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Real betting is on the way

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 2:13pm

People in the industry like to place little wagers on the weekend boxoffice. They’re probably nothing more than five bucks, or a coffee shop lunch if “x” beats “y” this weekend. That sort of thing.

That’s about to change, though, in a major way. Soon, everyone —I mean, everyone — will be able to bet on the boxoffice, and make or lose lots of money on the outcome.

Cantor Fitzgerald’s Howard Lutnick is right now beta testing something called The Cantor Exchange. Lutnick already operates the Hollywood Stock Exchange, where players trade “virtual” shares of everything including stars, directors, films, etc. It’s all innocent fun.

CX, as it will be known, is a different story. Cantor is awaiting regulatory approval before it launches officially. When it does, the boxoffice could become an interesting, maybe even dangerous, game. It’s real money, and it sure looks like anyone can play, even studio execs and theater distributors.

From now until December 31, the firm has something called “It Pays to Practice,” in which they give traders fake money but convert it into small amounts of real cash winnings.

The trading on this market will go on 24-7, meaning as a weekend progresses, a film’s values will go up and down along with investors. For a surprise hit like “The Blind Side,” this could be a bonanza.

More importantly, speculating on films’ futures will begin six months before their release dates. If CX were live now, believe me, the betting on James Cameron’s looming, maybe $500 million, gamble on “Avatar” would be the main focus of the site. And that should prove controversial, because there will inevitably be reports on what a film’s perceived business will be even as it’s being prepared and marketed.

The effect of all this could be harrowing, to say the least, especially for a studio’s finances. PR wars could become intense in a whole new way to spin advance word one way or another. Stay tuned…