Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: Taking On Tiger Woods

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.

Where did you start Tiger Woods with odds to win the Masters and where did you end up?

Johnny Avello: You gotta remember that we put up the majors long before they start. In some cases, we’ll have these futures up eight months ahead of time. We won’t throw up the 2023 Masters just yet, but we’re going to have it up fairly soon. Tiger was probably in the 50/1 range when we opened it up. We never really got too low on him, but we took a ton of money on him and had huge exposure, even after Day 1, but we never dropped him below 40/1.

There was some criticism during the week about some sportsbooks going too low with him, even down to 20/1. How obligated are you, as a bookmaker, to let the action determine the price, or on the flip side of that, to offer the “right” price to customers?

JA: What is the right price on Tiger? To me, you never really know. Tiger won the Masters a few years ago, when a lot of people didn’t think it was possible. But these circumstances were different. He hasn’t played, other than a couple rounds, he had to walk the course — it just was an insurmountable task to try to overcome.

The right price on Tiger to win the Masters was probably 200/1, but we were right in line with market prices at 40/1 or 50/1, even though after the first round, it looked like he was playing pretty well. People were really thinking he was going to make a run, but we just held the price and let people continue to bet it.

Were we exposed? You’re darn right we were. But I don’t think anybody on our team, and on a lot of other teams, thought that he was actually going to win it.

For the places that lowered him to 20/1, they were probably a little frightened, to be honest with you — looking at a massive loss. But if you really think about it, you already have the liability and just to lower him, you’re going to take some, but it’s not going to be that much more than the loss you’ve already incurred, so you might as well hold the price and be fair. There were probably still people out there who bet him at 20/1, but that was just a horrible price.

Sometimes you have to stick with what the right price is, and if some miracle happens, you deal with it. But what people should understand is that this was probably the best field ever assembled in the history of golf. These guys are all really good, and there’s not much that separates the top tier. These guys are all sharp players, and I’m not sure Tiger can beat any of those guys, really, over four rounds. Maybe one round. Over four rounds, I don’t think he can beat any of these guys.

From some of the articles we published last week, he was the only major liability at some spots. Was that your situation too?

JA: I don’t know that he was our only liability. Anybody who was 75/1 or 100/1 with a lot of action was probably a liability, but when one guy takes all that money, it certainly balances you out for the majority of the players.

Can you give any indication on just how much you would have lost if Tiger won?

JA: It was big. I can tell you it was in the seven figures, and not small seven figures. I can tell you that.

After that first round, I can see where some books might have been nervous, but I can imagine you guys were confident it wasn’t going to happen. Seems like you were willing to take that gamble?

JA: We were ready to pay if he got there.

From a bookmaking perspective, are you happy Tiger is back? Does he complicate things? Does it make you a little nervous that he eventually might win a big tournament with all this money on him?

JA: I love him being back. He makes the game more interesting, he draws a crowd, people love him, he’s going to bring more interest to betting, and he’s going to get bet.

As far as winning, I don’t know if he’s going to win another tournament — period. Majors are going to be extremely difficult. I can see him winning a minor tournament, but he isn’t going to be playing in those. He’s going to play a limited amount, he’s going to pick his spots, and the spots he’s going to pick are probably going to be against the best players — because that’s who he is. He’s a competitive guy and wants to play against the best. Against those guys, it’s going to be difficult for him to end up on top. I think he could be close, and it’s possible he might win one, but it’s going to be very difficult.

But I love having him around, I love the action he draws, I love the action everybody else draws because he’s in, I love the viewership — everything. Look at the crowds at Augusta. They were out of their minds over the guy.

But was this an outlier? Are you going to keep seeing this kind of action in tournaments where he plays? After people saw him fade and look uncomfortable in those last couple rounds, I’m not sure they’re going to shower money on him again, like they did last week.

JA: I don’t know about that. Remember, this was his first time back. People will think he’s going to get healthier, and they’ll remember the Masters he won in 2019, when he came from nowhere. I think he’s going to still get bet. Will he be bet that heavy? I don’t know. It was the Masters, and no other tournament really compares. That was our biggest handle ever on golf.

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