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On Feb. 23, John Richards traveled more than 100 miles to place bets on the Oscars. He took a train from Washington, D.C., to Wilmington, Del., and then hopped into an Uber car to take him to a truck stop in New Jersey.

Once in that state, where bets are legal, he opened his DraftKings, FanDuel and bet365 apps and spent about $1,800 on a series of wagers: Lily Gladstone for best actress, “The Creator” for best visual effects, “Maestro” for best makeup, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” for best animated film, “Oppenheimer” for best sound and “War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko” for best animated short.

Mr. Richards, a 40-year-old statistician at Red Carpet Rosters, a fantasy league site for film awards, has been betting on the Oscars since 2016. Before his trip to the New Jersey truck stop, he had already wagered $2,750 on this year’s awards. In addition to placing multiple bets for Ms. Gladstone, he put $70 on Emma Stone as a hedge.

Mr. Richards is one of a growing number of Oscar gamblers scattered around the world. In the United States, where gambling is regulated at the state level, seven states allow Oscar betting: Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey. Sports betting, however, is allowed in 38 states and the District of Columbia. It became legal in 2018 after the Supreme Court overturned a 1992 law banning sports betting. Later that year, the first Oscar market opened in New Jersey.

Because the outcomes of sports games are unknown before the matches, allowing bets on them is considered less risky than bets on awards shows, whose results are decided in advance. PwC, an accounting firm formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, tabulates the votes for the Academy Awards. According to the Academy’s website, only two partners of PwC know the results before they are announced during the Oscars ceremony. In general, employees that have access to confidential information are not supposed to use that information for personal gain, a PwC spokeswoman said.

How much Americans bet on the Oscars is unknown because the major trade association for casinos, the American Gaming Association, doesn’t collect data on Oscar betting, but it estimates that legal online sports books, like Draft Kings and BetMGM, have taken in $10.26 billion in revenue.

BetMGM, which facilitates legal Oscar betting in four U.S. states, as well as Ontario and Puerto Rico, said that this year over half of Oscar bets have been placed on best picture. Sixty-nine percent of these bets are on “Oppenheimer,” which opened at +800 in June 2023 (meaning a $100 bet would net you $800 plus your investment). “Oppenheimer,” now a favorite, is trading at -3,000 (meaning you must bet $3,000 to win $100).

Mr. Richards watches every nominated movie before wagering. “I like to trust my gut,” he said. “I want to use the math to support my gut feeling.”

That’s how he won $200 wagering on “Moonlight,” an underdog for best picture in 2016. Similarly, he bet on “CODA,” a best picture nominee in 2022, when the odds were 25 to 1. That year, he won nearly $10,000 overall. It’s an entirely different approach from the way he and others bet on sports, where stats come first and gut feelings a distant second.

Oscar betting isn’t a new phenomenon, said Brett Abarbanel, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “There are betting sites and markets in Europe that have taken bets on the Academy Awards for decades,” she said.

BetUS, an offshore sports book based in Costa Rica, has been offering Oscar betting for 20 years. “In the last two to three years, we’ve really seen it grow by leaps and bounds,” said Tim Williams, BetUS’s director of public relations. “During the course of the Academy Awards, we probably take bets from more than half the countries on earth.”

Many Americans use offshore books, which are in a legal gray area in the United States. Their legality varies from state to state. “Some consider both sides of the activity to be illegal, while others only treat the service provider to be the illegal actor,” Ms. Abarbanel said. Mr. Williams says the increased popularity of Oscar betting is caused by the growth of legal betting markets in the United States, most of which don’t allow Oscar betting because the results of the Oscars are decided in advance.

Betting on the arts is less a numbers game than sports betting: There are no stats like R.B.I.s and T.D.s to pore over, no injury reports or previous games to set precedents, aside from precursor award shows like the Golden Globes. Mr. Williams said that odds are set through examining industry trends, critical acclaim and social media. After they’re set, “the odds move based upon the way that customers are betting,” Mr. Williams said. “Our goal as a sports book is to take roughly an equal share of bets on all of the options. And we do that by adjusting the odds.” This year, Christopher Nolan and Oppenheimer are a sure thing, Mr. Williams said.

