I did, too. I hopped a plane on Feb. 6 and started planning out my bets. I took a day, bet around $800 across various categories, then headed home before the weekend.
Now, I am watching from Nevada as the lines move more and more, and all I can think is, “maybe I should go back?”
Sharp bettors will want early lines
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar nominees on Jan. 17. Oscars betting did not begin until the first week of February. In that time, several other film awards handed out honors, including:
- Producers Guild Awards
- Directors Guild Awards
- Screen Actors Guild Awards
Had New Jersey released odds a couple days after nominations, we would have seen a lot of line movement in that period. Even more so than usual because each guild picked a different winner.
Green Book won the Producers Guild honor two days after the Oscars announcement. It is fair to suggest the film, which had its critics, would have been a slight favorite given it also won at the Golden Globes. It would be a full two weeks before DGA backed Roma director Alfonso Cuaron, cementing its status as the movie to beat.
By the time I got to New Jersey, the only major awards left were the British Academy of Film and Television Awards and the Writers Guild Awards. While there were a couple of spots to pick up some value, most of the lines were getting pretty close to set.
Now that voting is closed and info is coming out about ballots, the lines are all over the place once again. Additionally, the interest in betting on the event is picking up, which means some public money is dictating some of the movement.
The favorites just keep getting pricier
In three of the four acting categories, the price just keeps getting steeper for the frontrunners in the category. Justifiably so, too. Rami Malek, Glenn Close, and Mahershelah Ali are all very likely to win their respective categories.
At one point, you could get Ali for as low as -430. Now that all the awards are in the books, his cheapest price is at -1200 at FanDuel Sportsbook. Some other books even have him as high as -3335.
Once upon a time, Close was also available at -450, but her price range is now -600 up to -1000 at PointsBet.
Malek may seem cheap by comparison, were it not for the fact he was available at -210 two weeks ago. Now his price ranges from -550 to -700.
Even the already expensive Best Director favorite Cuaron is commanding upwards of -5000.
Regina King and the rest of the Best Supporting Actress contenders haven’t shifted much. Rachel Weisz did lose some value after winning in Britain, but other than that, things remain the same in a difficult to forecast category.
Late odds boosts and special bets are great value
One thing I really hate to be missing out on are the promos. DraftKings Sportsbook’s Best Picture 100-1 odds boost allows new bettors to but $5 down on a Best Picture contender. If you pick the right one, you get a $500 return.
Several other sportsbooks are offering parlays of some of the favorites, such as Close and King to both win. You can also bet things like Roma not to win Best Picture. These are definitely the best-value spots I see in the major categories and wish I could be taking advantage of them right now.
Best Picture getting some public money influence
This is where things get really interesting. Actors kept picking up awards, so their prices kept rising. Meanwhile, Best Picture frontrunner Roma is winning just as much, but getting cheaper and cheaper.
The contender surged from a price of -182 into the -400s, only to bounce back this week.
DraftKings Sportbook reported that three of its five most popular bets are on Best Picture contenders besides Roma. Unfortunately for bettors, they are much less likely to win.
Casual bettors are backing A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Black Panther. Two of these three are both huge longshots, but you’ll notice that Bohemian Rhapsody is dropping from +3000 to the high teens. A Star is Born prices are staying fairly static in the +4000 range.
The two biggest movers? Roma and Green Book. Roma is now trending towards -200, its lowest price since odds first came out.
Bettors seem to be doing what Oscars prognosticators are. Trying to come up with every reason why the little-seen Roma won’t win. This, even though there are more and more indicators it will.
Meanwhile, Green Book is surging. The old-fashioned film about racial tolerance in the 1960s was in the +400 range but is now about +250 at most books.
Here’s why this is particularly interesting. Many ballots released to the public have love for Green Book. However, it is relatively unprecedented for a movie in the modern era to win Best Picture without winning at least two other Oscars. So, if Green Book’s Best Picture odds are going down, arguably another category should be getting cheaper too. But Viggo Mortensen for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, their best shots at another win, are not budging.
Bottom line — It is an unprecedented year, but these late movements aren’t signs they are more likely to win. They are moving because casual money is coming in. Place your bets accordingly.
Oscars Best Picture Betting Odds
|A Star Is Born||+3300||+3100||+4000||+3300|
Even though Las Vegas casinos still don’t take bets on the Oscars, there is one Vegas name that comes to mind when it comes to Academy Award wagering — Johnny Avello.
Thanks to the Department of Gaming Enforcement, Avello gets to take Oscars bets for real this year. To him, this is just the beginning of a world of possibilities for New Jersey bettors.
