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Yard of Picks: Indy Strengthens Gambling Ties with Sports Lounge

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Alex Kertis searched through his phone through a list of Indianapolis 500 favorites — call it a selection of picks — and the potential bettor found his pick. The Indy resident just had to brush up on Alex Palou before tapping the screen.

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

Kertis had an ideal spot to study: he soaked up the “Carb Day” scene from a bar stool atop Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s newest legalized extension featuring the Caesars Sportsbook Lounge.

This is not a sports book in the traditional sense – there are no ticket offices or digital video walls showing the latest odds. It’s more like a working fan’s VIP suite with a DJ spinning tunes, constant races on the TVs, cocktails, and a small arcade room with a few virtual driveable NASCAR games.

If it’s a nudge for fans to play, it’s the gentlest of nudges. Just launch an app, commit to betting $20, download your credit card information and get started. Fans can do this anywhere, of course, but the thought is that having a book on site at IMS will only, um, increase fans’ chances of placing bets on the likes of Helio Castroneves and Jimmie Johnson.

Few states report betting breakdowns by sport, but auto racing is a definite laggard of all sports when it comes to betting interest.

Dover Motor Speedway opened an on-site kiosk and became the only track to allow sports betting on its property after Delaware legalized sports betting in 2018. Delaware has sold a total of $505.6 million in sports tickets since June 2018, with $1 million betting on auto racing — just 0.199% of sales, and most of the bets were on NASCAR. Less than $10,000 of the handle went to IndyCar.

Illinois doesn’t provide a breakdown by racing series, but just $7 million was wagered on auto races in 2021, or 0.10% of the state’s legal bets last year.

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans wagered around $58 million on motorsports with legal commercial sports betting in 2021. The AGA estimates that more than $1 billion was legally wagered on this year’s Super Bowl alone.

“From a betting perspective, it’s a sport that’s currently more attended than heavily wagered,” said Jeff Benson, sportsbook operations manager at Circa Sports. “I think there are definitely some challenges in terms of cultivation.”

Trucks travel the track to dry the surface as rain delayed final practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race on Friday, May 27, 2022.  The Indianapolis 500 auto race is Sunday.

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

Benson suggested more prop-peps to spark interest: Chip Ganassi Racing vs. Team Penske. First rider to crash, top rookie, etc. The Caesars app features head-to-head duels like Palou vs. Will Power or Jimmie Johnson vs. Juan Pablo Montoya.

At IMS, alongside the concession stands selling pork tenderloins and spiked lemonades, fans can pick up a pair of Roman Kaiser glasses and bet in the lounge in an air-conditioned room – a perfect hideaway at the site of the most famous race in the world.

“We don’t feel that this violates any of the traditions in any way. We’re not forcing it on people,” said IMS President Doug Boles. “There’s a bit of that seat gamble anyway. I wouldn’t say we wrestled hands adding it.”

Just a lot of taps on the phone, supported by a new 5G network. The app is mandatory to enter the Sports Lounge, and a $20 initial deposit will net you $106 in credits (a nod to the 106th Indy 500).

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

“We’re probably going to experience five times more control at this race than at any regular-season race,” said Ken Fuchs, Caesars athletic director. “It’s definitely going up 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’s pageantry as much as the next traditionalist, but his interest was sparked by the lounge. He has a friend on the Castroneves team and feels a sentimental urge to put a few bucks in the #6 car. But few big payoffs come from loving feelings.

“I’d bet Scott Dixon,” he said, laughing. “I think the book is a good idea because if you don’t do it, you’re behind. Every other state interferes.”

Much like the Indy 500 champion, the key is to keep the momentum going from the weekend’s big win deep into the season — and turning casual bettors into hardcore players.

“There will be a lot of people going to the races. But the kind of people who go to the races do it for entertainment,” Benson said. “It’s less of a betting audience than other people who attend sporting events. I feel like people who go to a baseball game or a basketball game are a lot more willing to bet on the game than people who go to an auto race.”

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

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

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