Many Las Vegas sports books post odds on the Oscar races, from best picture to animated short. It's all in good fun as U.S. casinos prohibit wagering on entertainment events that have known outcomes, even if it's by only a handful of accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
You can, however, put down real money online at a number of sites, and in this year's wide-open Oscars race, business appears to be booming.
"We're up 20 percent from last year," says Kevin Bradley, sports book manager for Bovada, a sports betting site licensed in Canada.
Bradley puts his site's take on Oscars wagering in the "healthy" six-figure range. And some of the money coming to these legal online sites is being bet by industry professionals.
A director, who, for obvious reasons, asked not to be identified, began wagering on the Oscars in 2010 when his favorite movie, "The Hurt Locker," won Oscars for picture and director Kathryn Bigelow.
"I already had a rooting interest, and money just always makes that rooting interest all the more exciting," he says. "And, you know, football's over. Gotta bet on something."
One academy member who belongs to the producers branch bet on Jeff Bridges in 2010 when the actor won for "Crazy Heart." Because Bridges was the odds-on favorite, the producer had to gamble $1,000 to win $100.
"It was a nerve-racking experience, even though everyone said he was going to win," the producer says. His nerves weren't too frayed to prevent a judicious bet on "Argo" earlier this year, when the best picture candidate, now the category's odds-on favorite, sported the more enticing 8-1 odds to win.
Sports book managers like Bradley and Vegas' Wynn/Encore director Johnny Avello adjust their lines throughout the awards season, researching the opinions of Oscars pundits and keeping close track of precursor awards like the Golden Globes and guild contests.
The biggest movement, Avello says, has been in the best picture race, in which "Argo" has surged past "Lincoln" to become a 1-2 favorite to win.
"Four score and seven weeks ago, everybody was betting 'Lincoln,'" says Avello, who clearly has spent some time listening to the comics in his casino's showrooms. "Now, nobody. It's all 'Argo.'"
The surest winners, according to Bovada's Bradley, are Day-Lewis in the lead actor race, Anne Hathaway in supporting actress for "Les Miserables" and "Amour" for foreign-language feature. All come in at 1 to 50, meaning that you'd need to wager $500 to make just $10.
"And we're still getting money on those, especially Day-Lewis," Bradley says. When informed that Vegas has the "Lincoln" actor at a mere 1 to 9, he whistles in amazement.
"We'd get killed on that," he says.
But, as noted, the Nevada sports books place the odds on the boards simply for show.
Avello goes well beyond awards shows, laying odds on reality programming like "The Bachelor" (Catherine is the current favorite) to the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. (Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola sits as the 7-2 front-runner.)
"We had a guy the other day walk up to a window, wanting to bet on the Westminster dog show," Avello says. "Problem was he had last year's form and, even at that, he wanted to bet on a dog that had no chance to win. It'd be like betting on that little girl (Quvenzhane Wallis) from 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.'"
Who, in case you're interested, comes in at 40 to 1 in the lead actress race.
Best picture odds
"Argo" 1 to 2
"Lincoln" 9 to 5
"Les Miserables" 30 to 1
"Silver Linings Playbook" 35 to 1
"Zero Dark Thirty" 40 to 1
"Amour" 75 to 1
"Life of Pi" 100 to 1
"Django Unchained" 125 to 1
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" 250 to 1
Source: Wynn / Encore
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