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Betting on Oscars: Why More States Allow Legal Wagering on Hollywood’s Big Night

The annual Academy Awards derby has been a long been a subject of interest for Las Vegas oddsmakers. But since 2019, more than half a dozen states have enacted legislation around sports betting that opened the door to legal wagering on Hollywood’s glitziest annual race.

Gambling experts say there are more states to come in the near future, including Alabama. But California, home of the film business, isn’t likely to join New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Colorado, Arizona and Kansas any time soon.

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Bill Speros, senior betting analyst for Bookies.com, explains the ins and outs of legal wagering on Hollywood’s big night on the latest episode of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast. He also discusses the growing importance of sports betting as a business strategy for Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal, Fox and other media players invested in TV sports.

“What makes this Oscar betting unique is, there’s no data,” Speros says. “When you bet football, for instance, you’re looking at multiple data points. When it comes to the Oscars, there’s no data. If we were betting box office, ‘Top Gun’ would have won like every Oscar, right? Right. So with the Oscars, it’s different. You have to look at — what is the industry sentiment? What are outlets like Variety and others saying about who they believe the favorites are? What, if anything, are members of the Academy saying, which is usually nothing. And then you also look at other awards.”

New Jersey paved the way for legal sports betting in 2019 with a successful court challenge to existing gambling bans, changes that also allowed for betting on events like the Oscars. Speros says rules vary widely from place to place among the 39 states (and counting) that allow some form of legal wagering. Bookies.com, part of the Gambling.com network, is a third-party clearinghouse offering online users easy access to legal sports betting apps.

The data so far indicates that Oscar gambles are handled much like sports bets — very close to the event. The popularity of buzzy titles this year including frontrunner “Oppenheimer” and box office darling “Barbie” bodes well for an overall uptick in fans risking a few bucks on key races, Speros says.

Bill Speros
Bill Speros

“You’ll see people take more interest after they have seen some of these movies. Because a lot of times, these Oscars movies haven’t been seen by a whole lot of people. And this year is different,” he says. “That’s another reason why these books expect a pretty decent uptick … because of the success at the box office of ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer.’ “

The avenues to legal Oscar betting should be seen as an engagement strategy for ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Speros argues. The growth of sports betting in states across the U.S. has helped buoy TV ratings. More fans are watching even lackluster games to completion because online gamblers can bet on myriad aspects of the outcomes and player performance that go far beyond the final score.

“The NFL in particular is benefiting from the gambling that keeps people interested in games that aren’t necessarily close,” Speros says. “In those situations, the league is benefiting directly from sports betting revenues, and it’s benefiting indirectly from sports betting because betters are watching games until they end — the real pot of gold for all professional sports teams. The reason [sports leagues and TV platforms are] embracing gambling is that it increases eyeballs on screens.”

“Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. (Please click here to subscribe to our free newsletter.) New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded at Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, Google Play, SoundCloud and more.

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