But, according to Mr. Williams, Oscar betting is not lucrative for BetUS, and the company often loses money on the bets each year. “If we were in the retail business, I think they would call that a loss leader,” Mr. Williams said.

The odds can quickly change. Chris Steckman, a legal consultant for a fashion company who lives in West Hollywood, Calif., and bets on the Oscars, pointed out that Fantasia Barrino of “The Color Purple” was a favorite for best actress in September on Bovada, an offshore sports book, but then Ms. Barrino wasn’t nominated. The current favorite is Lily Gladstone.

Mr. Steckman, 33, said he has never had a losing year betting on the Oscars. He makes anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000 every year. This year he has wagered about $1,500.

“I love betting Oscars because it forces me to watch movies I kind of otherwise wouldn’t,” Mr. Steckman said. For advice, he also follows Gold Derby, an Oscar prediction website that allows users to vote, a subreddit called OscarRace, and a podcast called “The Next Best Picture.” “It’s not a perfect science,” he said.

A cottage industry of Oscar prognosticators and podcasts has sprung up to offer advice. This includes “Lights Camera What’s the Action?,” a podcast hosted by Tony Coca-Cola (a stage name) and his friends. Tony Coca-Cola has been betting on the Academy Awards in Australia since 2005.

“It’s like taking your annual Oscars pool up a notch,” he said. Tony Coca-Cola and his friends weren’t taking the bets too seriously. “You bet on who you want to win, and that’s just a surefire way to lose money,” he said. “But the more we did it, the more we realized that the bookies don’t really know what they’re doing in these entertainment markets.” He and his friends try to beat the house by reading Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, checking out Gold Derby and analyzing pundits.

For advice, Mr. Richards, the statistician, turns to awards like the SAGS and to Ben Zauzmer, the author of “Oscarmetrics,” who created a mathematical Oscar prediction model.

“I do not endorse betting,” Mr. Zauzmer said. “I don’t bet on the Oscars myself.” But Oscar betting markets are one factor in his prediction model. “Betting markets serve as a wisdom of the crowds, and study after study has shown that in many domains, not just the Oscars, wisdom of the crowds tends to have some predictive power,” he said.

What does the industry think of Oscar betting? Gabriel Rossman, a sociology professor at U.C.L.A., thinks it isn’t enthused. (The academy declined to comment.) Dr. Rossman said the film industry lobbied to stop another betting market from existing in 2010: the Hollywood Stock Exchange, a prediction website where people voted on the value of movies and celebrities. After industry pushback, it continued as a virtual game with no money involved.

Nonetheless, Dr. Rossman says betting could be positive for the Oscars. “The Oscars has been in such a decline for public interest, anything that draws attention to the Oscars is going to be good for them,” he said.

Since legal Oscar bets are limited, bettors who want to wager tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars turn to illegal offshore books and prediction markets.

One man who goes by the gambling name A Nude Egg, who asked to remain anonymous to separate his personal life from his gambling life, said he wagers from $100,000 to $150,000 on the Oscars — money spread out over 30 sports books and a few prediction markets. He recently quit his job to become a full-time gambler.

In 2021, he won $28,000 by betting on the Oscars. “Each year I attempt to bet on every category, even the three short film categories, which are sometimes my favorite to bet on since most people know nothing about those films,” he said. He says it’s wiser to avoid watching nominated films so that personal biases don’t creep into betting decisions, but he doesn’t heed his own advice. “I’m a movie buff,” he said. “I just do my best to try to separate out my feelings.”

Not all Oscar bettors take the markets so seriously. Some place small bets to enhance their enjoyment of the show.

“Awards shows can be slow, but when there’s money on the line, I’m a lot more invested,” said Matt Pondiscio, a 26-year-old self-described “art kid” who lives in New Jersey and bets from $5 to $10 a category.

Mr. Pondiscio, a former film major, got into Oscars betting on DraftKings when his fraternity brothers, who were wagering on N.F.L. games, told him in 2018 that Oscar betting was available. Mr. Pondiscio has yet to win money betting on the Oscars — he has wagered about $500 over the years and made back about $300.

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