autoracing 4 days ago

Sports league best suited to take advantage of legalized gambling? It might be NASCAR

The Charlotte Observer — By Brendan Marks The Charlotte Observer

May 15-- Monday, the United States Supreme Court overturned a decades-old law-the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA-that essentially limited sports gambling to one state.

With the landmark decision, it will now be up to individual states and sports leagues to regulate sports betting as they see fit.

And the immediate reaction to Monday's ruling was: How will this affect the NFL? And the NBA? And MLB?

That's natural, given the high profile of those leagues. But you could argue the sport best-positioned to capitalize on the legalization of sports gambling is NASCAR.

Professional racing has a multitude of well-documented issues-top sponsors leaving the sport, the retirement of many elite and recognizable drivers, a declining and rapidly aging fan base-that won't be solved with the addition of gambling. But this legal decision does open the door for NASCAR to make substantial changes to improve its overall health and standing among sports fans.

Here are the four ways NASCAR can best make use of the legalization of sports gambling:

1. The big picture is great, but don't forget about the little things.

When you think 'NASCAR' and 'legal gambling,' the first thing that comes to mind is betting on who wins each race. NASCAR already has a fantasy sports games that allows fans to do something of that sort. Adding a monetary element would surely increase overall viewership for NASCAR (as it would any sport), something NASCAR desperately needs.

But NASCAR's biggest issue with fans in recent years is the pace-races that last four, five hours, sometimes longer. Simply betting on winners wouldn't force people to watch races; it would force them to check the results afterward. Instead, NASCAR should allow fans, especially those in attendance, to gamble throughout the contest. Take a brief intermission after each stage, for instance-Isn't that what the stages are for, anyway?-and let fans scramble to on-track, parimutuel betting booths to make new picks for the next segment. It's a way to increase viewership and engagement throughout the race, not just at the end. Win-win.

2. Incorporate gambling into NASCAR's brand.

For years, fans have lamented the loss of NASCAR's 'culture.' You know: the rough-and-tough attitudes, the grit, the Southern charm, the partying around the track and so forth. Those same critics argue that NASCAR has gotten to be too corporate, too cookie-cutter in limiting driver personalities and the wildness of the sport at large.

Sports gambling is one step toward reversing that trend. Gambling, even in a regulated, moderate role, fits perfectly into that good ol' days vibe NASCAR fans so strongly value. That brand isn't recklessness, but fun and competition ... and a bit of luck. NASCAR should wholly embrace sports gambling rather than backing into it.

3. Be at the forefront of all the major sports leagues.

Want to raise your public profile with sports fans, but also other sports leagues and executives? Do something nobody else has.

With this ruling, NASCAR has that opportunity. While gambling will be monitored and controlled on a state-to-state basis to some extent, there will be a sports league that assumes the mantle and becomes the leader in regulating and installing a sports betting system. Why not NASCAR?

Now, NASCAR has said before that gambling isn't high on its list of priorities, especially given reports of an impending company sale and a potential shift in corporate sponsorship structure. NASCAR's official statement Monday only reaffirmed its apparent lack of interest. If that's the case, then that list of priorities needs to be re-evaluated. Integrating sports gambling in a fast, effective, popular manner would not only make NASCAR more appealing to general sports fans, but it would make it relevant again nationally as a major sports body.

4. Incorporate and hype up the playoff bracket, a la March Madness.

Monday's ruling plays to some sports and events better than others, but none better than the NCAA basketball tournament every spring. Bracket pools are wildly popular already, and they dominate the landscape for an entire month. Better than the World Series, the Super Bowl, or whatever else, March Madness was made for legal gambling.

Unfortunately, NASCAR has few (if any) ties to the annual tournament ... but it does have a playoff bracket of its own that could-and should-be stressed when it comes to the books.

Picking the field of 16 drivers at the onset of the season, then picking each round of eliminations as they present themselves is an easy way for NASCAR to incorporate gambling into its playoff system. Again, fans love a good bracket, even a less conventional one like NASCAR's. It's up to racing executives to make the most of theirs-and of legal gambling altogether.

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This week's NASCAR All-Star Race: What you need to know.

Race: Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.

Distance: 80 laps, divided into stages of 30, 20, 20, and 10 laps.

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile asphalt oval in Concord.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

TV: FS1.

Radio: MRN.

Last year's winner: Kyle Busch.

Worth mentioning: This will be the first race with restrictor plates at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Who's Hot/Who's Not

HOT

Kevin Harvick: Five wins already this season? Harvick has matched his total from any other season ... and we're only a third of the way through 2018.

Joey Logano: Another second-place finish for Logano keeps him at second overall in points behind Kyle Busch.

NOT

Ryan Blaney: Early troubles meant he didn't finish at Kansas, and while he has been consistently strong this season, we're still waiting for a breakthrough.

Matt Kenseth: His return to NASCAR was so hyped ... and then fell so flat, as he crashed out of his first race back. There certainly have been better days for the former Cup Series champ.

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