Betting on ‘Best Picture’ might liven up lagging Oscars audience By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports February 25, 2019 at 8:00 pm Hollywood’s high-rollers gathered Sunday for the 91st Academy Awards ceremony. Unlike their casino VIP counterparts in Las Vegas, the movie industry elite managed to get along fine without a host. The lack of so much as a good lounge comic wasn’t the only difference in the Oscars this year. If your feet were planted in New Jersey, for the first time in American history you could place a legal bet on “Best Picture” and the Academy Awards’ other major categories. I have to believe that Johnny Avello, the respected veteran Las Vegas sports book boss, was wincing at least a little. For years he’s been putting up a betting line on the Oscars – for entertainment purposes only, since such blasphemy is illegal in Nevada – and watched the popular story circle the planet as movie fans chewed on the “Vegas Line” and the chances that their personal film favorites might prevail. Sports books in Europe have been taking bets on the Oscars for years without losing sleep or euros. Meanwhile, Nevada has been strangely and uncharacteristically on the sidelines. New Jersey hasn’t been booking sports bets legally for a long time, just a few months in the wake of last May’s repeal by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. But the state managed to steal the bookmaking thunder of Oscar night from the Las Vegas Strip. Now it’s time for Nevada to lighten up and allow action on the Academy Awards. Why? First, it makes Nevada, the nation’s home of sports book regulation, look like it’s wearing a belt and suspenders. Although it’s not really a big moneymaker, it draws positive attention to the industry. It’s fun. And with the right marketing, it could be a huge weekend. Not exactly to rival the Super Bowl or March Madness, but certainly worth pursuing by the Great Las Vegas Promotion Machine. Would it become a regulatory nightmare? Not really. No one expects the Oscars to be a scientific selection. It’s riddled with personal tastes and generational bias, but so what? And if there’s a celebrity scandal because Warren Beatty misreads the contents of an envelope, it’s not exactly the end of the world. Limited action would limit the economic exposure and enable Nevada to catch up to its East Coast cousin. Why is that important? The reason is obvious. The sports betting, no longer American gaming’s last pariah, is exploding. The competition is greater than ever, and Nevada has an image to protect. It would also be a potential boon for the Oscars, which haven’t exactly been keeping us spellbound in recent years. One of the underreported elements of the new embrace of legalized sports betting by professional sports leagues is the fact that increasing wagering action adds excitement at a time of stagnant and flagging viewership. You have to believe that the same might just be true of the Oscars broadcast. Oscar gets a generational facelift, but the marathon show goes on and on like Texas in July. Frankly, the sports books have a lot less to fear from bets on the annual Academy Awards celebration than they have from accepting wagers on a junior varsity professional sports league, such as the Alliance of American Football. DraftKings Sportsbook may end up regretting its decision to place AAF games on the board. I’m not saying you’re eventually going to hear sports book wags lament “I lost a bundle on ‘Black Panther’ and the under,” but it’s bound to liven up just another Sunday night in February. Wagering on the Oscars could just become an American tradition. And in a gambling nation, it probably should. It might even dissuade the audience from heading for the exits. Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.