How to handicap the Oscars
Avello learned the Oscars trade from another sports betting legend, Lenny Del Genio. Del Genio used to appear on major shows like Good Morning, America to talk movie betting. He passed the trade on to Avello.
The trick to setting the lines, according to Avello, is to not focus on the movies. It may sound counterintuitive, but it is true.
“I’ve always felt like you have to handicap the Academy and not the movies,” Avello told TheLines. This year, a great example of that is how he is capping BlackKklansman and Spike Lee’s shot at Best Director:
“Maybe they go a way where Spike Lee, who has kind of been shunned for a long time, is not going to win director because Cuaron won the Director’s Guild. When you win that, you are in 90 percent good shape. But, if they want to award [Lee], maybe BlackKklansman is a movie that could be a surprise.”
Meanwhile, he is already writing off The Favourite, A Star is Born, and Vice. As he explained, there is just not enough support for these movies as great films.
Adapting to new Academy membership
While Avello knows the Academy’s history, he does have to adjust and adapt each year. Since the #OscarsSoWhite protest a couple of years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have taken measures to expand membership. The goal is to bring in a number of international and younger, more diverse members. Last year, 928 people were added to the group.
The voting group is growing, but so far, Avello isn’t seeing much drastic change. He did say last year he started to see the tides turning. He is doing his best to adjust accordingly.
“I look at certain areas where I think the new group has a different thought process than the older group,” he said.
Bringing the Oscars to NJ
Avello never got to set lines in Nevada, but it recently came to light that the Nevada Gaming Commission did give casinos the option to try last year. Former NGC Chairwoman Becky Harris told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that regulators opened the door to Oscars betting last year, but no operators bit.
You would think Avello was the one leading the charge to bring Oscars to the Garden State, but that is not the case. He admitted it wasn’t his doing, but he is happy it happened:
“We have a team back in Jersey who proposed it to the gaming board there. They gave us the go ahead and I was very glad to have it happen…It was great to see they were willing to let us do something like this.”
When news broke that books were taking Oscars bets, there were some questions about protecting the integrity of the awards as well as collusion. Avello, though, is not worried at all.
“Everything is on the up and up because we are competing for an Oscar here,” he pointed out.
NJ books are limiting their Oscar exposure
Another reason not to worry about collusion is that Avello and others are being very careful about how much money they take on these bets.
“You want to keep the limits so you don’t get too strung out. Because the limit on this is like $1,000, that is how much you can bet. If you bet $100 on a 1-5, you can win $200. If you bet a 4-1 shot, you win $4,000. You’re not betting on a basketball game, so the limits are lower. You want to keep it so no one gets hurt on it, us or the players.”
Early in the betting period, it looked like DraftKings was going to be the most conservative of all. Best Picture bets were limited to the point bettors could only profit around $100. Avello assured us it was a technical issue they have since fixed.
“All this wagering was new to our system,” he said. “So we were trying to figure out how our system could take a bet while staying within the exposure.”
Now, there is much more value in Best Picture. DraftKings is offering an odds boost for a $5 bet on any nominee at 100-1 odds.
Books also set very steep lines on some of the categories that are foregone conclusions. Avello cited Best Supporting Actor and Best Director as two categories he considers near-locks. Just because a nominee is favored in other categories does not mean there are no value spots.
“I know and you probably know that there are some pretty significant favorites every year. The ones that really high priced usually get there, but not all the 1-2s and 2-4s do.”
Avello didn’t offer too much in the way of picks, though he did have a personal favorite among this year’s crop of films. As an Italian-American, he did not love the Italian accents, but he still really enjoyed Green Book.
Early betting coming in on the crowd pleasers
There has been some money coming in on Green Book early, according to data from DraftKings. So far, 12.56 percent of Best Picture wagers are on the old-fashioned film. Meanwhile, the favorite, the little-seen Roma, is just getting around 5 percent of bets.
Avello warned A Star Is Born stands little chance of winning, but that is not stopping bettors from picking the film for an upset in several categories. In fact, three of the five most popular bets involve the remake:
- A Star Is Born to win Best Picture
- Black Panther to win Best Picture
- Bohemian Rhapsody to win Best Picture
- Lady Gaga to win Best Actress
- Bradley Cooper to win Best Actor
It’s just a testament to how good Avello is at Oscars betting. He sets the lines and manages to get action in categories where the picks are massive longshots to win. Now all he has to do is get through Oscars night without too many crazy upsets.
In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made several big changes to the category Best Picture. Most people remember that the field expanded from five films to up to 10 films.
