Not since the days of Pretty Woman had Julia Roberts been available at such a generous price, although even Richard Gere would have needed a betting brain to take advantage of the offer. I refer here to the 11 to 10 available at best price in my sample of bookmakers at the opening of the market about Ms Roberts taking the 2001 Best Actress Oscar for her part in Erin Brokovich.
Although available only to a maximum stake of £25, it compared with competing prices ranging from 4 to 6 all the way down to 1 to 5. Witness the following top prices about Best Actress: 11 to 10 Julia Roberts, 12 to 1 Joan Allen, 20 to 1 Juliette Binoche, 20 to 1 Ellen Burstyn, 20 to 1 Laura Linney. This makes up to a margin in favour of the bettor of 30.4%. The book is what is termed overbroke.
It is, in effect, the equivalent of a bookie offering 15 to 8 against both horses in a 2-horse race. A similar pattern emerges in an examination of the best opening prices about Best Actor: 7 to 4 Russell Crowe, 15 to 8 Tom Hanks, 10 to 1 Geoffrey Rush, 20 to 1 Javier Bardem, 20 to 1 Ed Harris. This adds up to a margin in favour of the bettor of 11.2%, or about the same as 5 to 4 against each of two horses.
If that was not enough to guarantee a small profit to no risk, you could add to your wad by turning to the Best Actor category, which yielded an advantage to the bettor of 10%, and to Best Director for a massive 16%. Don’t believe that 16%? Well, here it is: Ron Howard at 11 to 4, Robert Altman at 7 to 2, Peter Jackson at 4 to 1, Ridley Scott at 10 to 1, and David Lynch at 16 to 1. The reality, of course, is that some of the better prices moved within minutes of the start of play.
Even so, I can personally vouch for the fact that they stayed around long enough to turn theoretical advantage into practical effect, albeit often to somewhat limited stakes. Still, there is something else we can derive from prices such as these, which allows us an opportunity to profit more generally, and that is what they tell us about the true probabilities of each outcome.