Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: Booking The Drafts

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.

We’re coming up on the NBA Draft, so I was curious to find out the process for putting up lines on drafts. It seems harder to gauge those kinds of futures, as opposed to futures that are decided by on-field results.

Johnny Avello: They’re difficult, but the NBA Draft is not like the NFL Draft. We won’t have up nearly as many markets, and we won’t get anywhere near that type of action that the NFL Draft draws. The NBA hasn’t promoted this like football has. When they do, it could turn into something much bigger, but at this point, it has nowhere near the impact of the NFL Draft.

But we do it the same way. We’re looking at the gradings on the guys coming out, and this thing will pretty much play to form for the top two or three. Then after that, you don’t really know where it will go.

But as far as information goes, it’s significantly different, right? Because you have to get into the mentality of how many different teams? And when you say “draft grades,” from whom?

JA: There are sites out there that give you draft grades and sites out there that give you mock drafts. Teams need certain players, and you don’t always take the best player available. You take what your squad needs. So that’s all baked into what the price is.

We don’t normally do that well on any of these drafts, because they’re information-based and not played out on the field. I’m not the biggest fan of booking these drafts, where other people can get information before we get it.

Because of that, I imagine the limits are pretty low?

JA: Yeah. They’re not high. But we have some VIPs that bet a lot of money, because they get a lot of money on other things. If they get $200,000 or $300,000 on a game, they might get $50,000 on the draft. That’s still a pretty good pop. We can still be vulnerable to some of those guys, because some of our VIPs, even though they’re good players for us, they find ways to get information also.

Maybe this is why you don’t like booking them, but it seems like a lot of work for not a lot of return.

JA: We have to put it up, yeah. When you look at the menu at DraftKings, we must have everything up. Even though we may not have had good results on it in the past, we’re still putting it up.

And if you guys see yourself as an industry leader, I can see why you can’t pass on something like that, because people have a certain expectation.

JA: That’s right. When you have clients betting with you all the time, why are you going to give them an opportunity to bet with a competitor?

Do you remember any particularly odd results from drafts of the past, or big scores?

JA: Remember, the drafts haven’t been done that long. Especially at DraftKings, it’s only been four years now, maybe only three. Even in Las Vegas, we only did it for a year prior to PASPA, so it hasn’t been booked that long.

But I can tell you the results of the NBA are better than the results of the NFL Draft. The NFL Draft has yet to produce a positive.

I’m not a huge draft guy. Wake me up when the games start. But people go crazy for it, and an extension of that is that they probably love to bet it, right?

JA: If you saw the NFL Draft, I think in Nashville a couple years ago, they packed the streets. They probably had half a million people or so. Las Vegas this year had a similar crowd. It’s an event, and whether they’re at it live or watching at TV, they want to bet it.

The NFL has done a great job marketing it. I don’t know if the NBA cares as much about theirs.

Yeah, it seems like there’s more drama and interest around the NBA lottery than the draft itself.

JA: That’s correct.

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