Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: Start Your Engines

DraftKings' Hall-of-Fame bookmaker answers questions about the sports betting industry
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Welcome to our weekly “Ask a Bookmaker” feature, which answers many of the common (and uncommon!) questions gamblers and enthusiasts have about how sportsbooks operate in the modern age of sports betting.

Respected bookmaker Johnny Avello has been involved in the betting industry since the 1970s and previously managed the Las Vegas sportsbooks at Bally’s and the Wynn. Now the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, Avello was recently inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame.

Have a question you’d like to ask Avello? Send it to jbalan@bettercollective.com. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

I know next to nothing about the intricacies of auto racing, let alone how to handicap it, but the Indianapolis 500 is coming up this weekend, so it seems like a good time to discuss it. From a bookmaking perspective, how does auto racing work? How does the process compare to other sports and how do you go about it?

Johnny Avello: We have a team, just like we do for all sports, and these guys, even though they help on everything we do, they specialize in auto racing — whether it’s NASCAR, IndyCar, or Formula 1. They stay on top of this, and they know this sport pretty well. And they’re the ones who generate the lines.

They’ll also put up driver props, head-to-heads, group wagering — they specialize in the lines, the matchups, win outright, all those things.

What are the factors at play in setting prices for auto racing?

JA: The factors are the team, the car. The car is everything. The driver can only do so much. He needs the car. That’s the important thing. What’s he driving? Who is his team?

But the Indy 500 has been a pretty wide-open race, and a lot of these guys have been around for a while. Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Will Power — these are all guys we’re familiar with. They’ve been driving for many, many years. Some go through periods — Helio Castroneves at one time was one of the top guys, with a strong car, but now he’s not so strong. Guys have had ups and downs, and maybe they’re not with such good teams any longer, so they’re longer shots than they used to be in the past but still viable candidates.

Are there as many sophisticated or sharp bettors in auto racing as there are in other sports?

JA: There always is. Sometimes, if they can’t find an edge overall on the race, maybe they’ll find a head-to-head matchup. They like the head-to-heads, because you only have to beat one guy, but that’s the same with golf or tennis. You get down to A vs. B, rather than A vs. B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K. Pick one guy over another. That’s where we see more sophisticated action.

But what’s different from golf is that there are teams, right? They can work together. Does that complicate things?

JA: They can, and we’ve seen that in races. Guys can block other drivers from getting through and give their guy an advantage. We’ve seen this happen a lot in all types of racing.

Anything else about auto racing that stands out as unique in the bookmaking process?

JA: Formula 1 racing is still kinda new in our country, so Formula 1 futures is another game in itself. It’s one of the biggest betting options outside of our country, and in our country, it’s getting bigger, but it’s taking time.

Now, NASCAR is the sport most people in our country know about, and therefore that’s the one that takes the most action. But auto racing is growing in general. It’s getting bigger. We see more action on a weekly basis, and we’re happy with our position.

So, for F1, where you may not have as much expertise as NASCAR, do you watch and see what’s going on worldwide before setting or moving lines?

JA: No, I think we’ve got a good handle on it. It’s just the action from the American public is not where it is for some of the other American sports, so it’s just taking more time to get to a level where we like it, but I think we’ll get there. And, with more Formula 1 racing in our country — and we’re going to be seeing a race in Las Vegas in 2023 — I think that’s going to help. As we see more races here, and more people get exposed to it, I think we’ll see more action.

For something that you guys take little action on, but there is so much action going on in the world, does that change the way you set or move lines? If there was a big move in a world market in an F1 race, does that shade your prices, or do you just go off the action you are getting?

JA: We would get hit on that same market, just like everyone else. It’s not like they’re not going to hit the DraftKings market because they’re hitting it in another country. That’s the way it is. When it gets hit, it gets hit everywhere.

Sharp players are looking to get down on a bet wherever it may be. It doesn’t have to be here. It could be anywhere. Wherever they can get down is where the plays take place.

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