Yard of Picks: Indy strengthens gaming ties with sports hall

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Trucks drive on the track in an effort to dry out the surface as rain delayed the final practice session for the Indianapolis 500 auto race on Friday, May 27, 2022. The Indianapolis 500 auto race is on Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

PA

Alex Kertis scrolled through a list of Indianapolis 500 favorites — call it a pick yard — on his phone, and the potential bettor found his pick. The Indy resident just needed to see Alex Palou again before hitting the screen.

“I don’t bet on IndyCar all the time,” he said Friday. “I’m not like I follow other sports. Golf. Soccer. Hockey.”

Kertis had a perfect place to learn: He soaked up the “Carb Day” scene from a bar stool at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s latest legalized upgrade with Caesars Sportsbook Lounge.

It’s not a sportsbook in the traditional sense – there are no ticket booths or digital video walls displaying the latest odds. It’s more of a VIP suite for working fans with a DJ spinning tunes, racing always on TVs, cocktails, and a small arcade featuring a few virtually drivable NASCAR games.

If that’s an incentive for fans to play, that’s the sweetest nudge. Just launch an app, commit to bet $20, upload your credit card information and get access. Fans can do it anywhere, of course, but the idea is that an on-site book at IMS will only increase the chances of fans placing bets on Helio Castroneves and Jimmie Johnson.

Few states report betting blackouts by sport, but auto racing is a sure lag in all sports when it comes to betting interest.

Dover Motor Speedway opened an on-site kiosk and became the only track that allowed sports betting on its property once Delaware legalized sports betting in 2018. The Delaware Lottery declared motor racing the second sport the lowest in the state; Delaware has sold $505.6 million in total sports tickets since June 2018 with a $1 million bet on auto racing – just 0.199% of sales, and most bets have been placed on NASCAR. Less than $10,000 of the handful was on IndyCar.

Illinois does not provide a breakdown by race series, but in 2021 only $7 million was wagered on auto racing, or 0.10% of the state’s legal bet last year.

The American Gaming Association estimated that Americans wagered approximately $58 million on motorsports with legal commercial sportsbooks in 2021. The AGA estimated that over $1 billion was wagered legally on motorsport alone. this year’s Super Bowl.

“From a betting perspective, it’s a more crowded than heavily bet sport right now,” said Jeff Benson, head of sports betting operations at Circa Sports. “I think there are definitely challenges in terms of growth.”

FanDuel Sportsbook has Scott Dixon and Palou as favorites for Sunday’s race. FanDuel lists prop bets and parries for the NBA (first to record a triple-double), MLB (first to record 2+ hits), and even NASCAR. But no fun bets outside of the podium were listed Friday for the Indianapolis 500.

Benson suggested more props to spark interest: Chip Ganassi Racing vs. Team Penske. First driver to crash, top rookie, etc. On the Caesars app, head-to-head matchups such as Palou vs. Will Power or Jimmie Johnson vs. Juan Pablo Montoya are offered.

At IMS, next to concession stands selling pork tenderloin and spiked lemonade, fans can pick up a pair of Roman Emperor glasses and bet inside the lounge in an air-conditioned room – a perfect retreat from the site of the most legendary race in the world.

“We don’t feel like it offends traditions in any way. We don’t force it on people,” said IMS President Doug Boles. “There’s a bit of this set up game going on anyway. I wouldn’t say we had a hard time adding it.

Just a lot of tapping on the phone, aided by a new 5G network. The app is required to enter the sports lounge, and a $20 first deposit earns $106 in credits (a nod to the 106th Indy 500).

Sports betting has been legal in Indiana since 2019, and Caesars has yet to reveal numbers on how many people have downloaded the app. But with an estimated 300,000 fans expected on Sunday, Caesars and IMS expect the numbers to skyrocket. Both Casears and IMS declined to say how the money would be split.

“We’ll probably see five times more control on this run than on any regular season run,” said Ken Fuchs, athletics manager at Caesars. “It definitely peaks this weekend.”

The first signs were promising.

Brad Romack of Panama City Beach, Florida has attended every Indy 500 (except 2020) since 1969. He enjoys Indy pageantry as much as the next traditionalist, but his interest was piqued by the show. He has a friend on the Castroneves team and feels the sentimental urge to put a few dollars on the #6 car. But few big wins emerge from loving feelings.

“I’d bet Scott Dixon,” he chuckled. “I think the book is a good idea because if you don’t, you’re late. All the other states are doing it.

Much like the Indy 500 champ, the key is to keep the momentum of the weekend’s big win going deep into the season – and turning casual bettors into hardcore gamblers.

“You are going to have a lot of people going to the races. But the type of people who go to the races do it for the entertainment,” Benson said. “It’s less of a betting crowd than you’d find with other people going to sporting events. I feel like people going to a baseball game, a basketball game, are much more likely to bet on the game than those who go to a car race.

Industry leaders can only hope that betting slips will quickly become as commonplace for fans as wearing their favorite driver’s t-shirt.

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More AP Indy 500 coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/indianapolis-500 and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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