There Will Be Bets: Gambling on Oscar

"I didn't put nothing up," the nervous gas station proprietor mumbles as he slowly realizes the stranger standing in front of him expects him to bet his life on the toss of a coin.

"You stand to win everything," intones hit man Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, in what has already become the iconic scene from Joel and Ethan Coen's film "No Country for Old Men."

The stakes at this year's Oscars aren't quite so high. No one is betting his life against a psychotic murderer, but there is money to be won gambling on the Academy Awards and "No Country" is the odds-on favorite.

Though gambling on the Oscars is illegal in Las Vegas or anywhere else in the United States, for that matter, offshore bookmakers who run Internet sites are taking bets on the awards.

"Across the top six Oscar categories Bodog expects to receive thousands of wagers," said bookmaker Richard Gardner, of the gambling Web site, based in Quebec. "The Oscars have always been Bodog's most popular entertainment odds. Not even an entire season of 'American Idol' odds can hold a candle to the popularity of the Oscars."

"No Country for Old Men" is the favorite to win the best picture category among the bookmakers interviewed by put one-fourth odds on the film to win, meaning you would have to bet $400 to win just $100., a gambling site based in Costa Rica, picked "No Country" to win, 4-6, and America's Line, a Las Vegas-based syndicated betting column (not a gambling site), also picked the Coen brothers' film to win, 1/1.

The Coens are favorites to win in the best director category, as is Bardem for best supporting actor.

The 80th annual Academy Awards will be held Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

"All of the bookmakers have a sense of what the other big shops are doing," said Harold Klein, bookmaker for "It wouldn't be beneficial to take a totally different line from the competition, but we try to get action on all the sides."

Daniel Day-Lewis is the hands-down favorite across all the sites to win for best actor for his role as a turn-of-the-century oilman in "There Will Be Blood."

America's Line puts the odds for Day-Lewis to win at 1-5, compared to long-shot Tommy Lee Jones for his performance in "In the Valley of Elah" at 25-1.

"Daniel Day-Lewis is the huge, monstrously big favorite to win," said Benjamin Eckstein, president of America's Line. "He's ridiculously good. I have never seen anything like that on celluloid, and everyone is pretty much saying the same thing. They should go to his house and deliver the award to him now."

Peter Travers, film critic for Rolling Stone, agreed Daniel Day-Lewis is the favorite, but said few of the other categories remain as certain.

"Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem are considered locks, but that's about it," said Travers.

Observers of the Oscars contend that academy members like certain types of films (sweeping epics, Westerns, anything about the Holocaust or anything involving Clint Eastwood) and certain types of performances (anything that requires a dramatic change in physical appearance, or anything involving Clint Eastwood).

One "can make an argument that they pick the same kinds of movies over and over," Travers said.

But, he said, the conventional wisdom may be upturned this year.

"The academy has a reputation for not liking bloody movies, but this year's two hottest contenders for best picture, 'No Country for Old Men' and 'There Will Be Blood,' are both pretty bloody. It is possible they might split, and the award will go to something small like 'Juno,'" he said.

"The academy also likes veteran actors, which bodes well for Hal Holbrook ['Into the Wild'] and Ruby Dee for her performance in 'American Gangster,'" he said.

The closest race, perhaps, is the one for best actress in a supporting role. All of the bookies picked Cate Blanchett to win for her role as a Bob Dylan-like character in "I'm Not There." Amy Ryan, for her role as the mother of a missing child in "Gone Baby Gone," is a close second.

Adding to the tension in that race is Dee, who took home the best supporting actress award at last week's Screen Actors' Guild Awards.

"It is a close two-way race between Cate Blanchett and Amy Ryan, but since Ruby Dee won the SAG award she has been receiving a lot of bets," said Klein.

Betting on the Oscars, like all entertainment-related gambling, remains a small industry compared to sports betting, said Eckstein of America's Line.

"There is a buzz around gambling on entertainment — the awards shows and reality programs," he said. "But betting on the Oscars is not soaring. All of the money bet on the Oscars this year could probably fit in a large roll in one fist. To hold the money gambled on the Super Bowl, you would need 17 dump trucks."

Part of the reason gambling on the Oscars remains small is the same reason casinos won't accept bets on it at all — some people already know who the winners are.

Unlike a sporting event, the winners of the Oscars are actually known before the event begins. The 5,808 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences send their ballots to be tabulated by the accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, allowing for the possibility of a leak.

As a result, betting on and remains small. The maximum allowable bet on BodogLife is $50 and $250 at BetCris.

"There's always an upset," said bookmaker Klein. "It happens every year. That's what makes it interesting."