Oscars Betting Returns To NJ, And DraftKings Oddsmaker Is No Stranger To The Game


When New Jersey elected last year to become a pioneer in permitting legal, regulated sports betting operators in the state to offer wagering on The Academy Awards, it seemed like it might be a challenge for sports-minded bookmakers to adjust to the Hollywood scene.

But DraftKings bookmaker Johnny Avello — a legend in Las Vegas circles — already had plenty of practice.

“I’ve done a lot of research on the Oscars over the last 25 years, and I would offer odds on the categories just for entertainment purposes,” Avello told NJ Online Gambling.

Well, DraftKings is back this year with another full slate of 22 categories for the Feb. 9 Oscars, going far beyond the “Big Six” of Best Picture, Best Director, and the four acting awards.

Indiana is joining New Jersey after approving Oscars betting last week, though it’s not yet clear if the Hoosier State will allow wagering beyond those six categories.

Oscars betting not for every state — or operator

Nevada again plans to sit out the Academy Awards, which does not surprise Avello.

“They have been good about allowing bets such as Super Bowl MVP or the Heisman Trophy Award, but the regulators there have requirements about most wagering being about what happens on a playing field,” Avello said.

Also sitting out is Pennsylvania, the largest U.S. state so far to go all-in on sports betting.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach told my colleague Gary Rotstein of Penn Bets: “The operators in Pennsylvania are aware that the Gaming Act prohibits those types of wagers, and states that wagers can only be placed on professional or collegiate athletic events.”

One complication in New Jersey is that Oscars wagering is not permitted as a part of the sports betting vertical, but rather by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement as an online casino game. That means that PointsBet, for example — a major player in sports betting with a partnership with the Meadowlands Racetrack — can’t “play” again this year because it lacks an online casino partner.

FanDuel, which has an online casino partnership with Betfair, offered Oscars betting last year, so it might do so again next month. The same goes for most of the more than a dozen mobile betting apps in the state, many of which also offered betting on the major categories last year.

The largest wager allowed in New Jersey on an Academy Award bet is $1,000 — far below the occasional million-dollar bet on sporting events. Does this mean there are “sharps” on the Oscars?

“There are sharps everywhere — sports, horse racing, Academy Awards,” Avello said.

Heavy favorites abound again in 2020

Avello added that the main awards “seem to be chalky,” meaning that favorites do very well. But he reminded us that last year, Roma, which he didn’t care for, was the favorite for Best Picture. Instead Green Book — listed as high as +450 early in the betting period — captured the big prize. That was fine with Avello, who preferred that movie.

The heavy favorite this year is the World War I movie 1917 at -278, per DraftKings odds as of Sunday night. That is followed by Parasite at +350, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood at +550, Joker at +1400, The Irishman at +5000, three movies at +10000 (Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, and Marriage Story), and one (Ford v Ferrari) at +250000.

All of other major categories have even more “chalky” favorites:

  • Best Director: Sam Mendes, 1917, -670
  • Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker, -3335
  • Best Actress: Renee Zellweger, Judy, -2500
  • Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, -2500
  • Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Marriage Story, -2500

The biggest chalk of all is Parasite for Best International Feature Film at -10000.

Those diverse odds tend to make one tempted to try for a longshot, and Avello said that’s what happened last year as “nobody wants to make a big bet for a small payout.”

“Last year a lot of people took a chance on A Star is Born, with Lady Gaga,” Avello said.

“The biggest surprise last year was how many females opened accounts, being first-time users specifically to try [Oscars betting],” Avello added.

That’s a big plus for DraftKings and other sportsbooks offering Oscars betting. Even if these are new customers who won’t gravitate to sports betting or daily fantasy sports, they may find online casino gaming — which has very favorable margins for the house — appealing.

‘Oscar buzz’ extended to betting last year

A stir was created last year when, apparently based on rumors spread on social media, a longshot for Best Director suddenly attracted relatively large wagers in New Jersey in the hours before the winner was named.

Yorgis Lanthimos, who directed The Favourite, was as high as +4000 on the morning of The Oscars, went to +1600 in the afternoon, and closed as low as +300 on some New Jersey betting apps while the category was taken off the board on others.

In the end, heavy favorite Alfonso Cuaron won for Roma.

The tumultuous moves didn’t faze Avello, who said, “It happens in sports every day. Suddenly everyone is betting Villanova +2 in college basketball, for example.”

Did Avello ever imagine those decades of analyzing Oscars categories as a hobby would lead to real, legal wagering?

“It’s not that much of a surprise to me, but it is refreshing,” Avello said. “New Jersey is aggressive, but in a smart way. I’m just happy this has all come to fruition.”

Some bettors may have a good feeling about a top film, maybe pairing Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood‘s Quentin Tarantino for Best Director (+1200) with Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor (+3300) in search of a huge parlay score.

But Avello said DraftKings isn’t going there just yet.

“That’s another bet, for another time,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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