In this first year of Academy Awards betting being offered legally at regulated sportsbooks in New Jersey, it feels like more podcast space than ever has been devoted to the odds and picking winners. And it has become abundantly clear that it’s much easier to preview the Oscars betting with the written word than with the spoken word.
That’s because it’s nearly impossible to distinguish orally between The Favourite, a movie tied for the lead with 10 nominations, and “the favorite” in any given category.
(Further complicating matters, the hosts of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour Oscars preview episode that posted this morning struggled in the Best Supporting Actress category to communicate clearly whether they were talking about The Favourite nominee Rachel Weisz or the movie Vice, for which Amy Adams is nominated, because “Weisz” and “Vice” are pronounced identically. But neither the nominee from Vice nor either of the two nominees from The Favourite are the favorite to win. That would be If Beale Street Could Talk’s Regina King, who’s expected to be crowned queen of this category. But just to be clear, King’s movie isn’t about a queen. That’s The Favourite, in which Best Actress nominee Olivia Colman plays the Queen. No, not that Queen. You’re thinking of Bohemian Rhapsody.)
You get the point. It’s a confusing Oscars to talk about. But it might be a fun Oscars to bet.
Will an underdog prevail?
In each of the major categories this year, there’s a clear betting favorite. The odds vary from book to book, but wherever you’re looking, someone or something is -225 or higher in Best Picture, Best Director, and the four acting categories.
The closest you’ll find to a tossup race is Best Original Score, where If Beale Street Could Talk is -170 at FanDuel Sportsbook, and Black Panther is +240.
Big upsets happen at the Oscars — though you shouldn’t believe everything you read and hear on that front, as revisionist history tends to skew the conversation. For example, 1994’s Forrest Gump winning over Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption is routinely referred to as an “upset,” when in reality, heading into the awards show in March 1995, Gump was nearly every expert’s prediction to take home the statuette. Just because something has become an increasingly unpopular choice over time doesn’t mean it wasn’t the expected choice in the moment.
But real upsets do happen. Think lightly regarded Marisa Tomei winning Best Supporting Actress in ’93 for My Cousin Vinny over a largely veteran field including Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Plowright. Or Rocky, not just a movie about an underdog but an actual underdog on awards night, beating Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President’s Men in March 1977.
Roberto Benigni winning for Life Is Beautiful was an upset. Crash beating Brokeback Mountain was an upset. Just two years ago, a Best Picture announcement remembered for Warren Beatty holding the wrong envelope was in fact an upset; La La Land was favored at the sportsbooks taking action at the time, while Moonlight was the second most likely to win at about +350.
It’s tempting to put money on an underdog or two this year. The payouts in New Jersey will be limited, though. For obvious reasons of integrity, the maximum win on any Oscars bet at any of the state’s regulated books is $1,000. The overriding idea, when taking bets on an event where the outcomes are determined by voting and in fact have already been determined, is to keep it fun.
Best Picture odds
Here’s a look at the odds on the eight Best Picture nominees at four prominent online sportsbooks, as of Friday morning:
|A Star Is Born||+4000||+5000||+4000||+2000|
It’s interesting to note how much variation there is after the top two, and how far a little odds shopping will get you before you plunk money down on an underdog.
You like Bohemian Rhapsody? You can get almost twice as much bang for your buck at DraftKings Sportsbook as you can at FanDuel, where the messy Freddie Mercury biopic has the third shortest odds. Prefer The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman, or A Star Is Born? Do the deed at FanDuel. PointsBet is the best place to bet on Green Book, but far and away the worst place to back A Star Is Born.
At least one thing is certain: Vice has no chance. The Dick Cheney biopic is 100/1 everywhere.
The odds movement at the top has been interesting to track. Roma opened as a slight favorite, in the -200 range, before jumping to -400 or so after it won at the BAFTAs. Over the past week, it’s been sinking back down, while Green Book — in the +350 range last week — has been gaining momentum.
How are people betting?
DraftKings shared data on Wednesday indicating how the public had been betting so far on its site. Director of Sportsbook Operations Johnny Avello downplayed in an interview with SportsHandle’s Brett Smiley the Oscars action as “not earth-shattering” so far, but there are some clear trends.
Best Picture is easily the most popular category; 84.39% of the bets through Wednesday had been placed on that award.
But the favorites aren’t drawing the money. Only 5.67% of the bets are on Roma. The leaders are A Star Is Born (24.53%), Black Panther (18.15%), and Bohemian Rhapsody (18.11%). Those just happen to be, by a massive margin, the three biggest moneymakers among the nominees.
Simply put, we’re seeing very public money come out and bet the movies people saw and liked.
Following right in line, Bradley Cooper is the most popular bet for Best Actor and Lady Gaga is the most popular bet for Best Actress. And Spike Lee, the name everybody knows among the Best Director nominees, has drawn a whopping 72.85% of the bets in that category. Only 5.71% have put money on Roma’s Alfonso Cuaron, who’s considered by experts to be a near-lock to win.
Boosts and promos
Here’s a not-so-fun fact about betting the Oscars during this somewhat experimental period in New Jersey: You can’t parlay picks together at any of the sites. Even if they seem unrelated — why should Roma winning Best Picture and Melissa McCarthy capturing Best Actress have anything to do with one another? — you can’t combine them into one bet.
But several of the sportsbooks are offering specials and odds boosts, some of which make parlays for you.
The latest odds boost on DraftKings is a parlay of three solid favorites: Roma for Best Picture, Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek for Best Actor, and The Wife’s Glenn Close for Best Actress, which should pay -141, but as of Friday morning, was being offered at -110.
BetStars is loaded with specials, many of which are parlays of sorts:
- Roma to win 4 or more awards: 1/2
- A Star Is Born to win 2 or more awards: 27/20
- Any actress from The Favourite to win an acting award: 8/5
- Regina King NOT to win: 19/10
- Rami Malek NOT to win: 17/4
- Roma NOT to win: 13/8
- Glenn Close NOT to win: 4/1
- Roma/Malek/Close/King parlay: 6/4
- A Star Is Born to win 1 or fewer Oscars: 11/20
- Bradley Cooper or Lady Gaga to win an acting award: 10/1
PointsBet has gone with a different route, offering a specific new odds boost each day of the week. In all cases so far, the boost has been offered on the top underdog in a category (Green Book, Christian Bale, etc.).
What does the future hold?
These Academy Awards at the New Jersey sportsbooks are a significant test case.
Nevada has never allowed betting on awards shows at casinos; perhaps that will change if all goes smoothly in the Garden State on Sunday night. And that applies to all states that have legalized sports betting, really.
Then there’s the question of what other non-sports betting might be coming next. A less mainstream awards show like the ESPYs? A reality show that the public votes on? Maybe, just maybe, the granddaddy of ’em all, the 2020 presidential election?
Most insiders are skeptical about that last possibility. But that’s a little ways off anyway. For now, we’ll watch to see if New Jersey can get through one Oscars ceremony without a hint of scandal or controversy.
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