Oddsmakers Tab Whitaker, Mirren Oscar Favorites

LAS VEGAS (January 24, 2007) — Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren are being hailed as the likely king and queen of the Oscars by bookmakers after Academy Award nominees were announced Tuesday.

Mirren, who plays British monarch Elizabeth II in “The Queen,” is as much as a 1-10 favorite by handicappers to win the best actress Oscar, meaning a bettor hypothetically would have to put down $10 to win $1, plus the original outlay. Nevada casinos don’t take actual bets on the Academy Awards but set odds for fun because state law forbids wagering on events in which the outcome is known.

British betting site Ladbrokes, which accepts online wagers, gave Mirren 1-6 odds.

“Dame Helen looks set to add the big one to her Golden Globe accolade,” Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg said. “It will go down as the greatest upset in the Academy’s history if she wasn’t given the award.”

Whitaker was nominated for best actor for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” and was made the prohibitive favorite at up to 1-5.

“They can just leave the Oscar right on their seats,” said Benjamin Eckstein, president of America’s Line, a syndicated newspaper odds column. “They’re foregone conclusions. The others shouldn’t even bother showing up.”

The only close race of the 79th Academy Awards on Feb. 25 appears to be for best picture. Several bookmakers expressed surprise that the list included “Letters from Iwo Jima” instead of “Dreamgirls,” which topped all films with eight nominations.

“‘Dreamgirls’ gets a bunch of nominations and it doesn’t get one for best picture,” said John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas. “I’m kind of shocked.”

Avello gave “The Departed” 2-1 odds to win, while “Babel” was close behind at 5-2, followed by “The Queen” at 3-1 and “Little Miss Sunshine” at 4-1.

“This is the tightest race that I’ve ever seen for best picture,” Avello said. “The top four are almost inseparable.” He gave “Letters” a 25-1 shot of winning.

Bookmakers also pegged Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson, both in “Dreamgirls,” as the best bets for winning for best supporting actor and actress, with odds of up to 1-2 for Murphy and 1-3 for Hudson.

Martin Scorcese is due to be anointed best director for “The Departed,” with bookmakers giving him as much as a 3-5 shot. A sixth defeat would put him alone in the record book as the losingest director ever.

“They feel a little guilty that they haven’t honored Martin Scorcese yet for all his great work in the past,” Eckstein said. “It’s not his best picture, but it’s time for them to say, ‘Marty, here you go.”’

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