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Place your bets on the Oscars: Provinces taking wagers on 2024 Academy Awards

With Tinseltown set to hand out the Academy Awards on Sunday, the question for some in Alberta is whether to take the long-shot bet on “Barbie” or put the smart money down on “Oppenheimer”.

Both movies are up for best picture and on the betting line in Alberta, which has joined other provinces in upping the ante with more options for novelty betting.

Alberta’s lottery regulator says it has added betting on the Oscars to its roster of online gambling options in time for this year’s red carpet extravaganza.

“We’ve actually offered novelty wagers in the past … for Golden Globes. But certainly in the run-up to the Academy Awards, it’s drawing a lot of interest,” said Dan Keene, vice-president of gaming with Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis.

Sports and casino betting have always been huge, but are film fans as keen to gamble?

Corrie Hausauer, who lives in Lethbridge, Alta., has been an awards fan since 1990 and hosts an annual Oscars-viewing party, with proceeds going to charity. He said he isn’t holding one this year, though, because he’ll actually be at the show in Los Angeles.

“I’m not a betting person,” Hausauer said when asked whether he was interested in placing an Oscars bet on the province’s Play Alberta site.

“I prefer talking about them.”

Brian Owens, the artistic director for the Calgary International Film Festival, said he got 23 of 24 categories right for the Academy Awards in 2014 and is tempted to lay a wager.

“If you wanted to a take a small risk for best picture, I would actually put a buck down on ‘The Zone of Interest’, because it’s 50-1,” Owens said, speaking about the odds the site is giving the wartime drama.

“When you look at best picture with ‘Oppenheimer’ being a dollar or two for every dollar you bet, that’s not even a bet worth taking.”

David Hodgins, a University of Calgary professor of clinical psychology, said any expansion to gambling carries risks for addiction. More gambling options mean more opportunity for some bettors to “get in over their heads.”

But he said novelty bets like the Oscars aren’t likely as problematic as online sports betting, where gamblers can place bets throughout the course of a game.

“It starts to resemble a slot machine in terms of how quick it is if you gamble during games,” said Hodgins, who also does work for the Alberta Gaming Research Institute.

Oscars betting through provincially regulated gambling websites isn’t new.

Loto-Québec and Atlantic Lottery Corp. started offering it back in 2013. Unregulated websites have also taken bets on entertainment awards and novelty events for years.

Matt Lee with the British Columbia Lottery Corp. said its PlayNow site takes bets on the Oscars as well as the Grammys, the Golden Globes and other awards.

Novelty bets are also being offered on who will be the next United States president, the next silver screen James Bond and the next pope.

They were even bets before last month’s Super Bowl on whether Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce would propose to his pop-superstar girlfriend, Taylor Swift, during the event. (He didn’t).

The PlayNow odds this week for “Barbie”, which stars Margot Robbie as the iconic doll who gets transplanted to the real world, winning best picture are 67-1. On Play Alberta, they’re 68-1. That means a small bet would garner a large return.

Other Oscars categories on the websites that are generating big interest are best actress, where the odds are close for top contenders Emma Stone, nominated for “Poor Things”, and Lily Gladstone, for her role in “Killers of the Flower Moon”. More people are betting on Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer to take best actor over Paul Giamatti in the comedy-drama “The Holdovers”.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 7, 2024. 

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