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Oscars betting big hit at NJ books despite unusual wagering

Updated February 25, 2019 - 6:10 pm

Betting on the Academy Awards opened to rave reviews at New Jersey sportsbooks and the integrity of the Oscars was preserved despite some unusual wagering activity.

“The Academy Awards was a roaring success,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “It brought people to the betting window, which is all you want. The average bet was like 20 bucks, but people couldn’t get enough of it and we won a few bucks, so it was a win-win.”

Before the biographical drama “Green Book” pulled off an upset win for best picture, there was no shortage of drama surrounding the betting on best director.

Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed best picture nominee “The Favourite,” opened as a 50-1 long shot before a late flurry of money on him Sunday moved his odds to 6-1.

As rumors spread on social media a few hours before the Oscars that the result had been leaked and Lanthimos had won, multiple books in New Jersey and offshore took the odds off the board.

“It was all over Twitter that someone knew he’d won,” Bogdanovich said. “In this day and age of social media, as soon as someone sends it out there, it becomes gospel.

“They were out there betting him with both hands. We kept getting ticket after ticket. The liability was adding up. Eventually we ended up taking it down in case the rumor was true.”

Thankfully for the books and PricewaterhouseCoopers — the accounting firm tasked with keeping Oscars results confidential — the rumor wasn’t true. Alfonso Cuarón, the heavy favorite, won best director for “Roma.”

There are reportedly only two PwC partners who know the Academy Awards results beforehand.

The books limited their liability on the Oscars by lowering their wagering limits, with William Hill taking $500 max bets.

“If (Lanthimos) had won, it would’ve been a major issue. But I never doubted the integrity of the process,” professional sports bettor Cris Zeniuk said. “Nobody is going to violate the confidentiality at Pricewaterhouse to win a couple hundred dollars.”

Zeniuk (@lasvegascris) views the incident as a positive example of how a regulated legal sports betting industry can easily spot suspicious betting activity.

“That’s why the more open and more legal things are, the easier it is to notice things,” he said. “They really need to get Oscars betting here (in Nevada). Even if they had $100 limits. It’s more of a hobby/pleasure type of thing to placate the average bettor.”

Will Nevada get in on action?

Bogdanovich said he expects a Nevada book to request approval from the state’s Gaming Control Board to take action on the 2020 Oscars.

To receive approval to take bets on the Oscars, a book would have to make a formal request for consideration at least 30 days in advance of the event.

That would give the board time to examine the process of how a winner is picked, how votes are counted and where that information is stored.

“They’ve approved other things like the Heisman (Trophy) and Super Bowl MVP,” he said. “It’s very possible.”

A Nevada book hasn’t made a request to take bets on the Academy Awards since 2012, according to GCB research analyst Michael Lawton.

“At that time it was denied because the Board had not yet approved any nonsporting event,” Lawton wrote in an email.

The GCB granted its first approval for a voting/ballot-based regulation in 2014 for the Horse of the Year and has since approved several other vote-based wagers. But they’ve all been connected to sports or race, such as the NBA MVP.

William Hill took wagers on the big six categories of best picture, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress and best director.

Best picture generated the most action, by far. Bettors won on “Green Book,” which closed as the 2-1 second choice behind “Roma” and was the second-most popular wager at William Hill.

The most popular bet was on Lady Gaga (12-1) to win best actress for her performance in “A Star is Born.” But Gaga bettors and heavy favorite Glenn Close (minus 900) lost when Olivia Colman (5-1) pulled off the Oscars’ biggest upset win for her role in “The Favourite.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow

@tdewey33 on Twitter.

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