Living in the digital-information age it’s awfully easy to forget that there are still “seasons” of TV. Netflix is constantly refreshing content for its subscribers, YouTube “originals” can go up almost anytime, and the phenomenon of binge-watching has made it as easy to sit in suspense in July as in January.
In addition to that, many “Golden Era” shows like Better Call Saul are produced and shot as carefully and deliberately as Hollywood motion pictures. They don’t release episodes on an old-fashioned TV schedule of fall-spring-summer break and repeat again. The episodes air on cable TV when auteur-directors like Vince Gilligan are good and ready for them to.
But there’s one thing the internet era can’t replace – the plot twist. The cliff-hanger. The assassination or great escape of a main character. People can watch TV shows anytime – they don’t even have to use an actual television. What they cannot do is speculate and wager on a rerun, even if they personally don’t know the outcome.
Soap opera plots inhabit most of the shoot-em-up and sword-sorcery genre of shows, making premiere and season-capping episodes of Game of Thrones and similar TV events into gold-mines for sharks, tipsters and entertainment betting sites.
What few original plots and outcomes occur on television shows released over the summer have often been spoiled-to-death already while delays kept the episodes off air.
That means that the “entertainment” pages of MyBookie or Bovada Sportsbook tend to run a little low whenever the temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere start running high.
Where else can the bookies turn? Sometimes, to reality TV. But more often, summer gambling odds on entertainment tend to focus on real-life novelty acts…and just plain reality.
The Quest for the Perfect TV Gambling Market
It’s not so easy to manufacture betting markets on real-life news and events. Politics have become Americans’ favorite new brand of “Reality TV,” and while the outcomes of elections are usually crystal-clear, plenty of debatable and ambiguous things come across headlines relating to active moneylines.
For instance, Bovada has offered gambling odds on “Roger Stone flipping on Donald Trump.” But even if ol’ Roger had taken a plea deal, he might not have fully flipped on the POTUS in his testimony to the FBI or to Congress. There are grey areas.
“Flip” is a slang term anyway. It’s like having a prop betting market on the NFL, “Will Tom Brady Tear Up the League This Season?” There are various definitions and grades of “tearing up” the NFL season.
TV serials and soap operas – and WWE wrestling for that matter – would seem to present an easy solution for bookmakers. If people aren’t sports fans and want something else to wager on, then scripted shows should be able to provide clear-cut outcomes, headlines and recaps without any distortion or political bias, and even director’s commentary to settle any debates. Bettors who had taken prices on Walter White surviving the final episode of Breaking Bad protested after its airing that Walt’s entire revenge-tour of Albuquerque and subsequent passing-away in a meth lab was actually a dream sequence, and that the drug kingpin was still hibernating in a New Hampshire cabin the entire time. Gilligan set things straight shortly after the finale.
Sometimes, though, there are times when even scripted events don’t have a clear or satisfying outcome. A classic example is a “Dusty Rhodes finish” on TV wrestling, in which a grappler is shown to have “won” a title belt only to have it stripped on the next episode due to some referee’s mistake that supposedly renders the championship pin illegitimate. The tactic is used to get “pop” from a live crowd without having to make changes to any other bookings or cards. But it’s a pain in the neck for gamblers and bookies trying to figure out which markets won and lost.
Then there are the infamous TV moments like Bobby Ewing showing up alive in the shower after being killed-off 6 episodes prior on Dallas.
I wonder – were there prop bets placed in Las Vegas on which characters would/would not survive a season of Dallas? Did prop wagers on Bobby dying (surely priced at long odds due to the character’s A-list status on the show) pay off when he appeared to die? Or were bookmakers waiting until the end of the season to determine an outcome for each character? If so, Bobby’s plight (and half of the season getting written-off as a character’s really, really, really long bad dream) must have been an emotional roller-coaster ride for some folks – even those who couldn’t have cared less about Ewing Oil.
Of course, the ending of The Sopranos is a great example as well. How did Tony Soprano wagers pay off when the character became Schrodinger’s Cat at the end of Season 6? Film buffs quickly analyzed the final sequence as Tony’s death – the audience sees what Tony sees 4 times in a row with the final shot one of nothingness. That’s not going to convince a bookmaker who you wagered against at 3-to-1 odds that the mafia boss would die in that episode. “The final shot of the Sopranos is Tony getting ready to eat,” they would tell a frustrated betting client. “He looks alive to me.”
Finally there’s the problem of spoilers. Matthew Weiner, the executive director of Mad Men, became so enraged at spoilers leaking out on the internet prior to each upcoming episode that he began pressuring AMC management to step in. Fans were getting incomplete information and connecting it to what they had learned from sneak-peeks and previews on YouTube. Weiner eventually created a series of Mad Men previews that were so tightly edited, it was like that WKRP episode where they splice 7 songs into a 5 second clip to prevent a caller from winning a name-that-tune sweepstakes.
Obviously, spoilers are like kryptonite to a sportsbook trying to balance action and make a profit on episodic television markets.
