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When Johnny Avello worked at Bally’s back in the early 1990s, he carried on a tradition started by his old boss, Lenny Del Genio.

Lenny would post odds on the Academy Awards, including who would win for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, etc.

Of course, you couldn’t place a bet on the Oscars at Bally’s, or anywhere else in Nevada. This was for entertainment purposes only, as they liked to say.

For Del Genio, and later, Avello, it was great public relations for the sportsbook and the casino. People Magazine would call. So would Entertainment Tonight and Hollywood Access and the like, asking Avello who he would make the favorite to win and what a good long shot might be.

But as the late Peter Tork of the Monkees once sang, that was then and this is now. In New Jersey, they actually booked bets on this year’s Academy Awards. Avello, who now works for DraftKings, helped set the line for the Oscars.

Yeah, he still fielded media calls leading up to Sunday. But this time, the bullets were for real. People were betting this stuff with cold hard cash and the idea of getting paid if they were to win.

So imagine what had to be going through everyone’s minds when the odds on Yorgos Lanthimos to win Best Director for the film “The Favourite” suddenly plummeted from +1600 to +270 at some Jersey books? Offshore, the drop was even more dramatic, going from +5000 to +300.

My immediate thought? Someone knew the outcome and was trying to cash in.

Eventually, the bet was taken off the board across the state. Some places refunded all action.

Lanthimos didn’t win as Alfonso Cuaron, the betting favorite, took home the statue for his work on Roma.

Crisis averted. Or was this a wakeup call for the industry?

It should have been.

The Oscars are a predetermined event. This isn’t like an NBA game or any other sporting event. Somebody knows who is winning an Academy Award. And while that person or persons are supposedly sworn to secrecy, the opportunity for impropriety still exists. You can put in all the safeguards you want and you can’t guarantee 100 percent integrity.

And that’s why Nevada wisely continues not to accept bets on things like the Oscars or how long the national anthem will be at the Super Bowl. The latter had its own firestorm earlier this month when everyone and his mother bet that Gladys Knight’s rendition of the anthem would go over or under a set time of one minute, 49 or 50 seconds, depending what offshore line you used.

If you recall, her version went over because she added an extended “Brave” to the final lyric, “Home of the brave…” Everyone seemed to had bet the over after “inside information” leaked out.

The point is, her rendition had been rehearsed and the NFL knew pretty much how long her performance would be. Again, the outcome was predetermined for the most part. The integrity of the wager could have been threatened.

Nevada does book who will win the Heisman Trophy and who will win various awards in other sports, and that’s treading on some dangerous turf. But not as dangerous as what took place in New Jersey over the weekend.

The real danger? Social media’s reach and turning rumor into the gospel truth for the naive, thus believing the event is rigged or not on the up-and-up.

It doesn’t take much for word to spread like wildfire. Somebody goes on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter throwing out something totally unsubstantiated and without verification and everyone accepts it as real. That’s likely what got things in a tizzy in New Jersey with this Best Director bet. 

Dr. Tony Alamo, the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, said Monday his state wasn’t asked by any of the sportsbooks to permit accepting action on the Oscars.

“No licensee asked for consideration,” he said. “In 2012, there was a petition to the board to allow it and was not approved at the time. Since then, there has been a certain comfort level with these kind of wagers. We allow betting on the Heisman Trophy and with eSports. But we haven’t set down any policy for allowing wagering on something like the Academy Awards because no one has petitioned us for permission to do it.”

Alamo said he wasn’t concerned about Twitter compromising the integrity of his state’s gaming entities.

“I don’t think social media has a role,” he said. “The first line of defense is the licensee, The licensee has to cherish the integrity of the license. They’re the ones who look for any improprieties.

“We exist as a governing body because of integrity. At the end of the day, it’s the best when we and the licensees are on the same page.”

Alamo said the day may very well come when you can bet on the Oscars in Nevada. But he’s not worried about any scandals deriving from booking a bet on what the Best Picture was.

“This particular event doesn’t move any needles,” he said of wagering on the Oscars. “They’re not the bread and butter of the race and sports books. I think that’s evident by the fact nobody asked us to make a decision whether or not to allow betting on it.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s why gamble with something that someone already knows the outcome to? If New Jersey is smart, it will not permit such wagers to be allowed in its legalized sports books in the future. Same for every other state that allows sports betting or is thinking about having it.

If they want to do it offshore, let them. Here in the U.S., the Nevada blueprint should be followed. And while the Silver State is at it, let’s knock off the betting on the Heisman, shall we?

I mean, would you really want to make a bet on something that I had a vested interest in as someone who had been a Hesiman voter? I didn’t think so. 

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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