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This is the first year you can bet on the Oscars in the US ... and it likely won't be the last

Key Points
  • New Jersey is the only state allowing bets on the Academy Awards.
  • If it is deemed successful, other states could open up this betting pool next year.
  • Just don't expect to make a lot of money on your bets.
A man makes his bets at the FANDUEL sportsbook during the Super Bowl LIII in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 3, 2019
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

While international bookmakers have long allowed Americans to bet on the Oscars, this is the first time they can legally place bets domestically.

The 91st annual Academy Awards are scheduled for Sunday night.

New Jersey is the only state allowing such bets, but the expansion away from traditional gambling — horse and dog racing and sports — signals an interest by gaming commissions to pursue a wider consumer base.

"New Jersey is taking advantage of the commercial opportunities," said Chad Millman, head of media for the sports betting analysis company Action Network. "They are new to the market and trying to expand their consumer base."

About a dozen sportbooks, including FanDuel and DraftKings, are offering wagers. Some are allowing bets on all categories up for awards while others are only doing the big six — best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress.

"There's potential customers who might not be interested in sports, but who are interested in Hollywood," said Emily Bass, spokeswoman at FanDuel. "So, this is a perfect way for us to reach that demographic."

This year is very much a trial year for this kind of betting. Millman said other states will be paying close attention to how New Jersey's Oscar betting performs. If it is deemed successful, he said, other places in the U.S. could open up this betting pool next year.

However, don't expect to make a lot of money on your bets. Much of the reason that the Academy Awards has not been used in betting pools in the United States is the fact that there is a known outcome. While the winners are a closely guarded secret, there is the possibility that someone could figure out who they are.

"Nevada has never done the Oscars," said Jessica Welman, sports betting analyst for PlayUSA.com. "They don't touch the Oscars."

It's also the reason that the bets themselves are relatively low. Welman traveled to New Jersey to test out the different sportbooks, and when she tried to put $20 down on "Black Panther" for best picture, she was told the highest she could bet was $3.88. The payout, if she should win, would be around $107.

"Looks like everyone is keeping an eye on it and keeping it small," she said. "They aren't making it lucrative enough for anyone to throw things or cheat or collude."

In fact, the largest pot she could have won was about $860 on the editing category if "Bohemian Rhapsody" took home the trophy.

"No one is going to make a living doing this," Welman said.

For a while now, fans of the Oscars have done their own office pools, betting small sums just for fun, not to make a profit. Millman equates it to the prop bets that fans do during events like the Super Bowl. Prop bets are novelty side bets made on things that happen during an event rather than predict the outcome of the event.

For example, during the Super Bowl, hundreds of prop bets are available ranging from which team would be penalized first to the color of the Gaterade dumped on the winning coach.

The growth in popularity of these novelty bets hasn't just inspired traditional gambling companies, but for free-to-play apps and websites.

Tally is one such app. The prediction game was co-founded by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and seeks to drive engagement with fans during live television events.

Tally started as a way for sports fans to predict the outcomes of NFL and NCAA football games without putting any money up front. Once that gained traction, the company began doing it for nonsporting events like the Golden Globes, the State of the Union and "The Bachelor" reality TV show.

For example, for the Golden Globes Tally did a traditional prediction spread for all the categories, but for "The Bachelor" it allowed fans to bet on the number of times girls would interrupt each other to speak with the bachelor and how many times it was mentioned during the premiere episode that bachelor Colton Underwood was a virgin.

For the State of the Union, Tally had prop bets on how many times President Donald Trump used the word "crisis" or said "make America great again."

Because Tally is free-to-play, it isn't considered gambling and therefore, the company can offer unique prop bets for events that other gambling institutions cannot, said Jason LeeKeenan, Tally co-founder and CEO.

For the Oscars, Tally will be doing a similar setup as the Golden Globes. Fans can make predictions for each of the awards for a chance at a $5,000 jackpot if they get them all correct.

LeeKeenan noted that the scoring does differ based on the number of other people that also made that prediction.The number of points are inversely related to how many people selected that prediction, he explained.

"You get more points for upsets," LeeKeenan said.

The person who gets the most points will receive $250. Second place gets $100 and that figure decreases all the way down to 10th place.

LeeKeenan said Tally's type of betting will likely expand beyond the Oscars and sports to other television events like the last season of "Game of Thrones" and other hotly anticipated premieres.

"Live events, that is the future of television," LeeKeenan said.

Disclosure: CNBC parent Comcast and NBC Sports are investors in FanDuel.