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Before You Make Your Oscars Picks, Find Out How Oddsmakers Are Calling The Race

Pat Morrow, head lines maker at Bovada, explains how he and his team make the Academy Awards more interesting for people who like to bet on stuff (and see his team’s picks).

Okay, sure, Argo took top honors at the Golden Globe awards last month, instilling Oscar prognosticators with confidence. But are those folks sure enough about the film’s chances to actually bet on it?

The Academy Awards has long paralleled its chronological TV event predecessor, the Super Bowl, in many respects, including this one: They’re both heavily wagered on. But figuring out whether Baltimore can cover the spread is a whole other game than determining if Daniel Day-Lewis can go the distance.

Bovada, a prominent sportsbook and online casino, has been offering the opportunity to bet on the Oscars for the past two years. The company’s team of 10 encompasses a wide variety of disciplines, but when it comes to the Oscar side, there isn’t a single guru who can reliably pick winners. The team kind of leaves that task to the experts.

“We use aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes to get critical reviews,” Morrow says. “We also look at Hollywood Reporter, Deadline Hollywood, Entertainment Weekly, Coming Soon. We get our raw info from all of these sources, and we try to take out our own personal biases. Then we build the math behind that, and adjust based on the money that starts to trickle in leading up to the event.”

The team disregards box office as a factor completely. Although Oscar does certainly favor a moneymaker (think Titanic), much of the time, it doesn’t mean anything. Box office may be a reflection of how much a portion of the viewership liked each movie, but it holds no bearing on what voters think.

“It’s much more scientific than anything we do on the sports field because there we’re able to apply our own analytics to it, but with this, we have a broad range of experts,” says Morrow. “We start with 25 that are our strongest, and weight them accordingly, depending on how strong they’ve been in the past. So let’s say we have someone from Rotten Tomatoes vs. someone from Entertainment Weekly; we may give that Rotten Tomatoes critic more of a power rating of 3. ‘Power rating’ is how we refer to how our NFL teams perform against each other. And we do that with critics as well, rating some higher than others if they have long-term success with these things.”

It’s a system that’s continually evolving, however, as the Bovada team works out the kinks. “In the past, we were very concerned with pricing some of our competitors too high when it became overly obvious that someone was going to win. For example, when Colin Firth won for The King’s Speech, we had him at 1:50, so you’d have to risk $50 just to win one dollar. We were hesitant to make anyone such a strong favorite, because to do so, the minimum bets on any other nominee in that category would be at least 50:1 or higher, which made us a little uneasy. Now that we have a little more experience, and a little more trust in the model, we are able to make competitors much more overwhelming favorites than we have in the past.”

Based on past successes, nominees in the acting category have tended to win for roles outside the comfort zone of what they normally do—or what anyone has ever done. Morrow also cautions that it’s best to get into the race early, because once you place a bet, you’re locked in, no matter how much the odds change in your favor afterward. For instance, before winning at the Golden Globes, Argo had 4:1 odds at the casino; now they are 1:6—a swing of nearly 40% upward.

“We do have to throw out some of our models based on who wins the Screen Actor Guilds and Golden Globes because we are seeing those correlations year to year with whoever has success,” Morrow says. “That’s not a guarantee that they’re going to win, but following historical trends, we do need to protect ourselves.”

Have a look through at the odds Morrow and his team created for this year’s race in the slide show above.

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