Betting On The Oscars : Planet Money Betting on the Oscars is now legal in New Jersey and Indiana, so we went down to Atlantic City to place a bet on Best Picture. And we spoke to a few experts beforehand to understand how to make a better bet.
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Betting On The Oscars

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Betting On The Oscars

Betting On The Oscars

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

So Darius, the Oscars are this Sunday.

DARIUS RAFIEYAN, HOST:

I know. I'm very excited.

VANEK SMITH: I know. We have been talking about this...

RAFIEYAN: I've seen all the movies.

VANEK SMITH: ...For weeks. You have?

RAFIEYAN: Yes. Well, OK. I have to admit I haven't seen "Ford V Ferrari," but I'm going to before Sunday.

VANEK SMITH: No one saw "Ford V" - I think that - well...

RAFIEYAN: I don't think it actually exists.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) It's just a marketing campaign.

RAFIEYAN: But I know, Stacey...

VANEK SMITH: Yeah.

RAFIEYAN: ...That you have not exactly been a...

VANEK SMITH: Oh my God.

RAFIEYAN: ...Huge fan of...

VANEK SMITH: No, I know.

RAFIEYAN: ...The movies this year.

VANEK SMITH: I've been such a hater. "The Irishman," man - that was terrible and endless.

RAFIEYAN: So you don't think "The Irishman" will win best picture?

VANEK SMITH: I don't think it should.

RAFIEYAN: You want to bet on it?

VANEK SMITH: Do I want to bet on it?

RAFIEYAN: I mean, literally, do you want to bet on it?

VANEK SMITH: Oh.

RAFIEYAN: Because I found out we can do that.

VANEK SMITH: We can bet on the Oscars.

RAFIEYAN: Yes. Last year, New Jersey became the first state in the U.S. to allow legal betting on the Oscars.

VANEK SMITH: I love New Jersey.

RAFIEYAN: And just last month, Indiana followed. So now if you happen to be in New Jersey or Indiana...

VANEK SMITH: I have very strong feelings about "The Irishman."

RAFIEYAN: Very strong feelings about "The Irishman" - you can bet on who you think will win best picture, best director, best costume design, whatever you want. And so...

VANEK SMITH: Maybe it's time for us to put our money where our mouth is.

RAFIEYAN: I was thinking we should get in on this action.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) I think we 100% should get in on this action.

RAFIEYAN: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Darius Rafieyan.

VANEK SMITH: And I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. Today on the show, THE INDICATOR gets some skin in the game. We put our money where all of our endless opinions are. We dive into the world of legal Oscar betting.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

VANEK SMITH: So Darius, we've decided we're going to place a bet on the Oscars.

RAFIEYAN: Yes.

VANEK SMITH: First thing we have to decide is what we want to bet on - best picture, best actor, best actress.

RAFIEYAN: I sort of feel like - let's go with, like, the classic one. Let's go best picture.

VANEK SMITH: OK. I like it - best picture. OK. And the nominees are...

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMROLL)

VANEK SMITH: ..."1917," "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood," "The Irishman," "Little Women," "Ford V Ferrari," "Parasite," "Joker," "Jojo Rabbit" and "Marriage Story."

RAFIEYAN: But here's the thing, Stacey. I don't actually understand how Oscars odds work. Do you?

VANEK SMITH: No. No.

RAFIEYAN: OK. I figured. So...

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) It's a safe bet.

RAFIEYAN: I think I found the perfect person to break it down for us.

VANEK SMITH: OK.

JESSICA WELMAN: When we heard they were doing Oscars betting last year, I was literally like, I've trained my whole life for this.

RAFIEYAN: (Laughter).

OK. That's Jessica Welman. She's a writer who covers the legal betting industry for a bunch of different websites. And she also happens to be a graduate of USC film school and a huge Oscars nut. And so, you know, I asked her to break it down for us, explain exactly how Oscars odds work.

VANEK SMITH: OK.

RAFIEYAN: She used the example of Renee Zellweger, who is currently the clear front-runner for best actress. She's nominated for her portrayal of Judy Garland in the film "Judy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW")

RENEE ZELLWEGER: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow...

WELMAN: She's minus-2,500 to win, which means if you wanted to win a hundred dollars off of your bet, you would have to put down $2,500.

VANEK SMITH: So here's how this works. Because a bet on Renee Zellweger is very likely to pay out, you have to put up a lot of money to get not very much. So say you wanted to win a hundred dollars. You would have to put up $2,500 to have a chance at winning a hundred dollars. So you make a $2,500 bet. If Renee loses, you lose your $2,500. And if Renee wins, you get your $2,500 back, plus your winnings, which are a hundred dollars. So...

RAFIEYAN: Pretty paltry.

VANEK SMITH: Pretty paltry. Exactly. So that is how it works when you're betting on, you know, the major front-runner.

RAFIEYAN: On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Charlize Theron. She's also nominated this year for best actress for her portrayal of former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in the legal drama "Bombshell."

VANEK SMITH: Oh, yeah - the Roger Ailes stuff.

RAFIEYAN: Her odds are currently plus-3,300 to win. So that means if you bet a hundred dollars on her and if she actually wins, you get your hundred-dollar bet back, plus a $3,300 win.

VANEK SMITH: Whoa.

RAFIEYAN: Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: People really don't think she's going to win (laughter).

RAFIEYAN: So you see how you stand to gain a lot, and you're only risking a hundred.

VANEK SMITH: But apparently, Zellweger is just a shoo-in for this category. And according to Jessica, that is the case with a ton of the categories this year. There just seem to be a ton of very clear front-runners.

WELMAN: That's why this year, more so than last year, is what the sports betting world likes to call a very chalky year, chalky meaning it's full of heavy betting favorites.

VANEK SMITH: Chalky.

RAFIEYAN: Chalky.

VANEK SMITH: That's fantastic.

RAFIEYAN: Yeah. Apparently, this comes from, you know, the olden days when they actually used to write the odds on a chalkboard.

VANEK SMITH: Really?

RAFIEYAN: And so betting the chalk meant betting the favorite.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, 'cause that was the one that had been written in chalk.

RAFIEYAN: So it's a lot of favorites. It's very chalky. Yeah.

VANEK SMITH: It's very chalky. We've got to start using that all the time.

RAFIEYAN: Yeah - super chalky.

VANEK SMITH: And apparently, this chalkiness extends into our own category of best picture.

RAFIEYAN: Who's the favorite right now for best picture?

WELMAN: 1917.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "1917")

COLIN FIRTH: (As General Erinmore) Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow morning's attack. If you fail, it will be a massacre.

WELMAN: Once "1917" won the Producer's Guild Award, that's when it jumped into being the favorite. It was at minus-166, but now it is at minus-230.

RAFIEYAN: And these odds are set, in many cases, by an actual person.

VANEK SMITH: Like, there's a guy...

RAFIEYAN: There's a guy.

VANEK SMITH: ...Who sets the odds.

RAFIEYAN: There's a bookmaker or, you know, a bookie.

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

RAFIEYAN: And you know, this process could be a little more art than science sometimes. It's sort of a combination of, like, gut feeling, statistics, rumors and then also just, like, how much other people are betting. So, like, if a bookie sees that a lot of action is coming in on Joaquin Phoenix for "Joker," maybe he'll raise the odds on that because clearly, a lot of people think it's going to happen.

VANEK SMITH: So ultimately, it is the bookie's job to set the odds so that after all is said and done, after all the winnings are paid out, there's still a few bucks left over for the house. You know house is supposed to win always.

RAFIEYAN: OK. So we have a handle on the odds.

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

RAFIEYAN: But how should we bet? I mean, do we go for the clear front-runner? Do we back...

VANEK SMITH: Oh, right.

RAFIEYAN: ...The dark horse?

VANEK SMITH: We decided that we needed to bring in some big guns to figure this part out.

SPANKY KYROLLOS: I'm Spanky. I'm a professional sports better.

RAFIEYAN: Spanky - is that a family name?

KYROLLOS: No, it's actually - my real name is Gadoon Kyrollos, but my friends call me Spanky.

VANEK SMITH: Greatest name ever.

RAFIEYAN: My guy Spanky.

VANEK SMITH: I mean, if we're going to place a bet, I feel like Spanky Kyrollos is our guy.

RAFIEYAN: Yeah. And Spanky Kyrollos - he has been making his living as a gambler for the past 17 years. He actually used to work on Wall Street.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) That's amazing.

RAFIEYAN: But - so basically, he quit his day job, and now he just gambles full time.

VANEK SMITH: And Spanky said that when you were dealing with a situation with very chalky odds, when there are clear front-runners, he says it's best to avoid the obvious choice. Avoid the front-runner.

KYROLLOS: Betting the heavy favorite, you risk a lot to win a little. So, like, that 50-1 Joaquin Phoenix - you know, you're risking $50 to win a dollar. That's a lot of wood to lay to just pick up that one buck. That's what we call in this - on our business bridge jumpers. You know, if you win, nothing happens. But if you lose, you jump off a bridge. You know what I mean?

VANEK SMITH: I don't think we should jump off any bridges. That sounds terrible.

RAFIEYAN: OK, but so...

VANEK SMITH: So maybe no "1917."

RAFIEYAN: Right. But then, like, what do we bet on?

VANEK SMITH: Not "The Irishman."

RAFIEYAN: Definitely not "The Irishman."

VANEK SMITH: I absolutely forbid it (laughter).

RAFIEYAN: On principle, we will not bet on "The Irishman."

VANEK SMITH: On principle - I've suffered enough.

RAFIEYAN: Here's the thing. I'll go down there. I'll see what the odds are, and I'll just let my heart decide.

VANEK SMITH: I love it. I love it.

RAFIEYAN: So I went down to Atlantic City.

Hi. I'd like to bet on the Oscars. Can I do that here?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes, sir. What would you like to bet on? - category.

RAFIEYAN: All right. So I'm definitely going to bet on best picture.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So you want best picture. Who you want - "1917"?

RAFIEYAN: OK. All right. Well, I'll put 10 on that - on "Little Women" - don't think it's going to win, but that was my favorite movie. So...

VANEK SMITH: Oh, "Little Women."

RAFIEYAN: I - once I was there in that moment, I was like - my analytical brain was going, and I was like, maybe "Parasite" would be a good play. But I was like, I got to just go with "Little Women."

VANEK SMITH: I love it. It's such a beautiful story.

RAFIEYAN: And so I have our betting slip right here.

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

RAFIEYAN: Let's see. Yes. OK. "Little Women" - to win, wager $10. Potential payout - a thousand dollars.

VANEK SMITH: No way. OK. So if "Little Women" takes the win, we've clearly got to go back and gamble (laughter).

RAFIEYAN: Right. We got to go lose the thousand dollars on the slots.

VANEK SMITH: Exactly.

RAFIEYAN: Today's episode was produced by Leena Sanzgiri, edited by Paddy Hirsch, fact-checked by Brittany Cronin. And THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

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