PlayUSA’s ‘On The Record:’ A Cinema Expert On 2020 Academy Awards Betting

Written By Nicholaus Garcia on January 23, 2020 - Last Updated on May 6, 2022

I’ve always had a fascination with movies. Growing up in a small West Texas town, you spent Saturday night at a movie complex with only six screens. You arrived early to claim the best seat, grabbed some popcorn, a drink, and enjoyed the next two hours.

Now, with the legalization of sports betting across the US, you could say my film obsession is becoming more entwined with the daily fabric of my other vice — sports. In 2019, gaming regulators in New Jersey gave sportsbooks the go-ahead to accept wagers on the Oscars. The closest sportsbook to the south side of Chicago was 820 miles away in Atlantic City. However, since the rapid spread of legal betting, things have changed.

This year, Indiana has been granted permission to allow wagering on the 92nd Academy Awards, which arrives Sunday, Feb. 9.

My curiosity sent me on the hunt down for a film expert. Someone who could provide their perspective on this new type of betting. What better place to begin my search than my own backyard?

A conversation about Oscar betting with a cinema expert

I reached out to Tom Fraterrigo, a Professor of Instruction at Columbia College Chicago in the Department of Cinema and Television Arts. Fraterrigo has a list of credentials a mile long, so I was very fortunate when he called late Wednesday afternoon to provide a few thoughts on the subject.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Broadly speaking, what’s your opinion on wagering on the Academy Awards?
I’m fine with it. I know we don’t do it in this country, but I’m fascinated with the overseas sportsbooks and who they have winning political elections. So if [elections] are up for grabs overseas, I don’t think something as trivial as an awards show shouldn’t be up for wagering as well. So I don’t have a problem with it.

Does something like betting on the Oscars diminish the art form?
No, I don’t think it does. Cinema began early on as cheap entertainment for the masses and then evolved into an art form throughout cinema history. So I think the two can coexist.

Can someone who studies film gain a competitive advantage when it comes to betting?
I know film, I study film, I teach film, so I may have an advantage in terms of historical context, but I can tell you numerous times where perhaps my judgment would have been clouded by my knowledge of the art form. Over the years, there were certain films that I was shocked they didn’t win, and I probably would have wagered on them and lost.

What’s an example of such a situation?
In 1980, Martin Scorsese’s film Raging Bull was up for Best Picture, and it didn’t win. It was Robert Redford’s film, Ordinary People. That year, Redford won Best Picture and Best Director. Now, [Ordinary People] was a really good film and it was one of the best films of 1980. But in my opinion, and if you look at the AFI top-100 or other polls of great American films, Raging Bull is around the 4th greatest film ever made, and it didn’t win Best Picture that year and Scorsese didn’t win Best Director. I would have bet everything on those things at the time. So I don’t know if there would have been an advantage to someone in cinema education.

Is there any advice you can give to someone looking to place a bet on a film this year?
Bettors beware — because the voting that takes place with the academy members, they don’t necessarily screen all the films in their category that they are supposed to vote on. An example, a couple of years ago when Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Phantom Thread came out, that year Jennifer Lawrence, who is a voting member, said she turned off the movie after three minutes. The process itself is somewhat questionable.

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Will the award betting trend spread?

DraftKings and FoxBet are the only two sports betting operators providing Oscar odds so far. This week, Indiana, which has two sportsbooks in close proximity to Chicago, became the second state to allow wagering on these prestigious awards.

The driving factor is the clout DraftKings has in the betting industry. Just look at New Jersey, where they dominate the space and over 80% of wagers are placed on a mobile device. Pivot to the midwest where Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Illinois (which in my opinion will become the future gambling mecca of the US) are all slowly starting to get sports betting up and running. Oscars betting will go as far as DraftKings’ reach, which in this case appears to be unlimited.

Money aside, if the second year of wagering on the Academy Awards is a hit — meaning people enjoy it and want to do it again — then I expect it to spread. But like Fraterrigo said, overseas books wager on political outcomes, what’s the harm in placing a bet on the film 1917 to win Best Picture?

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Nicholaus Garcia

Nick has had stints in Chicago and Washington, D.C., writing about politics, financial markets, and sports betting. He graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

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