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How The 2019 Oscars Scared Sports Books To Death: A Cautionary Tale & Media Recap

How The 2019 Oscars Scared Sports Books To Death: A Cautionary Tale & Media Recap

The sports gambling world was set on fire Sunday as various news outlets reported that some winners of this years Oscars had leaked, specifically two categories: best director and best visual effects. In truth, that’s not even the biggest story as any pre-determined novelty bet offered by a sportsbook runs this risk.  We’ve seen it time and time again during marquee events like The Super Bowl including the length of National Anthem, the first song of halftime, and even what a performer will wear. WWE also falls in this category for monthly pay-per-view events including The Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. Game Of Thrones also currently has a “who will sit on The Iron Throne” prop available. With all that being said, It was The Oscars after all, so let me take you through a visual journey of the night in question, and what it all means.

It all started with two awards that supposedly had leaked, but let’s start with the later award because it was a much bigger deal, who would win best director?  Yorgos Lanthimos, director of The Favourite (45-1 to -120), saw unusual betting activity with new accounts and old ones like setting up max bets, $100-$250 at 35/1 odds and below.

The Action Network wrote up a great article regarding this specific wager here.

To be clear, we’re still in a little bit of what came first, the chicken-or-the-egg situation as to the first series of events that unfolded, but it appears the basis for this line movement can be credited to someone seemingly very random:

On Sunday, there was serious movement on Best Director odds: Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of The Favourites, rose from as high as 45-1 at FanDuel all the way down to 5-1.

FanDuel, which has an app available in New Jersey and runs the sportsbook at the Meadowlands, tweeted that Best Director was taken off the board “w/a flurry of similar bets coming in amongst many books.”

Lanthimos’ rise seems to be at least partly connected to rumors from college campuses. One person reached out to The Action Network, saying they heard the rumor emanated from “a frat kid” at Penn State, whose father has major Hollywood connections.

Another gambler told The Action Network that they heard the Lanthimos rumor started at the University of Richmond, where a student received word from his aunt, who is on the Academy.

Then the second shoe(s) of course dropped:

 

While everyone was enamored by the possibility of a vast long shot coming in, another wager was drawing just as much interest from oddsmakers, the award for best visual effects supposed winner, Christopher Robin.

 

*It should be noted Christopher Robin was +2500 just a few days ago as well.

Fast forward to the end of a rather boring Oscars aside from you know, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga possibly causing divorce in the Cooper household:

 

 

And we were left with every gambler pining for something to wager on in the vast empty months of February at the end of their seat for the one award they were waiting for, best director. That’s because the supposed inside information on best visual effects winner Christopher Robin did not win. “And The Oscar goes to…”

…not Yorgos Lanthimos. Alfonso Cuaron, the director of Roma. The guy who was a -2000 favorite pounded down into the range of -120 by the shows start.

Well, you guessed it, gambling Twitter erupted into a sea of blood looking for someone to blame, and boy did they come for oddsmakers, specifically, AG, head oddsmaker of mybookie.ag.

“Conspiracy.”  “Publicity stunt.”  “Scam artist.” A few angry tweeters even threaten to call the FBI, but you get the idea.

The purpose of this particular article isn’t to look at the dealings or tweets of oddsmakers and examine their motives, truthfully I saved that for the exclusive interview with AG on Inside Vegas where we get the answers straight from his mouth, which comes out tomorrow.

The purpose here is to examine how the market responded. If you remember, I just wrote a piece regarding how the sports gambling market is changing, which you can read here.

I almost wish I saved that article until this week, because frankly, we may have just had another domino fall in how the market just evolved and changed, and spoiler alert, it’s not in a good way. Let’s take a quick excerpt to show you my point:

Look familiar? maybe like media outlets and/or oddsmakers influenced (albeit seemingly this was the second wave after the initial accounts were open and bet best director down) the market a bit?

I’m not saying they did this intentionally, I’m not even saying any oddsmaker did anything other than report what was going on at their specific shop. I do, however, know what you’re thinking, “Why would a sports book risk manager give away their liability like that knowing people are just going to bet it?” Well, that’s a good question, but maybe one that wouldn’t be at the forefront of everyone’s fingertips if this was a Sunday in November that happened to have NFL on. Various oddsmakers and risk managers go on podcasts and dish on “square” and “sharp” action literally every single day and weekly during football season for both professional and college football, but no one seems suspicious there.

Here’s where it gets even crazier, and truthfully, this is the main topic I found so fascinating, which is how the market and sports books alike responded, which in a lot of places was to cancel the bet altogether due to liability rarely ever seen, especially on a special events trade.

