False Rumor Caused Oscars Betting Stampede in New Jersey

A rumor that Yorgos Lanthimos was going to win the Oscar for Best Director for The Favourite reportedly spread like wildfire in the lead up to the big night on Sunday, causing New Jersey’s new sports books to slash the odds on the prospect.

Oscars betting

Left to right: Emma Stone, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Olivia Colman at the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday, where their movie The Favourite was nominated for several awards. But Lanthimos did not win Best Director, despite expectations in New Jersey. (Image: David Fisher/Shutterstock)

By Sunday morning, as gamblers clamored to get their bets on — many opening new accounts just to do so — FanDuel tweeted that it had stopped offering odds altogether on Lanthimos, who had been 45-1 just a day earlier.

The only problem was, the rumor was false. The Academy Award for Best Director went to… Alfonso Cuaron for Roma, who was the favorite director and not the The Favourite director — and apologies if we’re repeating our jokes.

The Source of the Rumor

According to the Action Network, which first reported on the story, one bettor said they had heard the rumor from “a frat kid” at Penn State, whose father was well-connected in Hollywood. Another said the rumor was started at the University of Richmond by a student who had an aunt on the Academy.

The moral of the story is that there’s rarely such a thing as a surefire tip, but it also highlights the problems associated with offering markets on events where a result is known before it’s publicly announced.

New Jersey was the only jurisdiction in the US offering bets on the Oscars this year — the first time this particular market was offered legally in America — after its sports books received the green light from the gaming regulator (DGE) last month. But this was very much an experiment. The DGE said it would sanction odds on the Oscars for this year only, presumably with the intention of reviewing the situation for next year.

Despite passing a bill in 2017 that added “other events” to the list of permissible betting activities, broadening the scope beyond athletic sports events and horse racing and dog racing, Nevada has never permitted Oscars betting. Because select people behind the scenes already know the results, it’s too much of a risk. A leak and an ensuing scandal would be a serious black mark against the sports betting industry.

Not Much Value in Oscars Betting

Jurisdictions that do offer Oscars betting will generally refuse to take large wagers — as those scrambling to bet the farm in New Jersey over the weekend probably discovered. They will also monitor betting patterns closely.

Since the favorites almost always win — and thus largely have unattractive odds — Oscars betting isn’t particularly thrilling for bettors, while bookies tend to see its real value as a handy marketing and PR platform, rather than something they expect to directly make a lot of money out of.

That is, of course, unless a bunch of people in New Jersey suddenly start betting hysterically on something just because they heard a rumor started by some guy who said he got a tip from his aunt.

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