Legal Oscars Betting Has Started In New Jersey, But Is It A Step Too Far?

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) has given operators permission to take legal bets on the 91st Academy Awards. This year’s annual Oscars ceremony takes place on Sunday, Feb. 24.

The DGE authorization came in response to several requests from the state’s licensed gambling businesses. The DGE wrote:

“The Division has received multiple requests to allow wagering on the 2019 Academy Awards (aka, the Oscars), which is taking place on February 24, 2019.

After reviewing the relevant information on integrity issues, the Division has determined that pre-event betting on the Oscars can be offered for this year only (highlight added).

Please let me know if you intend to offer this event and, if so, what wagers you plan to offer and what limits you intend to place on the amounts of bets.”

Very shortly after the first online NJ sites offered the first odds on the awards, the bets disappeared from apps and websites. Then, they reappeared. Currently, there are several popular NJ sportsbooks offering some kind of Oscar betting—some with only the Best Picture category, some with 24 categories. (Click here for your comprehensive guide on where, what and how to bet on the 2019 Oscars.)

This will be the first time when Americans in any state have the opportunity to bet on one of the biggest celebrity events of the year.

Although Nevada could theoretically have allowed betting on the Oscars years ago, it never actually went ahead. Presumably, the Nevada Gaming Control Board received the same requests as the DGE, but it did not accept them. Perhaps, with good reason.

Rumors of academy objections to Oscars betting

The Oscars are presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The rumor is that the Academy objected to the betting, and the DGE stepped in to broker a solution.

Film companies spend huge amounts of money promoting their pictures to the Academy members who vote. The integrity of the existing system for choosing winners is questionable at best.

Allowing betting on a contest that has enormous consequences for the revenues of the winning films is surely to risk serious integrity issues.

On the other hand, what money is wagered probably pales into insignificance beside the value of a win.

The betting operators have the best view of the risks involved. It is the companies like FanDuel, DraftKings and BetStars that stand to lose the most if there is any “match-fixing.”

To an extent, the DGE can trust their decision making in areas like this. Nonetheless, the provision that this is a one-year-only experiment shows that the regulator will be carefully overseeing the outcome.

How does anyone win an Oscar?

The members of the Academy decide the winners. Except for the Best Picture award, actors vote for the Best Actor and Best Actress, directors vote for the Best Director, and so on.

All members of the Academy will vote for the Best Picture. The voting process is preferential.

Members list films in rank order. Any film picking up more than 50 percent of first positions will automatically win the award. Of course, this is rare. More likely is that there will be subsequent rounds where second and third preferences are counted and the film scoring the least drops out.

This makes for an interesting dynamic. Films that polarize the members with lots of first places and lots of eighth places may do worse than films with fewer first places but a better mix of seconds and thirds.

Anyone laying money on the Oscars should take this into account.

Films build an awards track record

Then there is the awards track record to consider. All the films in the 2019 awards came out in 2018, and there have been several other awards ceremonies since then. Some are more predictive than others.

The Best Picture selected for the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) awards goes on to win the Oscar’s Best Picture 77 percent of the time. In other categories, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards are even more reliable. Of SAG winners in the same category:

  • 92 percent go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor
  • 75 percent win for Best Actress
  • 63 percent win for Best Supporting Actor
  • 71 percent win for Best Supporting Actress

But no matter what research bettors do, predicting the emotional factors of the academy members is a tough job.

This year may be the last chance for Spike Lee to receive the Best Director award. The problem is that his film BlackKklansman is probably not going to get Best Picture.

Only four times in history has a film won Best Picture without getting a nod for Best Director

Bettors make audiences and audiences make bettors

It’s an adage in sports betting, but the bigger the audience, the more money will follow the game. And the Oscars has a big TV audience.

The 2018 Oscars, broadcast by ABC, attracted an average of 26.5 million viewers according to Nielsen ratings. That was down 20 percent in 2017 when 32.9 million people tuned in.

This is why New Jersey operators want to get into the action.

Whatever the outcome, this will be an interesting experiment. If nothing else it shows that the DGE is open to innovation and responsive to the industry’s need.

As for bettors, the one thing that can be said for putting money on the Oscars is that it’s an excellent excuse to turn the event into a social occasion to share with friends.

Joss Wood

About

Joss Wood writes for a number of publications in the online gambling sphere. With a special focus on international markets, he writes for LegalSportsReport.com, OnlinePokerReport.com, and others. He also centers on sports betting, esports betting, and the emergent regulated US online gambling industry.