Let me say this to any bookmaker either locally, offshore, or New Jersey. If you canceled the bet, you shouldn’t be an oddsmaker. This is not The SEC rules commission where you can decide to just void a trade because you feel like you’ve been beaten. Win or lose, if you offer a wager, you honor it (aside from actual numbers mistakes, hanging +2000 instead of +200, I get that.)

There are plenty of shops who stood pat and welcomed the action offshore. Both oddsmakers who’s tweets are above who represent Mybookie.ag and Bovada.com respectively, honored all bets:

 

Which is what they should have done, and all the power to them. They deserved that win for the house for honoring their action.

“But what if it was a conspiracy and they just wanted everyone to lose?”

Well, for one, while they adjusted Yorgos Lanthimos down from 35-1 to -120, they also moved the original favorite and eventual winner, Roma director Alfonso Cuaron from -2000 to -140. If you got in on Yorgos at 35/1, a simple arbitrage could have seen you net at least +15.00 from those prices. Now, I understand gambling, and I too, bet on Yorgos without a hedge, but I’m not mad about it. In situations like this, it comes down to value and being okay with a losing bet, long term. +3500 to -120 is a bet I’d make every time, after all, I highly doubt even if this was conjured up somehow by oddsmakers, they knew the actual winners, and a simple recap shows you how much underdogs came in to win last night:

While Cauron was one of the heaviest favorites of the night, I don’t think anyone thought it was a foregone conclusion, and if you did, you probably should have bet him at -120 since he was ya know, -2000 earlier.

Do I think oddsmakers conspired to meet an end of monthly quota and pull the sheets over the eyes of gamblers? No. The backlash of this is enough that it may have done more harm than good in the eyes of a casual or uneducated bettor being “suckered” by an oddsmaker. There’s no reason why this moment, on this date, would be the time oddsmakers collectively at the same exact time reached over for their hammer and looked at the glass case that read, “break in case of emergency.” You can only use this type of situation once, ever, really.

The greater point and exploration topic here is how the market reacted. Now to be clear, I don’t know the specifics of why Fan Duel in New Jersey is allowed to hang Oscars winners props while Las Vegas is not due to regulations by the Gaming Commission, but having a “stand-up” legal sportsbook cancel patrons wagers due to fear of liability and payout is the most unique and damning concept I have ever heard when it comes to bookmaking and gambling from a philosophical standpoint. By the way, a specific type of pre-determined outcome novelty prop is offered once a month by sportsbooks, it’s called WWE betting and the limits on those types of bets closely resemble those on The Oscars, from $100 to $250.

If it did, in fact, come to fruition that the outlandish conspiracy theorists were proved right and it was something schemed up by oddsmakers, Yes, I’d change my mind on a lot of things and comments above, I want that to be very clear. I’m just shocked that more people are gathering petitions to stone oddsmakers for reporting what was happening on their site rather than being upset with the fact that sports books literally canceled bets for no other reason than they believed them.

Gamblers alike should have been hanging by a thread for the winner of best director for so many reasons other than if they won their 35/1 wager or not. Let’s take a minute and consider what would happen if the rumors were true and Yargos had indeed won. Sportsbooks would have lost upwards of half a million dollars reportedly each, which on the surface, why would a gambler care, it’s the book, that’s the point right? For every book that canceled a winning bet for fear that it had been leaked already, they’re opening a door that says that type of bookmaking is okay. It’s okay to cancel a bet if inside information leaks, and while sportsbooks are making the illegitimate jump to Trade Commission, where do they stop? Lopsided professional action? cancel it Hung a bad number and pros hit it for the limit? cancel it. Novelty props during The Super Bowl with action on one side? cancel it. After all, there have been examples of bets being made public before the event:

Okay, Rovell surely isn’t one of us, and certainly is still taking his lumps for that tweet:

But this one was very real:

 

 

It’s a slippery slope to fall down and one that should have more consequences than the vocal minority on Twitter trying to be heard. To put it simply, I understand if you’re upset you fell for a “trap” but your outrage is misguided. Chances are, your book probably canceled the bet and you saved yourself some money. The bigger and much more important aspect here is sports books lost all credibility by canceling what they deemed to be a more than likely winning bet due to fear. Risk managers should have seen this coming and moved odds exponentially faster. They should have increased limits on the other nominees, but in no way should a sports book ever be able to hit the reset button on liability or no reason at all.

 

A jack of all trades, Christian got his start in the gambling industry using a model to predict players performance in daily fantasy sports. Eventually, he used that same model to cross over into NFL handicapping, specifically the prop market and honed his craft enough to cross over from player projections into every aspect of sports Handicapping. He then made the full time move to Las Vegas to become a professional sports handicapper, utilizing his knowledge of all sports including NFL, NCAA, NBA, UFC, and MLB. He's currently the resident #DFS expert on The Sports Gambling Podcast as well as managing editor.

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