Can Will Smith and Jane Campion triumph as movie-betting chalk? That’s one variable concerning the new posting of Oscar odds, or futures, listed as Academy Awards at DraftKings Sportsbook for the eagerly-awaited March 27 event.
Smith, the popular actor who starred as the father of Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard, opened as the -280 favorite in the Best Actor category.
Campion, installed as the -400 choice in the Best Director category for Power of the Dog, hopes the betting dogs have no bark.
DraftKings posted Oscar odds for four major categories and more will be coming, along with prop bets, throughout the countdown. Twenty-three categories are expected to be represented before everything is over.
Official nominations for the Oscars won’t be announced until Feb. 8, but early wagering choices are available.
Opening Oscar odds for NJ Academy Awards betting
Here is a look at the early Oscar odds posted on the DraftKings board:
- Power of the Dog +170
- West Side Story +200
- Belfast +225
- Licorice Pizza +1400
- King Richard +1600
- Will Smith, King Richard -280
- Andrew Garfield, tick, tick BOOM! +400
- Benedict Cumberbatch, Power of the Dog +500
- Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth +1600
- Peter Dinklage, Cyrano +2000
- Jane Campion, Power of the Dog -400
- Steven Spielberg, West Side Story + 500
- Kenneth Branagh, Belfast +500
- Denis Villeneuve, Dune +900
- Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza +1400
- Kristen Stewart, Spencer -190
- Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos +350
- Rachel Zegler, West Side Story +700
- Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter +800
- Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye + 800
Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, has turned this avocation into a vocation. The long-time movie aficionado has established Oscars odds for nearly 30 years.
Most of them were pre-legalized wagering, entertainment-only enhancements for high-roller parties at the brick-and-mortar Wynn and Bally’s casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
Now, he establishes official odds for DraftKings, with ramifications for the book. New Jersey was the first state to take Oscars betting in 2019.
Here are some observations
The betting odds precede official Academy Award nominations
That’s a handicapping angle. Nominations won’t unfold until Feb. 8 It’s possible to bet on someone now who won’t be nominated. In that case, the wager loses.
So why will people bet early anyway, even with that possibility? Well, the odds will change once the nominations are announced. Moderate longshots may drift close to even money and the chalk may become unplayable.
Take a look back at the 2021 Oscar odds. Chloe Zhao, who directed Nomadland, won the Academy Award for Best Director. Know what her odds to win were at DraftKings? Try -3335.
This setup resembles a futures betting market for an MVP of a major sport or for the Kentucky Derby futures several months out. A gambler trades the risk of backing a horse that doesn’t compete in exchange for a better price well beforehand.
That means the market that may reward a Kentucky Derby winner at +4000 (40-1) in February may pay the same entry +250, or 5-2, in May.
Gamblers bet the voting habits of people they don’t know
Avello estimated there are roughly 9,000 people voting for these awards and choosing between perhaps 1,000 films that qualify for 2021.
The committee sees movies differently than most of the public.
“Movies that are nominated for Oscars, in many cases, are those a lot of people may not like,” Avello told PlayNJ. “Many people like the storyline of Jill meets Jack, they get married, have a picket fence and two kids.
“You can find a couple like that but the Oscar committees are looking for some type of deepness and something special about the acting, the cinematography, etc.
“Now, Power of the Dog is a great movie, a powerful movie. But if 100 people watched it, probably 75 or more would say it was okay or they didn’t like it.
“West Side Story brings something else into play. Steven Spielberg directed it but he already had the material.
“Licorice Pizza is a little bit of a strange movie, although a good solid movie. It could make some noise.”
To his point, specialty films have dominated box-office blockbusters in recent decades.
In 2019, Oscar-winning Parasite earned $53 million in the United States, 53rd in the industry according to a list released by Box Office Mojo. That was not in the same zip code as Avengers, which led the way with $858 million.
And here’s a tip for handicappers: Winners are selected by an industry that likes to project itself as intellectual. Strange, even twisted, storylines matter.
Oscars betting lesson from 2020: The chalk takes a walk
Avello termed this upset so monumental, it would resemble the New York Jets defeating the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.
“Chadwick Boseman had died in 2020 and was up for Best Actor,” Avello recalls. “We had him 1 to 5 at the beginning and then he starts winning all the awards leading up to the Oscars. He ends up going off 1-20.
“On top of his great performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (released after his death) there were sentimental reasons to believe he’d win this award.
Guess who didn’t win the award?
“Well, the drama was all set up, but they announce Anthony Hopkins as the winner for The Father. That was unbelievable. Everybody thinks Chadwick Boseman is a lock and Anthony Hopkins winds up stealing the show.
“It shows you that nothing is decided until they open that envelope. There are upsets in everything.”
And, like in the NJ sports betting world, a big upset is good for the book.
There are betting limits, in principle
Avello said that New Jersey has established a $1,000 limit on one bet. A person theoretically could make several $1,000 bets and perhaps more if states raise limits, but he issues caution.
“Hey, $1,000 is a really good-sized shot,” he says. “You don’t want to be betting the house on this. You are betting on how people are voting and you don’t know for sure how they will see it.”
To magnify the point, there are no season-long statistics upon which to hang one’s hat. Nobody “gets hot” for a streak of games, as athletes do in other major sports. And the most popular pictures at the box office have not been winning here.
So is it Lady Luck?
Avello observed a “gender-a-lization,” women being the prime drivers of movie revenues, that has crystallized into wagering.
“There are a lot of women who bet on this,” he says. “When we first put it up a couple of years ago, many women downloaded the app who had never done so before. That’s great to see and perhaps it can lead to other things regarding gambling.
“So maybe instead of hearing someone say ‘I have a feel for Tampa Bay vs the Eagles,’ you might hear someone say ‘I have a better feel for best picture and best director, ’” Avello said with a laugh.
‘Gaining a feel’ for the Oscar odds
Avello encourages people to watch some of these movies on Netflix to gain a feel for them.
Angles he evaluated in certain pictures:
“Will Smith had to change his look and his makeup in the movie,” Avello notes. “He had to change his voice and his mannerisms to play the father of these two girls. I thought he did that brilliantly.”
Smith may have runaway betting odds once the nominations go up.
In the best actress category, Avello believes Stewart did an excellent job portraying Princess Diana in Spencer but may be vulnerable because of limited audience exposure.
Nicole Kidman gets high marks for her portrayal of Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos.
“Everybody knows Nicole Kidman and here is an Australian girl transforming into Lucy quite well,” he indicates. “Her body of work is quite impressive.”
Avello says longshots will be viable to surprise in the best supporting actor and actress categories, which will go up later.
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta