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Green books

New Jersey was the first state to allow betting on the Oscars and it could become fertile ground for new ways to wager

March Madness, the Super Bowl and the soccer World Cup are all well-known wagering events. But for gamblers who don’t care about sports and are more interested cinema and other mediums of pop culture many online gambling companies this year began taking bets on the Oscars, making New Jersey the first state in the nation to offer such wagers.

Online sports books such as DraftKings, PlaySugarHouse.com and FanDuel began accepting bets on a combination of the 24 categories, or at least the main awards such as Best Picture and Best Actor and Actress. Hotels and casinos also accepted bets on the Academy Awards, including the Golden Nugget Atlantic City and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City.

The new product offerings mark a considerable shift from the typical wagering solely on sports which followed a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that struck near nationwide ban on sports betting.

In New Jersey, the nascent business generated billions of dollars in wagers as dozens of businesses — racetracks, online casinos and brick and mortar gaming halls — began opening sports books.

The Division of Gaming Enforcement, which oversees the state’s gambling and sports betting industries, gave the thumbs-up earlier this year for sports books to accept wagers on the Oscars, albeit cautiously.

“In a regulated market, it’s just harder to get those things through,” said Jessica Welman, an analyst for PlayNJ.com, a sports-wagering publication.

By the numbers

Gaming regulators said earlier this year that wagers on the Oscars could only be offered for 2019. Whether the agency will let casinos and other businesses accept such bets in the future will be determined at an “appropriate time,” said Kerry Langan, a spokesperson for the DGE.

The DGE reported that patrons bet $747,696 on the Oscars; the total amount wagered in the state was $320 million during February alone.

Many analysts and businesses were not deterred by the low number. In fact, those figures were encouraging.  “It’s kind of a novelty,” said SportsHandle.com Editor-in-Chief Brett Smiley. “I don’t know how many people want to wager more than a few bucks. [It’s] absolutely not a money-maker.”

Gaming regulators placed a $1,000 limit on the payout patrons could win, which held down what patrons might have been willing to bet. “I’d be curious to find out how many total wagers were placed,” Smiley said. “I think it’s a good indicator of interest.”

“It’s not something where anybody was going to get hurt betting on it, and the house was going to get killed,” said Johnny Avello, director of race and sports operation at online sportsbook DraftKings, which also runs the sportsbook for Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.

Many sportsbook operators found that the majority of patrons who bet on the Oscars were women and aged 30 and above.

“Those bets aren’t the big revenue drivers,” said Mattias Stetz, chief operating officer of Rush Street Interactive, which operators SugarHouse Online Sportsbook and Casino. “It attracts new types of bettors that aren’t necessarily super interested in sports but might sign up and bet on the Oscars.”

“It’s not like they’re type of professional bettors who are looking for every edge they can find,” Welman said.

Casinos paid out $565,179 to victorious patrons, according to gaming regulators, which meant the house took home 24.4 percent across the state.

Given that during the Super Bowl, casinos and gambling companies had to pay out millions of dollars more to victors than was actually bet at the sportsbooks, the state’s gambling and sports betting industry arguably did better with the Oscars than the Super Bowl.

Betting on Beto?

Emboldened by what they saw as a solid performance — Welman said many projections anticipated no more than $1 million in wagers on the Oscars — some companies are already considering different kinds of wagering they can offer to patrons.

For example, the European style of betting — where wagers are placed on day-to-day topics such as politics or which character will survive the next round of ABC’s “The Bachelor” or “Dancing with the Stars” — is a possibility.

“In the U.K., political betting is kind of normal — things like Brexit, who will be the next prime minister,” said Ian Bradley, chief strategy officer of gaming technology platform SBTech, which provides its product to Golden Nugget and Churchill Downs, host of the Kentucky Derby horse race.

“It’s not an issue of can we price it, can we offer it. It’s really down to regulations,” Bradley said.

Avello told NJBIZ that he hopes his company can begin accepting wagers on other types of award shows, such as the Grammys, Tonys and Emmys, in addition to elections

“I’m talking big elections, presidential elections,” Avello said. “The reason why I like the president election is that most of it goes over the span of time. There’s a lot of time to be able to take bets and it fluctuates. This guy is a favorite, or this woman or whoever is in the race could be a favorite and next week [someone else].”

Avello said he is also considering bets on reality TV shows. “You want to make sure that everything’s live and we’re all seeing it at the same time” Avello said, so that one particular bettor would not have advance or inside knowledge that could confer an unfair advantage.

“For the Oscars, we closed all the wagering when the show started and the first award was given out,” he added.

Placing wagers on a TV show might be more tricky because they are recorded, meaning that information about plot developments could leak out.

“Some of those shows are taped well in advance, and somebody knows the answer before others know it, and that’s not what you want. … Everybody knows the answer at the same time,” Avello said.

“It’s more of a promotional offering rather than someone who will take it seriously from a betting perspective. So it’s more of a marketing cost. They’re less regular than … TV competitions,” Bradley said.

The bets, Bradley added, would have  “super low limits” of at most $5.

“They have to be transparent in terms of their own regulations,” Bradley said of TV networks. “There’s maybe some sort of manipulation that could happen. You’re just very cautious.”

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Daniel J. Munoz
Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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