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 [email protected]. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
For the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, where the course has been significantly renovated since it last hosted the tournament in 2007, how does putting odds up differ from a tournament like the Masters, where it’s the same course every year?
Johnny Avello: Golf handicapping I think is like horse handicapping or any other type of handicapping, where you like to see some sort of past performances to get a line on what you’re going to wager on. So, here we are, with this field of golf stars — and I do mean stars — and the top 10, it’s hard to separate these guys.
For bookmaking this tournament, we’re putting up guys based on their past performances overall, not based on how they have played the course. It’s up to the bettor now to find the value, however they find it. Is it guys playing early in the morning on a tough weather day, or guys in the afternoon? All those types of things. It’s up to the handicapper to find those edges.
For the Masters at Augusta, I imagine you shade your lines on how they play the course, right? There are guys who play that course better and guys who play that course worse. And for Southern Hills, that all goes out the window?
JA: That’s correct. We have a pretty good idea who is going to play well at Augusta and who has won there. And for the British Open, it’s not a huge variety of courses. Some of them come around in five or six years. But this one this week has changed drastically. Last week’s course, at the Byron Nelson, was easy for these guys. This course this week is about hitting the ball long and having a good short-iron game. I think that’s the key this week.
So, there is no consideration or comparison to like courses? Are you searching for any deeper meaning when putting up these prices?
JA: The golf team looks at some courses that are similar, but that is a very small sample size. That doesn’t help you much.
A few weeks ago, we talked about whether the action on Tiger Woods would be crazy again. It seems like he’s taking action, but not anywhere near what we saw in the Masters. Is that right?
JA: Yeah. He’s still taking action, and we don’t want him to win. He would be bad for us if he won. But remember, you can bet this tournament at any time you want to jump in. You don’t have to wait until the first round is over. If you think Tiger played the first four holes well, you can jump in then. He’ll get bet if he has a good start. If he has a good first round, they’ll pile on even more.
But it isn’t that avalanche we saw for the Masters.
JA: No. But remember, he has history at Augusta.
Any surprises in the early wagering? Maybe someone taking early money you didn’t expect?
JA: Rory McIlroy is taking a little bit. He’s getting a little bit of push. Jordan Spieth is getting a little bit of push. Jon Rahm, not so much. Rahm has dropped a couple notches. There’s some shifting going on. We have Scottie Scheffler favored at 12/1, and that’s the way golf tournaments should be. You have guys like Jason Day at 100/1, Adam Scott at 100/1, Patrick Reed at 100/1 — some big-name players at big prices.