Khaleesi Money: Thrones Got Expected Win, But A Few Underdogs Paid Off In Emmys Betting

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Bet with your head or bet with your heart?

To succeed with wagering on the 2019 Emmy Awards that took place on Sunday night, available legally in New Jersey at DraftKings Sportsbook and Play SugarHouse (both of which used the same opening odds since they’re both powered by Kambi), you needed to do a bit of both.

In the two marquee categories, Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series, there was a beloved long-running HBO show viewed as the clear betting favorite in its final season facing challenges from a handful of series making noise in their first or second seasons.

If you bet with your heart and wagered on the best show (a matter of opinion, we realize), you went one for two. If you bet with your head and wagered on the favorite, you got the same outcome.

Assuming static betting amounts, though, it was those heart bettors who saw positive return on their investments.

A tale of two retiring champions

For Drama, the favorite was Game of Thrones, which opened at -670 when it was announced on Friday, just two days before the ceremony, that this not-so-sports-y form of sports betting would be available. Never mind that fans and critics alike were largely disappointed in the last season of GoT, which rushed along at a breakneck pace, plot holes and character development be damned, culminating in a finale that earned the show its lowest IMDB user rating ever, a dreadful 4.2 out of 10.

Thrones, with the power of the HBO promotional machine behind it, was being given this unofficial lifetime achievement award, and everybody seemed to know it. By Saturday night, the odds had moved all the way to -1000.

Fellow HBO series Succession, despite a debut season that earned it plenty of “best show on TV” buzz, was written off as a +5000 longshot (a bit of action moved it to +3300). Killing Eve and Ozark were considered slightly more live ’dogs, but neither show was as well-received in its second season as in its first. GoT, on the other hand, was impervious with Emmy voters to complaints about the quality, so it closed the awards broadcast with its fourth Best Drama triumph.

On the Comedy side, Veep was trying for its fourth win in the category in its final season, and opened as the favorite at +100. Bettors, however, sniffed out a potential upset. By Saturday night, Veep dipped slightly to +125, while the sophomore seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Barry, and Fleabag gained minor steam.

In the end it was the BBC series Fleabag, the “you must watch this!” word-of-mouth TV sensation of 2019, that opened at +650, dropped to +550, and took the award. Ironically given the GoT situation, Veep had a strong final season and delivered a universally praised finale. But the Emmy voters saw fit to reward the upstart over the incumbent here.

Minimal fanfare

When Oscars betting became available in New Jersey back in February, it was a big deal, with numerous sportsbooks offering markets, much attention being paid, and enough run-up provided to allow for odds boosts and other such promotions.

Emmys betting flew much more under the radar. DraftKings shared the news late on Friday, traditionally a time for dumping news quietly as writers and readers slip into weekend mode. DK Sportsbook tweeted once about the offering on Friday:

But the Twitter account was silent about the Emmys otherwise, instead focusing — understandably — on the backbone of any American sports betting business, football.

It seems reasonable to assume the Emmys weren’t generating wild amounts of handle over the weekend. (DraftKings wasn’t able to make figures available to NJ Online Gambling before our publication deadline.) With considerable more publicity and lead time, the Oscars produced $750k worth of bets and, with a stunning 24.4% hold, nearly $200k in revenue for the sites.

Not only was the window to bet on the Emmys limited — the odds came off the board sometime Sunday — but the amounts were limited also. The max win was capped at $1k. It’s not exactly betting “for entertainment purposes only,” but it kept Emmys wagering a casual gambler’s game.

And that’s probably how the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement wanted it after a minor controversy crept into the Oscars experiment. Late money on longshot Best Director nominee Yorgos Lanthimos, spurred by either a real-but-inaccurate or flat-out-fake leak, brought into question the wisdom in allowing betting on outcomes not determined on the field of play. The fact that the DGE permitted Emmys betting suggests the folks there weren’t overly concerned by the Lanthimos oddity. Then again, maybe there was an agreement with DraftKings and SugarHouse to the effect of, “OK, you can offer these Emmy bets, but let’s keep it low-key this time and see how it goes.”

In the ’bag

In nine of the 12 categories offered for betting in New Jersey, the favorites prevailed. The only underdogs to win were the aforementioned Fleabag series win, Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge ending Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ stranglehold on Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, and Jodie Comer of Killing Eve (another show created by Waller-Bridge) claiming Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama.

The latter of those made perfect sense to fans of Killing Eve. Comer’s performance carried the show in its second season, yet for some reason she opened as only the third favorite at +600, while her co-star Sandra Oh — also excellent in her role, though not nearly as scene-stealingly dynamic as Comer — was the -335 favorite. Oh moved to -278 by Saturday night and Comer closed to +500, and her backers were rewarded.

The more stunning upset was Waller-Bridge’s acting award, given that Louis-Dreyfus had won for all six previous seasons of Veep, had the final-season narrative in her favor, and even carried a personal narrative due to recent cancer treatments. JLD started at -500 and was still -400 on Saturday evening. Waller-Bridge began at +800 and moved to +500 before snagging the unexpected award.

In-game betting on the Emmys would have been fascinating, as Fleabag’s march through early awards for writing and directing made the acting upset feel more possible, and once Waller-Bridge took that trophy, an Outstanding Comedy Series win for Fleabag seemed downright inevitable. Had live betting been available, the British show would likely have been minus-money as 8 p.m. approached in Hollywood.

The online sportsbooks, however, removed all odds before the ceremony began.

The outlook from here

Given the lack of controversy on the night, it seems likely that awards show betting will continue in New Jersey, presumably with similar wagering limits.

Don’t expect an expansion into betting on plots of shows at regulated sportsbooks anytime soon. But with several states having gone online since this year’s Oscars, we’d guess the 2020 Academy Awards will be available in at least one or two other jurisdictions besides New Jersey.

Closing with a piece of random betting advice, if DraftKings puts up 2020 Emmys odds early (spoiler: they won’t), get in on Succession for Outstanding Drama Series now. Game of Thrones is out of the way. HBO is good at winning Emmys. And, just in case the Emmy voters decide quality matters next year, the second season of Succession has been a huge success on that front.

Photo by Shutterstock.com

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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