The money’s on Ledger but the payoff aint so great

I’ve never been much of a gambling man. I’m not much of a ‘lottery man’ either (if such a moniker exists) and I’ll testify right now, on the record, off the QT and hand on Bible (if I had one), that I find something perverse and borderline extortionate about the way lotteries work. Companies like Tattersall's generate waterfalls of cash from a core business strategy which consists more or less of selling small pieces of paper that, if their clients are very, very, very lucky, can be traded in for a fortune. In most industries these pieces of paper are called ‘receipts’ but in the lottery industry a receipt is, with very few exceptions, the product itself.

That said, I do understand gambling’s remarkable propensity to make certain things – namely sporting events – a lot more interesting. When I was in Tokyo a few years back a friend and I had good fun watching the Sumos, but we had great fun when we started putting money on which swirling blob of human flesh was going to out-blob the other.

Like a lot of film lovers, it’s a ritual of mine to watch the Oscars every March, and every year - due to the Australian telecast delay and some very inconsiderate bozos in the media - I spend a traumatic day desperately trying to avoid learning any of the results. This is easier said than done. I don’t check my email; I don’t watch TV until the ceremony begins; I try not to visit websites. Last year for the first time I had a crack at putting some money on the Oscars and was happy to discover that - just like the Sumos - gambling made it more interesting. I put money on Tom Wilkinson to win Best Supporting Actor for Michael Clayton, because the odds were very long (thus a good payout) and his part in the film marked a terrific, career-high performance, so I figured he had a decent shot at it (Javier Bardem, the favourite, ended up winning - quite deservedly – for No Country for Old Men). I also put a couple of bucks on Tilda Swinton to snag Best Supporting Actress (again for Michael Clayton) and, despite very long odds, she got it - I can’t remember what the odds were, but from a $2 bet I pocked about $30, which meant overall breaking even plus a modest, Paddle Pop surplus.

Craving a repeat of my success in ’08, and this year shooting for at least a Gaytime, I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon early this year (in the pre-nomination-announcement days) and headed over to to sniff the sitch out. The only category open for betting was Best Supporting Actor and the only selection available was a YES or NO for Heath Ledger. I’m aware of the hype surrounding his performance, but surprised to see the YES payout was $1.15, which, in case you were wondering what sort of chances the late Australian actor has at snaring a posthumous gong, indicates he is not just the obvious favourite but – according to centrebet - a hands-on, you-betcha, sure-fire, stake-yer-house on it favourite. Today when I checked the site they’d taken the option to bet on him away. Strange. Maybe too many people were investing in a Ledger victory...

But then again the payoff isn’t great. If you bet a grand on YES for Ledger at $1.15 – and this is not a recommendation, just for the record - you will pocket only $150 bucks, so in other words centrebet is pretty damn sure about it. According to a centrebet blog post the company collected more than $25,000 of bets in one day late last year, and Neil Evans - who I assume is a company rep or a big shot in the bet factory - said in December:

"Even a long way from final nominations, we saw significant bets coming from people who work in the big screen world, entertainment writers and spruikers, and hundreds and hundreds of punters putting their sentiment where their wallet is.”

Centrebet understand all too well that sentiment isn’t a great foundation for any investment, and that the phrase ‘money is where the heart is’ never existed, and will never exist, for a very good reason. So there you have it: Ledger apparently is a shoe-in to win. He’ll have to get past some tough competition – Frank Langella should be nominated for his portrayal of Nixon in Frost/Nixon and Josh Brolin has generated some very good press in relation to Milk – but it does look like the stars are aligning for a Ledger win. This is good news: Ledger's reinterpretation of The Joker is a brilliantly creepy characterisation, far unlike anything else on his resume, and while nothing can escalate audience hype and expectation quite like the death of a famous actor, Ledger nonetheless delivered, from the grave, in spades. From a betting perspective – not that I’m much of a gambling man, in case you haven't gathered that by now – it will be more interesting to put a punt on the all-important Best Film category, which doesn’t have a clear favourite. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon and yes – The Dark Knight – should all be considered serious contenders, and while my initial hunch goes with Slumdog, it’s anyone’s game. Well, not anyone’s – Big Stan, Rob Schneider’s comedy about prison rape, will almost certainly be overlooked by the Academy (those snobs!). If one could put money on Big Stan to win Best Film, the odds would have to be long enough to transform a fifty cent bet into at least half a mill. From Paddle Pops to Ferraris - now that is some sweet action.


  1. If we could somehow combine the two events you enjoy betting on - the sumos and the Oscars, THAT would be worth watching! Imagine it! Sumos crushing the bones of waif-thin holywood actors as they give them a sumo-congratulatory hug! Or nominees donning g-strings and battling out the awards sumo style! Forget the performances, who can smack down!? Celebrity Death Match came pretty close to this, but gimme live-action any day!

  2. Have you tried checking and comparing the odds overseas with the Australian odds? Never underestimate the ability of Australians to be blinded by their patriotism. Case in point is the Asian Cup in 2007. Australian betting agencies had us as clear favourites but overseas we were only in the top 2 or 3.

    Not to suggest that Heath wouldn't be the favourite in the USA as well (a position no doubt strengthened by yesterdays GG win), but you may get slightly more favourable odds over there. Fortunately since you're not a betting man you won't have to deal with the logistics of placing a bet with a USA betting agency.