For the first time in 41 years, Las Vegas is more focused on cars than cards.
With some 100,000 gear heads and jet setters expected to flood Sin City this week for its first Formula One Grand Prix since 1982, it will be the blindingly fast automobiles that garner the attention. Yet many locals will be unable to see beyond the unrelenting gridlock wrought by months of race-related preparations and construction.
After Saturday night’s race was announced a year ago, room and ticket prices soared to unprecedented levels. But they’ve since come crashing back to earth, leaving some to wonder whether F1’s most hotly anticipated race in years will come anywhere close to meeting expectations.
“Being billed as the showpiece Grand Prix of the season, it has a lot of hype to live up to,” Adam Varey, Betfred’s head trader, told Sports Handle. “Many locals are questioning if it is worth the months of inconvenience caused. For those just turning up for the week of the race, I’m sure it’s going to be a spectacular event to attend in-person. For the millions watching from home, they’re not going to experience the fanfare of the event and it’s just another street circuit with a lot of straights.”
“The traffic issues — the locals have their opinion,” added Caesars Sportsbook’s assistant director of trading, Adam Pullen. “But to see Formula One cars racing down the Las Vegas Strip is going to be a sight.”
Indeed, it will be quite the visual experience witnessing the world’s fastest cars whiz by some of its most iconic casinos on a street course that will be tested for the first time. Whether such newness will increase the chances of an upset is open to debate. Max Verstappen has won 17 of 20 races this year in the most dominant individual campaign in F1 history, and he’s been priced at -225 (Caesars) to claim his 18th victory in Vegas.
“I think the fact that Vegas is a street race increases the chance of an upset,” said Daniel Gustafsson, Kambi’s lead F1 analyst. (Kambi powers BetRivers Sportsbook, among others.)
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Pullen, however, is less certain, saying, “In theory, a new track that nobody has raced on is going to lead to more uncertainty, but they race street courses all the time. These guys are the most skilled drivers in the world and are used to it.”
Pole takes on heightened importance
Gustafsson expects the Vegas Grand Prix to be “a fantastic show,” but he warns that “the spoiler would be Max Verstappen dominating totally.”
That statement could be applied to any F1 race over the past two seasons, forcing sports bettors to turn to more creative wagers to improve their potential reward. Fortunately, sportsbooks have responded by offering a “to win without Verstappen” market, where McLaren’s Lando Norris is a 240 favorite at Betfred to finish second, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc ( 360 at Caesars) the consensus next driver up.
Head-to-head markets are also an option. While BetRivers and Caesars pit teammates against each other, Betfred counts among its H2H offerings a matchup between Leclerc ( 100) and Sergio Perez (-120). Varey feels Perez may be racing for his seat as Red Bull contemplates whether another driver might give Verstappen more of a push if he wants to sustain his lofty standard.
Both Gustafsson and Pullen think the battle for pole position will take on heightened importance in Vegas, with the former saying, “It will be difficult to overtake on this circuit.” Here, Verstappen is a narrower favorite (-125 at Caesars) to be the fastest qualifier than he is to win the race, with Leclerc (4/1) and his Ferrari teammate, Carlos Sainz ( 650), assigned the next shortest odds to be first on the grid.
An ideal start time?
Of the three F1 races run in the U.S., none has higher expectations for generating gangbuster wagering handle than Saturday night’s showdown on the Strip.
While Gustafsson says betting interest in the Vegas Grand Prix is “on par with expectations thus far,” he’s concerned that European handle will be down due to the race’s unusual 7:30 p.m. local start time. To this end, Varey said his “expectations are not as high” as others in terms of domestic handle, as he fears the start time is too late for anyone but the “die-hard F1 fan on the East Coast.”
Pullen, however, is positively bullish on the race from a betting perspective. As of Tuesday, advance wagering with Caesars on the Vegas Grand Prix had almost doubled the total amount bet on its Miami counterpart.
“It’s gonna be the highest handle by a long ways compared to the others,” said Pullen, whose sportsbook began offering futures markets on the race a year in advance. “With it being here in Las Vegas, it’s gonna set records that are unlikely to be topped unless by other future Vegas races.”
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