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Volume 23 No. 17
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Penn National bets wider NASCAR offerings will bring more action

Beginning this year, Penn National will offer eight in-play NASCAR betting opportunities.
Photo: getty images
Beginning this year, Penn National will offer eight in-play NASCAR betting opportunities.
Photo: getty images
Beginning this year, Penn National will offer eight in-play NASCAR betting opportunities.
Photo: getty images

Meeting with the leading U.S. sportsbook operators en route to a watershed deal with Penn National Gaming announced last week, NASCAR executives presented a proposition unlike those of most other leagues selling sponsorships and authorized gambling provider rights.

 

Fans have been betting on NFL, NBA and MLB games for as long as there have been games, in Nevada and through neighborhood bookies and then illegal offshore sites. Football, basketball and baseball together made up about 90% of the money wagered legally on sports in Nevada and 75% of sports bets in New Jersey in 2019.

NASCAR falls into the “other” category, along with tennis, golf, auto racing, soccer and boxing.

Pitching sportsbooks on why they should hitch their wagon to a sport that has driven little betting revenue, NASCAR posited that perceived lack of demand actually stemmed from a dearth of supply. It presented research it said indicated NASCAR fans would bet on races — if they were given the opportunity to do so on something more enticing than the vanilla “which driver will be in Victory Lane in three hours” bet that sportsbooks have traditionally offered.

Place Your NASCAR Bets


Eight in-play bets, with odds that change as the race unfolds, expected to be offered by Penn National on NASCAR:
1. Group Winner
2. Stage Winner (Driver)
3. Team of Race Winner
4. Manufacturer of Race Winner
5. Race Winner Car Number Over/Under
6. Race Winner Car Number Odd/Even
7. Grid Position of Race Winner Over/Under (Pole Position, 2nd, 3rd or 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th)
8. Top 10 Finish (Driver)

Note: Group winner will be driver who finishes first in selected group.

Though many of the sportsbooks conceded that was possible, few were willing to contribute resources to the chase — especially when they were busy plowing money into building their own businesses, chasing market share, securing access to state licenses, opening retail locations and developing and improving mobile apps.

“We’re different in the fact that what we’re trying to do in sports betting is not simply trying to convert the illegal market to the legal market. We have to create a market,” said Scott Warfield, managing director of gaming at NASCAR. “It’s a different challenge than the stick and ball sports have. So I think it was important for us to take our time, do our due diligence, meet the players and understand who could be a strategic partner in the space that will invest in the right pieces that are going to help us create interest around sports betting.”

NASCAR would be a low priority, most of the players agreed. Too low, NASCAR worried, for them to put sufficient horsepower behind helping to grow a new product line from scratch.

Then, at a sports betting conference in New York early in November, NASCAR had a second meeting with representatives from Penn National, a company that through its racetrack and casino properties has one of the larger footprints of any U.S. gaming property, 41 properties spanning 19 states. That night at a college basketball doubleheader at Madison Square Garden, they talked shop between games and then had dinner together. They shook hands on a commitment to work toward a deal, which they signed in late January.

Penn National became NASCAR’s first authorized sports betting operator, announcing a weekly free-to-play picks contest with payoffs of $1,500 to $50,000 that it will launch nationally and promote beginning with the Daytona 500, a game meant to prime the pump for Penn’s rollout of online sportsbooks that will offer in-race wagering on the sport later this year.

To be clear, Penn National is not a leading sportsbook chain. In fact, it’s not a sportsbook yet — at least not in the context of FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill, Bet MGM, Fox Bet, Rush Street, Caesars and others, who have launched apps and begun fightinng for early adopters in states that allow it.

While those brands raced to market, Penn National chose a different path. It sold off “skins” — access to state sub-licenses — to other sportsbook chains. It struck a deal with platform supplier Kambi to develop an online sportsbook. Then last month, it announced a deal that made it the latest sportsbook to watch, buying a 36% stake in Barstool Sports, giving it a consumer facing brand that it is familiar to the young male sports bettors that have been the core of the early consumer base.

Penn will use the Barstool brand both at retail and online, piggy-backing the popularity of a website that attracts 66 million unique visitors monthly, many young men who have shown a propensity to bet on sports. NASCAR of late has used Barstool to chase that demo, which it sometimes has struggled to reach.

“We have more licenses than everybody else … but what we didn’t have was the brand that was associated with sports gambling,” said Jeff Kaplan, vice president of strategic and financial planning at Penn National. “Barstool has created content for years around gambling. When you combine our assets and Barstool’s assets, it creates really powerful synergies.”

One reason for optimism around NASCAR as a betting property is its locked-down control of its official data feed. All of the major pro sports properties offer their official data for sale to bookmakers, who then use it to adjust odds and settle bets. The ability to do that quickly, rather than waiting to see an event unfold on TV, is attractive to sportsbooks. But there is debate over whether it is essential, or commensurate with the premium leagues and sports data providers place on it. Data companies also offer a slower product, which they take from TV or from “data scouts”, who go to games and send play-by-play.

NASCAR’s data comes from telemetry transmitted by its cars, which it uses to record lap times and track position, a proprietary system that can’t be replicated.

“Nobody else can transmit that data fast enough to get it to the market,” said Chris Dougan, managing director of U.S. operations for London’s Genius Sports, the data distributor working with NASCAR to develop and distribute its in-race betting product. “They are absolutely in control of their own data. It’s just a part of their sport that you need to have. That control provides them an edge over anyone.”

Of course,  NASCAR and Genius will have to develop an in-race offering that bettors find attractive. With its relatively large footprint, and now a brand that gambling-inclined young men know, Penn has emerged as a potent operator.

“We’re not going to be the only authorized gaming operator with NASCAR,” Kaplan said. “Others are going to sign on for this data. But what we think is unique and what we think can engender loyalty among our customers is the productization of some of these features.”