Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: Talking About Hold

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.

When you look at hold percentages and the way bettors play, what are the sports and wagers the betting public is most successful with?

Johnny Avello: The betting public needs to be divided between sharp bettors and the casual bettor. Any time you bet into a game — A vs. B — you’re getting the lowest hold percentage. That’s 4.5% hold, and that’s without the bookmaker moving the line, so they’re not middled or sided.

Some other bets that might have holds lower than that are moneylines, as you continue to go up the ladder. When you get up to 280/240 or 360/300, bookmakers’ percentages are not really that high. That’s probably where the general public does best — moneylines first.

Teasers have also always been a problem for the books, because bettors pick their spots. They haven’t been a high hold percentage, either.

So is there even the slightest edge from sport to sport, or is that 4.5% standard for all straight A vs. B spread bets?

JA: On a standard -110, yeah, that’s the lowest. But if you get into some moneylines, where you have the favorite -1400 and you’re taking back $9, that’s really not a whole lot of hold for bets like that for us. We make money on those, but sometimes those are problematic.

And, on the other side, parlays are where you guys clean up?

JA: Yes, but there are standard parlays in the industry that pay a three-teamer 6/1, a four-teamer 10/1 — which is awful. That is probably the worst bet for the customer. A four-teamer’s true odds is like 14/1, so paying 10/1, which has been a standard price in Vegas, is tough. At DraftKings, we let the money go into the money, it’s -110 into -110, into -110, into -110. We don’t have a standard, set price. We do well on parlays, but we give the customer a better shake at it.

And how does hold on straight parlays on sides compare to these single-game parlays props?

JA: For the single-game parlays, people like to hit the jackpot, and a lot of them do. I see them every day — where a guy bets $7 and wins $12,000, or a guy bets $12 and wins $84,000. I see that all the time. But, overall, it works for us. We have a lot of people betting those and a lot of people using multiple teams, multiple offerings, and try to put them all together for a big score. Overall, that works well for us, but we do pay off some pretty big wins.

Is there a number you can give me for average hold those parlays, or does it vary?

JA: It varies. If you parlay A with B with C with D with E with F, there’s juice built into every one, so with the more options, there’s going to be more hold for the house.

If you were to give advice to a bettor who wanted to grind out a profit, and I know that’s not your job, would you suggest sticking to single-game sides and maybe focus on one sport? Is that the best way to shoot for success?

JA: I don’t know. Some people, if you bet parlays and hit a big one, it will take a long time to give it back, so I’m not going to argue with the parlays.

But some people get specialized, like in college basketball. If you think you’re a good college basketball handicapper, maybe you stick to a couple conferences, because it’s hard to handicap a whole slate. When a bookmaker puts up 150 college basketball games on a Thursday, you know there’s a couple weak spots out there.

I don’t know what the secret is for bettors. Everyone has their own way, and some are successful.

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