G2E: Danica Patrick never bet on auto racing, but says wagering increases fan engagement

October 17, 2019 10:00 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
October 17, 2019 10:00 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

Former race car driver Danica Patrick admitted to an audience at the Global Gaming Expo Thursday that she never wagered on the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, or any other professional racing event.

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That was likely a good thing.

“It probably would have been illegal,” Patrick said.

Patrick retired from racing in 2018 after breaking down generational and gender barriers in both NASCAR and the Indy Car Series. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision that opened the U.S. to legal and regulated sports wagering.

Since that ruling, professional sports leagues have embraced the activity, including NASCAR.

During the morning keynote session on the final day of the gaming industry’s largest tradeshow and conference at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, Patrick said sports wager could have a positive impact on fan engagement with auto racing.

Unlike team sports, where most fans are drawn to supporting and rooting for a hometown team, auto racing is an individual sport and fans connect with certain drivers.

“It makes it more fun for the viewers and gives you a reason to cheer for (someone),” Patrick said. “Racing is different. If you live in Green Bay, you’re a Packers fan. I think with racing, (sports betting) might give you a reason to cheer for someone.”

Patrick, who was questioned during the hour-long session by Bo Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said an auto race offers numerous opportunities to engage the sports wagering crowd. Many races attract more than 40 drivers and can last as many as 500 laps.

“There is everything from the biggest mover (from a low starting position to a high spot in the race) to lap leaders,” Patrick said. She added that NASCAR’s recent change to segment races also plays to the sports betting audience.

“It’s made the segments meaningful. Who’s leading at lap 100, who’s leading at lap 500? There are a lot of opportunities for betting strategy,” Patrick said.

At one point in the discussion, she might have alerted the integrity side of both the racing and wagering crowds.

“In stock car racing everybody is cheating on some level,” Patrick said. “How do you manipulate the bodywork, for example. There is so much going on behind the scene.”

Patrick stunned the racing world in 2005 by leading 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first Indianapolis 500. She became the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the historic race.

Three years later, she became the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race in a North American series with her victory in the IndyCar Series’ Indy Japan 300 race.

She transitioned to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2013 and had a record-setting performance at the 55th Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole position with the fastest qualifying time. She finished the race in eighth place.

Patrick currently hosts a podcast series, Pretty Intense, which aims to discover how to untap the human potential to live your best life. She became a role model to young women when she began her racing career but was a little uncertain of her impact at the time.

“I was 23 and driving Indy cars. I was just a kid,” she said. “It was an honor to be a role model and inspire. I still want to inspire people.”

In addition to her podcast, Patrick owns the Somnium Vineyard in Napa Valley, California, and is working on another book. She released a memoir, Danica: Crossing the Line, in 2007, and a health and wellness book, also called Pretty Intense, in 2017.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgamingreports.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.