventing left-hand turns into the track’s main tunnel, there was virtually no hint race weekend had arrived.
When Cup drivers first started coming to Indy in 1994, it was one of the series’ toughest tickets — attracting more than 250,000 people.
But since 2008, when the race was marred by tire wear and a series of roughly 10-lap shootouts, interest has waned and the crowds shrank. Observers estimated more than 200,000 seats were empty for last year’s.
It’s a concern for each of America’s top two racing series — NASCAR and IndyCar.
Despite making bold, creative attempts to regenerate interest in the Brickyard, Boles and his staff have not seen the results.
Ideas already tried include expanding the weekend schedule, doubling up by running sports-car races on the track’s road course, hiring more musical acts and even trying a stand-alone concert.
This year, Cup officials agreed to move the race out of July and into September in an effort to eliminate fans’ most common complaint — the searing heat. But now track officials face new obstacles beyond their control.
Andrew Luck makes his first start in more than 20 months when the Indianapolis Colts open the NFL season just a few miles across town, a little more than an hour before the green flag is supposed to wave and forecasters are calling for rain most of the afternoon.
“Obviously, the weather and the forecast are going to have an impact on what I think was likely to be the first year in a long time that the Brickyard 400 actually had more ticket sales than the year before,” Boles said. “That being said, I still think we will have a really good crowd and it still could be that. It’s just going to depend on the weather.”
What else might help? Perhaps a rules change.
For the second straight year, Xfinity drivers will experiment with an aero package designed to eliminate the single-file racing that has become commonplace at the speedway. If it works, some semblance of the package could be adopted by Cup drivers as soon as next year.
This year’s schedule at Indy also included dirt-track racing, a temporary feature that attracted an estimated 13,000 fans over two days and that could spur more interest in short-track racing.
Ultimately, though, Cup points leader Kyle Busch believes the best bet to increase attendance is a better product.
“If you can’t get to the guy in front of you, how’s that going to changing anything?” he said. “Our cars have just become so aero dependent, and I just think there’s no going back in time.”
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