For many years, Johnny Avello wanted to offer legal wagering on the Academy Awards. He even created Oscars betting odds each year – for entertainment purposes only, as placing bets on the Oscars wasn’t allowed in Nevada, where Avello headed up the Wynn Las Vegas sportsbook.
However, Avello left the Wynn in October 2018 to become director of sportsbook operations for DraftKings, which has operations in New Jersey, Indiana and Mississippi. New Jersey regulators last year agreed to allow Oscars betting, and this year, it’s available in Indiana, too. Avello is thrilled to book the event, and a niche of bettors is enjoying it, as well.
“It’s actually done pretty good,” Avello told Covers, pointing out that DraftKings has 24 Oscars categories on the betting menu, plus proposition bets. “When all is said and done, I think we’re gonna surpass last year’s handle, maybe even a 20 to 25 percent increase. It’s not a football game, it’s not for everybody. But we do attract a select group that maybe wouldn’t bet sports, and some sports bettors might dabble in it, too.”
So where’s the most action coming in for Sunday night’s awards show?
“Best Picture, for sure, and the reason is because it’s a little more wide open than the other categories,” Avello said. “There’s been quite a bit of movement – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from 8/5 to 9/1, 1917 from 2/1 to as high as 2/5, now 1/2, Parasite from 9/2 to 11/4. Joker is drawing a little bit of action.
“People have an opinion on this category. It’s the last category, the biggest category, so it should be bet that way.”
Avello provided his insights on wagering in each of the big six categories, starting with …
Although Joker at 10/1 is the close fourth choice in this relatively tight category, Avello said 1917 will be tough to beat, having been bet from the +200 second choice to the -200 favorite. Regardless, the winner won’t come from far down the odds board.
“I don’t think it’ll go past the top three for Best Picture,” Avello said, putting +275 second choice Parasite in the mix, followed by +900 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which opened the +160 favorite. “I think Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is your long shot.”
The odds in this category opened with a runaway favorite who then ran away even further. Renee Zellwegger opened -1000 for her role in Judy and stretched to -2500 chalk, meaning one would have to bet $2,500 to win $100.
“There was money on her initially,” Avello said, noting that with the very heavy price on Zellwegger, bettors are looking to the plus-money underdogs. “Now, there’s a little money on Scarlett Johansson and Saoirse Ronan.”
Johansson, in Marriage Story, opened 7/1 and is now 10/1, while Ronan, in Little Women, has moved from 28/1 to 25/1.
Even more so than Best Actress, there’s a monster favorite in Joaquin Phoenix for his work in Joker. Phoenix opened -1600 and escalated to -5000.
“He also drew a little early money,” Avello said. “There’s a little money on Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s a fan favorite at 33/1.”
That makes DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) the third choice in this category, behind 10/1 Adam Driver (Marriage Story).
Best Supporting Actress
It’s apparently the year of the big favorites at the Oscars. Laura Dern opened -1000 and escalated to -2500 for her role in Marriage Story. Margot Robbie (Bombshell) is the distant 12/1 second choice.
“This is usually a wide open category, but not this year,” Avello said. “Dern has won everything so far this year, so I don’t know how she’ll lose here.”
Best Supporting Actor
Brad Pitt has yet to win an acting Oscar – he shared in the Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave in 2014 – but he’s hefty chalk to do so this year for his role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
“Interestingly enough, we had Brad Pitt 1/10, and he’s now 1/33,” Avello said. “He’s probably gonna get this award for his work in this movie and everything he’s done in the past. Joe Pesci and Al Pacino were in the same movie (The Irishman), so they’d normally cancel each other out, but people are taking a chance on them.”
Pesci and Pacino are the 12/1 and 28/1 second and third choices, respectively.
This category has run a little closer than the other big ones, but Sam Mendes has been the favorite throughout for his directing of 1917. Mendes opened at -133, and wagering pushed him to -800. He’s now at -500, with Bong Joon-Ho (Parasite) the 3/1 second choice.
“You’ll see money on Bong Joon-Ho, and on Quentin Tarantino,” Avello said, alluding to the 17/1 third choice who directed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
While it wouldn’t be a major upset, Avello said Best Director could see Bong nab the trophy – and that everything leading up to that category could help that happen.
“That’s if the movie does well during the night,” Avello said. “If the movie starts making a run in other categories, it builds momentum, and sometimes that momentum continues to the director. Parasite could win as many as five Oscars.”
Beyond that, Avello said bettors might want to look to the lesser-known categories for an underdog wager. Specifically, For Sama, the 9/5 second choice behind American Factory in Best Documentary; and in Best Film Editing, Ford v Ferrari, a modest even-money second choice to -110 favorite Parasite.
DraftKings also put up several proposition offerings: Totals on how many awards will be won by each of several of the biggest movies, and three-way outcomes of which movie will win the most awards.
An example of the former: 1917 winning five or less statuettes is a -180 favorite, while winning six or more is a +125 underdog.
An example of the latter: In three-way betting, 1917 is -500 chalk to earn more awards than +650 underdog Parasite, with a tie the +375 third choice.
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.