Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: Evaluating The Final Four

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 them to jbalan@bettercollective.com. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

How long of a view do you take to evaluate the NCAA Tournament from a perspective of performance? Or do you look at it more from the perspective of a whole college basketball season?

Johnny Avello: We look at it as a whole season, but we certainly look at the tournament, too, to see how we did over this three-week period. And we’ve done well so far in the tournament. We did take a pretty big hit when St. Peter’s beat Purdue and Murray State. The Purdue game was much more. That was a pretty significant loss for us.

I saw some data that close to 85% of moneyline action was on St. Peter’s for that game at one book. Is that close to what you experienced?

JA: I don’t remember what the percentage was, but when you’re getting +650, it adds up pretty fast. But we also had a pretty good loss if St. Peter’s won the whole tournament, which I never thought they were going to, but we’ve seen strange things happen in the bookmaking world. I’m kinda glad they’re gone now. Don’t have to worry about that loss any longer.

Going into these games, do you view them as best- and worst-case scenarios for futures? Where are your liabilities and advantages going forward?

JA: There are four teams left and Duke is our worst. Duke picked up momentum in the last three weeks of the season and in the tournament for futures betting. Very rarely do you get Duke much higher than single digits, and we had them in the 15/1 to 16/1 range. I think a lot of people felt they wouldn’t be worse than a No. 2 seed, and since it was Mike Krzyzewski’s last season, they’d play hard for him, and they have. Duke is a hazard.

The other teams — Villanova is good for us, Kansas is good, and North Carolina is pretty much a break even. It’s great that North Carolina and Duke are playing each other, so when it comes to the final game, we’ll be in really good shape or semi-good shape.

With a rivalry like that, which has never happened in the Final Four, has that inspired more action than if you had a normal matchup of teams from different conferences?

JA: There have been rivalries in the Final Four, but not of this magnitude. It’s funny how these two teams have won so many championships and have been in so many Final Fours, but they’ve never played each other in the Final Four. This game is going to do a lot of business.

It’s the second game of the night, and the first game will do well, too, although the injury to Justin Moore doesn’t help Villanova, and the spread has moved up since then. Most of the money — 75% or so — is on Kansas so far.

But the Duke-North Carolina game is pretty balanced. This is going to be a big write. Is it going to be bigger than the final game? It’s hard to say, but it could be. This is one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball on center stage Saturday night.

There are four premier college programs in the Final Four, and there have been discussions this week about whether Villanova qualifies as a “blue blood,” but does that help from a handle perspective, or does a Cinderella being involved help?

JA: I don’t think a Cinderella would help. All four of these teams are going to get bet — they’re going to take Villanova because they’re a plus, they’re going to take North Carolina because they’re a plus, and people are going to lay big money on the chalk.

Is Villanova a blue blood? I think they’re moving toward a blue blood. Jay Wright knows what he’s doing, he has a couple titles under his belt, and this team, they know how to play in the tournament.

So is it as simple as you’re rooting for North Carolina this weekend, because Duke has the biggest liability?

JA: Not necessarily, because we may have a big decision on this game and need Duke. You take them one at a time. Yes, we do have a hazard on Duke in the future book, but we could surpass that hazard in just action on this particular game. Rooting interest right now is just let’s wait and see where we stand when the game tips off.

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