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What are the odds on picking the Oscar winners?

A worldwide leader in on-line gaming is urging Oscar fans to trust ''their Inner Grammy''

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

A worldwide leader in on-line gaming is urging Oscar fans to trust ''their Inner Grammy'' when trying to choose which film or star will take home a 2005 Academy Award.

Bowmans.com, founded 20 years ago by Toronto native Gary Bowman, said yesterday the Ray Charles sweep of the Grammys on Sunday night points to a trend where sentimental favourites often rule these large awards.

So far, Bowmans's front-running Oscar film is The Aviator followed by Million Dollar Baby. But the posthumous nostalgia for all things Charles has prompted the site to issue a warning: The biopic Ray could upset the betting order for best picture.

"Kanye West was a 2-1 favourite to win the most Grammys based on number of nominations," pointed out Bowmans's chief executive Chris Milward. "But the people loved legendary Ray Charles, and at 15-1, he swept everything."

Under the best-actor category, Jamie Foxx (who played Charles in Ray) is Bowmans's favourite front-runner, followed by Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator) and Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda).

Hilary Swank (the boxer in Million Dollar Baby) is ranked first among best actresses, followed by Annette Bening (Being Julia) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake).

Yesterday, Steve Rapp, Bowmans's Toronto-based marketing consultant, said his firm's Academy Awards odds are on The Aviator's Martin Scorcese for best director, followed by Million Dollar Baby's Clint Eastwood and Alexander Payne for Sideways.

"The feeling out there among our clients is that it's a two-man race between The Aviator and Ray for most categories," said Rapp. "But people don't bet the favourites. They look for the long shots where they can make the most money."

Rapp's top picks among those least favoured to win, include Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland) for best actor, Million Dollar Baby for best picture and Annette Bening for best actress.

The 77th Annual Academy Awards will be held at the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 27. The event made headlines yesterday after the awards' host Chris Rock was quoted in Entertainment Weekly saying the evening is nothing more than a glorified "fashion show" that is only watched by homosexuals.

Bowmans focuses on sports wagering, but recently branched out into on-line casino, poker and what Rapp calls "entertainment propositions" such as the Oscars and Grammys. Clients can also bet on one-off topics, such as how long the marriages of Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson will last.

The on-line gaming sector worldwide generated a gross revenue of $2.6-billion (U.S.) in 1996. It's estimated to be worth $12-billion by 2006.

Bowmans Oscar odds (as of yesterday)

-250 means you must wager $250 to win $100; +170 means you get $170 for every $100 you wager

BEST FILM

The Aviator -250

Million Dollar Baby +170

Sideways +400

Ray +2,000

Finding Neverland +3,300

BEST ACTOR

Jamie Foxx (Ray) -1,500

Leonardo DiCaprio

(The Aviator) +700

Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) +1,000

Clint Eastwood

(Million Dollar Baby) +2,000

Johnny Depp

(Finding Neverland) +2,200

BEST ACTRESS

Hilary Swank

(Million Dollar Baby) -600

Annette Bening (Being Julia) +200

Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) +1,200

Kate Winslet

(Spotless Mind) +2,500

Catalina Sandino Moreno

(Maria Full of Grace) +4,000

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