Game of Thrones moguls David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have learned from the mistakes of past hit shows. In fact, it’s amazing how well “GoT” is able to protect itself against spoilers in 2019. That makes the franchise a darling of betting sites, even pages like Sportsbetting.ag which (true to the brand name) sometimes goes easy on news and entertainment and sticks to the sporting odds.
Funny that the sword-and-sorcery genre should become the most “objective” entertainment gambling market. Because of the old-fashioned drama of the production, it’s rarely left ambiguous which Game of Thrones characters are rising to power (or being killed-off) at any given time.
Sure, a Conan the Barbarian “prop gambler” could have claimed that Arnie’s girlfriend was actually still alive when she returned briefly as a Valkyrie in the sequel. But that’s a whiny and weak position to take just trying to convince a bookie to pay out. It’s like the kid playing Dungeons & Dragons who asks if he can cast an “Oil Slick” vertically across the sky and create a wall of fire.
Where can odds-managers find clear-cut outcomes and spoiler-free entertainment markets over the summer? GoT won’t spout its next painfully-modern English accent again until the leaves are preparing to turn. The Walking Dead is still staggering – literally – toward a conclusion…but it’s not going to premiere a new episode on July 4th weekend (unless I’m missing something).
With no zombies and few swords (other than PVC pipe wielded by reality-YouTube idiots) to go around in mid-year, sportsbooks are turning to several alternatives.
Bovada has hybridized the “Entertainment” section of its site into a spot for current-events markets, such as which company will be the first to charter people to Mars. That’s about as “reality TV” as it gets. It is a reality, or at least a soon-to-come one. It’s just also reported on TV.
MyBookie appears to be giving things a more-serious go at the moment, offering lines on Hollywood casting choices for the Green Lantern and for the next James Bond film…and also some reality-betting markets straight out of Dante’s Inferno that we’ll get to in a minute.
A Few Entertainment Gambling Markets of Summer
MyBookie’s Fun With Celebrities
If you scroll through the tabloid-y links at MSN.com or on deep scroll at The Hill or Politico, you’ve probably seen a lot of MyBookie betting topics without necessarily knowing it.
The Costa Rican sportsbook managers know that while television shows take time off, and perhaps novelty events like pinball tournaments can only go so far, speculators will always be interested in celebrity news and in the casting of movie stars into Tinseltown films already in production.
It’s not all peaches, cream, and James Bond screen-testing at MyBookie, though. Noteworthy are the betting site’s “Death Match-ups” in which pairs (or sometimes groups) of aging famous figures are pitted against one another with bettors asked who will die first.
I consider MyBookie’s death-battle markets to be somewhat of a gambit for suckers, not necessarily because the options include actual life-and-death but because will potentially take so long to pay off.
In the case of Keith Richards, his death market would probably never pay off.
There’s just 1 exception – when a death duel at MyBookie pairs a celebrity you absolutely detest against a celebrity that you like. You can place a small “good luck” wager on your guy (or girl or person) to live or if you think you always have bad luck in entertainment markets, you can bet against them.
Charlie Sheen vs Magic Johnson is a current “death match-up” that I’m sure a lot of gamblers have personal feelings connected to. Same for Donald Trump vs Vladimir Putin, even though I think MyBookie would pull-in more action by pairing Trump (or Putin) against left-wing political figures.
We can see major sports leagues – and especially the mainstream sports media – start to pull strings and do tap-dances to get to where we all know they’re headed anyway, toward open acknowledgment and accommodation, even cooperation with sportsbooks and bettors.
TV shows that make popular betting markets, like GoT and TWD, make so much money already that there’s never any need to take any measures to accommodate gambling…except for tightly policing spoiler-leaks which is never a bad idea to begin with.
But I’ve got a hunch about shows that don’t produce Game of Thrones-level cash flow and must scrap and ankle-bite for more viewership. Reality TV shows aren’t everyone’s taste, and they’re especially no fun if you don’t have someone to cheer for.
Reality shows like The Real World were staged like dramas back in the day – some still are. But network reality shows are starting to fit into a different mold – one of clear-cut competition. America’s Got Talent, Big Brother, you name it – there are winners and losers in every episode. The production makes no bones about it and even if you’re invited back as a guest performer, if you lose, you’re out.
That’s a great scenario for sportsbooks to jump-in on. The problem is that few fresh episodes of network reality shows are actually run over the summer, and the ones that are aren’t usually popular enough to make a splash. Look for various “punk” competitions streamed online – such as sports video-game derbies – that will show up at betting books before Big Brother does in July or August.
World Series of Poker
I would feel remiss giving any advice on poker gambling (or watching poker on TV for that matter) and the topic of poker itself is “OT” for this post, since it is arguably a sport, or at least a game. Poker outcomes on television are not scripted…at least we hope that doesn’t happen.
But it’s still a good opportunity to bring up the fine work my colleagues have produced on the subject of poker, available on the casino-gambling map and blog pages of LegitGamblingSites.com.
Sports are Reality TV Too
If the whisper-orgy of Big Brother isn’t enough to tickle a GoT-junkie’s fancy in the off-TV season, there’s always good old sports to capture that real-life unpredictability and drama.