The nomination process features several new wrinkles, but it is the ballot for final Oscar voting that really changed things up. If you plan on betting on the Oscars at one of the New Jersey sportsbooks, you’ll want to know how this ballot works. More importantly, you’ll want to know which films it favors.
New Best Picture rules
How can there be five to 10 films nominated, you ask? The top five films automatically make the cut. Any movies that generate more than 5 percent of nomination balloting get a spot as well. That is unless there are more than 10, in which case the top 10 vote-getters get in. If there are only six movies with more than 5 percent of the vote, there are only six nominees.
When it comes to final Oscars voting, which started this week, the Best Picture race uses what is called a preferential ballot. Here is what that entails:
- Each one of the more than 7,000 members of the Academy ranks the eight nominees this year in order of preference. The No. 1 pick is the voters’ favorite, while eight goes to their least favorite.
- Once ballots are in, they are sorted based on what the top choice on the ballot is. There is a Roma pile, a Vice pile, and so on. If one movie has 50 percent of the first-place votes, Price Waterhouse Cooper declares a winner and calls it a day. This rarely happens. Instead, the voting moves to the second round.
- The accountants then take the pile of the movie with the fewest first-place votes (cough cough, Vice, cough cough). They then redistribute the votes based on what is second on the ballot’s list of films. If there is no majority, they repeat the process. They remove the lowest vote-getter and redistribute.
- If the ballots in this round list Vice/the eighth-place movie as second, the accountants move down to third on the list, as that movie is out of the race.
Why does this ballot matter to bettors?
This process completely changes the way movies find a path to Best Picture. It is not as much a contest of making the most-loved movie of the year. Instead, it is about making the least-disliked film of the year. Just take a look at some recent winners, and you’ll see what I mean.
In 2010, the mundane and inoffensive The King’s Speech won Best Picture. Meanwhile, more daring movies like Inception, The Social Network, and, Black Swan came up short. While The King’s Speech was good and enjoyed by all, in hindsight, these other films have all fared better critically.
By being inoffensive though, the movie managed to sail to victory. Since then, other movies traveled a similar path to victory. The Artist was likely not the top vote-getter in the first round of balloting, but it was likely in so many top-threes, it overcame the gap to take the win.
Just last year, The Shape of Water prevailed over the beloved, but polarizing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO. Mostly because of its universal message and high-quality technical achievements had more mass appeal.
Which 2019 Oscar nominees benefit from preferential balloting?
Now for the important part: How to use this information to best bet on Best Picture.
This year, more than others, the chances there will be several rounds of voting and eliminating. Roma is the favorite, sure, but this race is more wide open than usual.
Key prognosticators go in several directions. The Producers Guild backs Green Book, while the Director’s Guild backs Roma. Meanwhile, the Golden Globes threw its weight behind Bohemian Rhapsody, while the Screen Actors Guild went with Black Panther.
Let’s start by eliminating the movies that have groups that love them and groups that loathe them:
- Green Book
- Bohemian Rhapsody
To quickly sum up why these guys stand little chance:
- Green Book is a classic-style film with a classic approach to racism that rubs many of the newer, younger Academy voters the wrong way.
- Bohemian Rhapsody producers had to fire the director Bryan Singer mid-shoot because he went off the grid and verbally abused his cast and crew. Oh, there is also the problem of Singer’s dozens of allegations of sexual assault, too.
- Vice is not out of the running for political reasons. It is just got mostly terrible reviews, indicating a large chunk of people hated it.
That leaves the following:
- Black Panther
- The Favourite
- A Star Is Born
All of these, save for Roma and Black Panther, have a solid number of people who like their movie. It is difficult to see any of them starting with a big chunk of first-place ballots though. There will be a ton of top three votes, but will that be enough? It is possible, certainly, but there are other categories where these movies will win. That might cause voters to put them in the middle of the pack rankings-wise.
Roma has serious fans, giving it the base of No. 1 votes it needs to surge to 50 percent first. However, a foreign film has never won Best Picture. A lengthy, black-and-white foreign film is just as hard of a sell now as it was in 1975. There is a chance that people understand the prestige of the film even if they did not like it themselves though. This movie probably has the head start it needs to win.
There is an intriguing Option B though.
Basically, no one dislikes Black Panther. There might be some older Academy veterans who can’t deign to rank a comic book movie very high. There are plenty more people though that will put Black Panther in their top three.
How do we know that? Because the Marvel movie won at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy, so what they are sold on stands a decent chance of winning. Plus, with the influx in membership in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, the new, more open-minded voters might use the inclusion of the box office success as a chance to make a statement that the Academy is ready to reward innovation, new voices and unexpected films.
2019 Best Picture Odds
|A Star Is Born||+3300||+3100||+4000||+3300|