Looking for Oscar pool help? Here’s what the smart money says

Oscar statuettes backstage at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2, 2014
Oscar statuettes backstage at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

By now, you probably have strong feelings about who’s going to win in the Oscar categories for acting, as well as for best picture and director, if you follow such things. But isn’t it always the short films and the crafts categories such as sound that sink you in the Oscar pool?

For amusement purposes only, an actual betting analyst is here to tell you what the “smart money” is on for those tricky categories. Rohit Ponnaiya of (a sports betting information provider) applies the data to his love of sports and movies — nice work if you can get it. He agrees the die seem to already be cast in some cases.

‘Nomadland’ is about -670 on most of the sites we list,” he says of the heavy favorite to win best picture. But what does “-670” mean? He explains the “American standard way is if you see a minus by a name, you have to put in that much money to win $100. So you’d have to put in $670 to win $100 on ‘Nomadland’ — not a whole lot of value there. If you see the Lakers against the Timberwolves, you’ll see odds similar to that.”


If -670 seems like a not-so-worthwhile bet, consider what the bettors think is the biggest slam-dunk at the Oscars this year: “Soul” is -5,000 to win for animated feature. That’s right, you’d have to wager $5,000 to earn $100 back if “Soul” won. For your Oscar pool, however, bettors think the sound winner is clear as a bell: At the betting site DraftKings, “Sound of Metal” is a -2,500 favorite.

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As to underdogs, “If you see a plus amount next to a number, that’s what you’d win if you bet $100,” Ponnaiya says, citing the documentary short “Do Not Split” as a +1,400 underdog (wager $100, win $1,400).

“As tempting as it may be to bet a +1,400 underdog,” he cautions, “the winners are usually the favorites.”

As betting money on the Oscars currently is not legal in 48 of the 50 states (Covers is based in Canada), we remind you the odds offered here are for amusement purposes only. And for getting revenge on Kyle for always winning your office pool.

“Generally speaking, when you’re trying to win your office pool, if you go with the big favorites, you’re going to be right,” said Ponnaiya, while noting he went against the grain last year and took “Parasite” when it was an underdog (+200), along with director Bong Joon Ho (+300), so it’s hardly an exact science.


The acting categories all have solid favorites now, except for lead actress. Chadwick Boseman of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (-1,667) and Daniel Kaluuya of “Judas and the Black Messiah” (-2,500) both are listed on Action as having implied probabilities of winning of over 94%. Yuh-Jung Youn of “Minari” is up to -500 (83.3%), with only Maria Bakalova of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” in spitting range at +375 (21.1%).

For lead actress, though, there is no clear favorite. The Oscar precursors have split among Carey Mulligan of “Promising Young Woman” (+125, 44.4%), Viola Davis of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (+200, 33.3%), Frances McDormand of “Nomadland” (+400, 20%) and Andra Day of “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (+600, 14.3%). Using other factors such as age of nominee (most winners being either below 35 or over 60) and playing a historical figure, Action Network predicts an upset: Day, 36, playing Billie Holiday, to win. For what it’s worth, The Times’ BuzzMeter is going with Mulligan to ride the momentum “Promising Young Woman” has shown in the later stages of awards season.

For some of those tricky Oscar-pool categories, Ponnaiya of Covers offered these favorites: “My Octopus Teacher” (-500 to win for documentary feature), “Love Song for Latasha” (-250 for documentary short), “If Anything Happens I Love You” (-335 for animated short) and “The Letter Room” (-167 for live-action short). However, as with “Parasite,” Ponnaiya isn’t entirely opposed to going with his gut, as in the documentary short category:

“My personal favorite in this category is ‘A Concerto Is a Conversation,’ which is +350.”