Mark Story

Could legal betting on NASCAR races come to Kentucky Speedway?

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the state of New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports wagering, could some form of pari-mutuel wagering come to NASCAR venues such as Kentucky Speedway?
If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the state of New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports wagering, could some form of pari-mutuel wagering come to NASCAR venues such as Kentucky Speedway? NASCAR via Getty Images

Before he followed original Kentucky Speedway owner Jerry Carroll into motorsports, Mark Simendinger spent a decade as an executive at horse racing’s Turfway Park.

Over the years, the Kentucky Speedway general manager said he has thought often about how it would work if his past world merged with his current one — and there was legal, pari-mutuel wagering on NASCAR races.

Before Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger worked in motorsports, he spent a decade working at Turfway Park. The idea of some form of pari-mutuel wagering on NASCAR races “could work great ... if you got approval,” he says. Herald-Leader file photo

“It would work great in NASCAR if it got approved,” Simendinger said. “The big advantage (NASCAR betting) would have over horse racing is you could open up betting pools six weeks, two months ahead of a race. You know, pretty much, who is going to be in the (NASCAR) field way out. So you wouldn’t have to wait on entry deadlines (days before the race) like you do in horse racing.”

It is possible that American sports wagering is only months from being fundamentally transformed.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a case involving the state of New Jersey’s attempt to legalize sports betting at casinos and horse racing tracks in that state.

Garden State voters in 2011 approved a non-binding referendum to allow sports betting. The following year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill legalizing sports wagering in the state.

In response, the NCAA, NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball sued to block the New Jersey law.

Their suit was based on The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which the U.S. Congress passed in 1992 to outlaw sports wagering in all but four states — Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana — where some form of sports betting already existed.

A lower court ruled that the New Jersey law violated that 1992 act. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in review of that decision in October.

Pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing has long been part of Kentucky life - as shown by this 1949 photo of patrons preparing to place bets at Keeneland. Herald-Leader file photo

From the infamous “Black Sox scandal,” which saw members of the Chicago White Sox conspire to fix the 1919 World Series; through the college basketball point-shaving scandals of the late 1940s that even engulfed Adolph Rupp’s regal University of Kentucky program; right up to point shaving in the University of Toledo football and men’s basketball programs (2004-06) in the 21st century, corruption associated with gambling has long terrified sports governing bodies.

Yet with some $150 billion said to be bet illegally on American sports annually, some of the professional leagues have begun to change their tune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver came out in favor of legal sports betting in a Nov. 13, 2014, op-ed column in The New York Times.

In so doing, Silver called for “mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming.”

If wagering on NASCAR events at Kentucky Speedway ever became legal, Kyle Busch - with two Cup Series wins, two Xfinity Series wins, two truck series victories and an ARCA win in Sparta - would be chalk. Charles Bertram

If New Jersey prevails, Simendinger foresees each of the 50 states gaining the right to liberalize their sports wagering laws.

Other than horse racing, Kentucky’s laws on sports gambling are strict. “I would anticipate having to go to the legislature to get gambling at the Speedway,” Simendinger said.

NASCAR’s recent woes in the marketplace have been exhaustively documented. The chance to place a wager on Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski to win — always a safe bet in Sparta — would not be a cure-all, Simendinger said.

Or maybe you would wager on Brad Keselowski - who has won three Cup races and three Xfinity Series races at Kentucky Speedway. James Crisp Associated Press

Still, Simendinger said he could envision “a Pick Six (where you try to pick the winners of six straight races) with enormous carryover pools. I think that would be fun for the fans and would help (NASCAR’s popularity) some.”

Unless the U.S. Congress passes a 50-state legalization of sports betting, Simendinger said a big challenge NASCAR would face would be navigating the myriad different laws in states where it races.

In even having this discussion, we figuratively have the cart in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and the horse in Bangor, Maine — in other words, the former way ahead of the latter.

Still, Simendinger believes NASCAR and the companies that own auto racetracks need to be thinking now about how to handle possible legalization of sports gambling just in case the Supreme Court rules in favor of New Jersey in the fall.

“To me, it comes down to this,” he said. “(If sports gambling becomes legal), somebody is going to be making huge money taking wagers on NASCAR races. We are incurring all the expenses of putting on those races. Why would we want to front all that expense only for other companies to make the (betting) money?”

NASCAR at Kentucky Speedway

Camping World Trucks: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225, 7:30 p.m. Thursday (FS1)

Xfinity: NXS Alsco 300, 8 p.m. Friday (NBC Sports)

Monster Energy Cup: Quaker State 400, 7:30 p.m. Saturday (NBC Sports)