Indiana joins New Jersey by accepting Oscars bets while Nevada, other states lag behind

Actor Joaquin Phoenix at the Bafta Film Awards, February 2020
Actor Joaquin Phoenix (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
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New Jersey became the first U.S. jurisidction to allow sportsbooks to accept wagering on the Academy Awards last year, and it ended up collecting nearly $200,000 in state revenue after operators took on $750,000 in Oscars bets, producing an exceptional 24.4% hold.

The Hoosier State joins the fray this year after the Indiana Gaming Board approved betting on the popular awards show in January. Bettors in the state can now wager on who they think is going to take home Best Picture, Best Director and the four main acting categories in Sunday’s event on ABC.

The Indiana sports betting bill reads: “A certificate holder or vendor may accept wagers on professional and collegiate sporting events approved for sports wagering by the commission, and other events as approved by the commission.”

The Academy Awards fall under the latter “catch-all” category, and the IGC’s approval of Oscars betting is another sign that some states are continuing to be progressive, finding new and innovative ways to take in more state revenue.

Legal, regulated wagering on the Oscars has never been offered to bettors in Nevada, where sports betting has been legal for decades. In the post-PASPA environment, however, operators in New Jersey and Indiana jumped at the chance to offer the event on their oddsboards.

Oscars betting report: Oddsmaker predicts upset in Best Picture category

So why doesn’t Nevada — and other states where sports betting is legal — allow sportsbooks to offer the Academy Awards?

“We have never approved any non-sporting events,” Mike Lawton, senior research analyst at the Nevada Gaming Control Board, told BetIndiana News’ Marcus DiNitto on Friday. “Our first approval for voting- or ballot-based wagers was in 2014 for the Horse of the Year. Over the past several years, we’ve approved several vote-based wagers, but they’ve ventured into sports. We have not received any requests since 2012 via book to take bets on the Oscars.”

Lawton wouldn’t say which operator requested Oscars betting back in 2012. The Silver State finally approved betting on the Olympics and the Heisman trophy in 2015. Wagering on the NFL Draft also received a greenlight from the NGCB a few years ago.

“You look at something like the NFL Draft that is going to be here (in April), it’s just like the Oscars,” Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk management Ed Salmons told BetIndiana News on Friday. “Everything is about finding out the information because it’s not like it’s something being played on the field, it’s just about knowing the information.”

Longtime Vegas oddsmaker Johnny Avello, now director of race and sports operations at DraftKings, was excited to offer Oscars betting in New Jersey last year.

“I never did ask them,” Avello told BetIndiana News on Friday when asked if he was the one who made the 2012 request to the NGCB. “I’ve had plenty of meetings with them on other offerings, and they wanted me to explain the process of the voting, which I can and could. But I never did pursue it.”

A big movie fan himself, Avello said he isn’t concerned about booking an event with predetermined results.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that audits the votes, “has been doing this for a long time and has a high-level of integrity, and there’s only a few people who know — even the people who are carrying it (at ABC) don’t know,” Avello said. “They’ve been pretty tight-lipped about this as many as years as they’ve been doing it.”

Oscars betting features lower limits than most other types of wagers. According to Avello, the New Jersey Gaming Board limits DraftKings to $1,000 bets on the awards show.

It remains to be seen if other states will jump on board and offer betting on the Academy Awards in the next few years, but just a quick glance at New Jersey’s hold last year indicates that those who don’t may be leaving money on the table.

Also read: Famed movie critic Richard Roeper offers his Oscars picks