Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: Handling Spring Training

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 do you handle spring training from a bookmaking perspective? I have to think it has to be a different kind of experience compared to regular-season games.

Johnny Avello: It usually gets a little more exposure, because it starts a little earlier than the NCAA Tournament starts. If you’re going to go up against the tournament, you’re not going to prevail. So, this year, it’s getting some action, although most people are focusing on basketball.

What is attracting action is MLB regular-season wins, regular-season matchup bets, and those kinds of things. The spring training games are slow to start, but they’re never that great anyway. You don’t know the pitcher, sometimes you’re going with the “B” squad — it’s just a hard bet anyway.

How do you even start with setting odds for spring training, if you don’t necessarily know the players, or how much they’re going to play, for any given game? Do you just do the best you can?

JA: That is part of it. If you do know a starting pitcher, and he’s going to throw a couple innings, it’s nice to know who is going to follow him up, because you might be laying a bigger price than you want to. A lot of times these guys are just trying to feel out who is going to make the team.

Our limits are low, so we’re protected there. We’re not taking the big limits we would during the regular season.

What is the information flow compared to the regular season? Are you getting information on injuries and things like that? I would imagine you’re getting that info for futures, so does that factor in?

JA: A lot of times it doesn’t matter, because some of the guys won’t play anyway. In the regular season, we’re in tune with the umpire and who they are, the injuries, and most of the time you won’t get a late scratch. For the most part, when we put the lines up for the regular season, we know who is playing.

With modern online sportsbooks looking to expand action and put up different kinds of content, do you see these markets for preseason games — NBA summer league, spring training, NFL preseason, spring football games, things like that — do you see that becoming more popular?

JA: There’s a select group that plays those things, but around the year, we just have so much content on a daily basis. But don’t get me wrong. We’re always looking to expand. We’re doing cornhole now, and that has really picked up a lot over what we did the first year. So, we’re always looking to add content, but we want to add content we have a handle on. We don’t want to throw stuff up just to throw stuff up. That can get you into trouble.

In regular-season games or playoff games, you’re operating on the assumption that teams are trying to win the games, but for these exhibition games, that assumption isn’t necessarily there. The ultimate objective isn’t always to win, so how does that change things?

JA: In pro football, especially, you can go back and find coaches that are about winning. They want to set the tone for the year. There are others that don’t care. They’re just trying to have everybody get playing time so they can evaluate guys to see if they’re going to start or even make the team.

And we know that, but some of this we don’t know yet. For baseball, I think the guys go out there, they’re trying, and do they like to win? Everybody likes to win. But if you lose, is it a big deal? It’s not.

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