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Handicapping odds for film's finest

Julia Roberts, best actress? You bet!


(CNN) -- Leading up to the opening of the Oscar envelopes on March 25, there are plenty of predictions on who will take home Academy Awards.

That includes some odds-makers in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Great Britain, who seem to relish the opportunity to break out the crystal ball to determine the fate of the nominees.

While gambling on the outcome of the Oscars is illegal in Nevada (and everywhere else in the United States, for that matter), that hasn't stopped Bally's and Paris Las Vegas from posting odds-on favorites for the top prizes -- just for fun, of course.

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Ask Johnny Avello, the Director of Race and Sports at Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, who's been running Oscars numbers for a few years now. He comes to his figures through several avenues -- researching, watching, and "networking."

"Between what I read and know, I come up with who I think the favorites should be, and then I compile the odds based on mathematical formula," says Avello.

This year, the math says "Gladiator" is the best bet for the top prize -- 2-1 to win best picture. Avello also picks Russell Crowe ("Gladiator") for odds-on favorite to take best actor; Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich") to win best actress; Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") to grab best director; Jeff Bridges ("The Contender") for best supporting actor; and Judi Dench ("Chocolat") for best supporting actress.

Of all the picks, Avello feels most strongly about Roberts, who has also won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award for her "Erin Brockovich" performance.

"I don't like to use the word 'lock.' That means 'guarantee,'" say Avello. "There's no such thing as a guarantee in our business. But she's probably the closest thing to it."

While Nevada bettors can't legally throw down money on the Oscars, they still enjoy seeing the odds, Avello says.

"They come in and make (odds) sheets and take them home," says Avello. "They probably go home and watch the Oscars that night, relate it back to what I made the favorite. It's a fun deal for everybody."

It's more than fun beyond U.S. shores, where strictures against betting on the contest don't always apply. For example, Ladbrokes International in London, England, creates Oscar odds by watching the results of other popular awards like the Golden Globes, then figuring the best bets.

"There are some pretty strong correlations year-on-year on the films that pick up various awards going on to win Oscars," says Andy Clifton, Ladbrokes' head of communications.

While Ladbrokes stopped taking Oscar bets last week -- "The favorites are all going to win," says Clifton -- the company set odds in the categories of best picture, actor and actress. Like Avello, Ladbrokes chose "Gladiator," Crowe and Roberts as the respective favorites.

Roberts, he says, is the favorite of the favorites.

"It would be a major, major surprise if Julia Roberts doesn't win," says Clifton.

Bally's Race and Sports

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