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.
We’re nearly at the midpoint of the year. Football is still a ways away, hockey and basketball just ended, and there’s still baseball, golf, and some other things, but it seems like a more mellow time. Do you like this time, or do you like being a little more busy?
Johnny Avello: I love this time, and so does every other operator. It’s a little break before football season, because the football season actually starts in about a month, when we get the first preseason games. It’s a time when most of the bookmakers go on vacation.
But the thing about baseball is that it’s relentless — every day and so many games. Is it just as simple as that team of yours stays engaged the whole summer, and everyone else can take a deep breath for a while?
JA: There’s an All-Star break, too, but like you said, baseball is every day. But once we get to September, a lot of the games will be meaningless, because there will be fewer teams with a chance to make the playoffs. So baseball cools down quite a bit with the start of football.
In this online environment, where it seems like everybody wants as much content as possible, at all hours of the day, is there a worry that there may not be as many of these breaks in the future?
JA: That could be the case. There will be pickleball, there will be darts, there will be cornhole. But a lot of that stuff is smaller business. Like the hot dog eating contest is coming up. It’s not a big event, but it is some business.
How did you guys fare near the end of the NBA and NHL playoffs?
JA: For hockey, we had our biggest handle ever, and that’s just logical to think about where we are in that many states. But hockey was also in a position this year, without the NHL players in the Olympics, all by itself and with isolated games. That helped a lot. We lost a little on futures on the Avs, but most of that loss was in Colorado. They bet them at any price, from 4/1 to 7/1.
Basketball went pretty well, too. Pro basketball, not just in the playoffs, is big business for us. When the focus is on one game, we obviously write a lot of business on that one game, but we also write a lot of business with a whole slate of games on any given night.
Has the NBA always been in that No. 2 spot, behind the NFL?
JA: For us, it has been, ever since we started taking bets on sports [at DraftKings] in 2018. Basketball has been one of the top offerings for us.
Has that historically been the case, as well, from your experience in Vegas?
JA: Basketball has always been No. 2, when you combine NBA and college. And remember, that six-week period for the NCAA Tournament writes an extraordinary amount of money — like three times what a Super Bowl would be.
Anything you’re looking forward to in the second half of the year?
JA: We’ve got one more golf major, and I think Tiger Woods is going to participate in that. We also have Wimbledon going, and that writes a lot of business, especially with in-play wagers. We still have quite a few events coming up, but right now, nothing is getting me that excited. Just looking forward to a couple weeks off.
Any general assessments on the first half of the year?
JA: We introduced the same-game parlays, and that seems to be going really well. We’ve also paid out a lot on people betting future parlays. I’ve seen a lot where people had the Avs, Golden State, and Georgia, or some other team to win a championship. The other day, there was a $40 one that paid $27,000. I’m seeing a lot of those come through, and that’s something you haven’t seen in the past.