Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: The Value Of Information

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.

The topic of information in sports betting really came to a head when Tom Brady retired and then unretired, as some books had exposure to a sharp bettor or bettors who may have known well before it was announced. How do you view that process of information acquisition — how you guys get it and how bettors get it?

Johnny Avello: There are different types of information. There’s the kind that involves props, like “Where will Deshaun Watson play next season” or “Where will Aaron Rodgers play,” or futures. So it’s important for us to get that kind of information first, and that’s sometimes difficult. Once you know where a guy is going, that makes a big difference in the potential success of that team.

The other kind of information is who’s playing in the basketball game tonight? Well, LeBron James might be out. Anthony Davis is out. Giannis Antetokounmpo is out. Now those guys certainly make a difference.

But just because a team got Watson doesn’t mean they’re going to win the Super Bowl. Just because Brady is coming back to Tampa Bay doesn’t mean they’re going to win anything, but it sure helps their chances. So if the bettor has that information before us, it doesn’t guarantee they’re going to win, but it puts us at a disadvantage. The value has been flipped toward the customer.

You’ve talked before about how you subscribe to a service that provides information, but how much do you monitor news reports and other sources? Do you almost have a journalist’s Rolodex, where you have sources associated with teams?

JA: The service that we have is OK. They’re not great. They will give us some information, and sometimes that information is already out. But the guys on the trading team are constantly aware. We have to react on that quickly. It’s up to us to get that information instead of relying on some other source.

In the Brady case, there were some indications on the Thursday before he announced he would be returning that there was increased action on the Buccaneers in the futures market. Do you get a red flag about that and have to adjust, even if you may not have the rock-solid information?

JA: Somebody that’s been in the business for a while that has very good instincts would have probably picked up on that and moved the line a little bit. And that’s about experience and realizing something is going on. Because there was really nothing to get your arms around that Brady was going to come back, but somebody probably knew he was going to. Who was that? I don’t know. Did he tell his neighbor or cousin? Who knows? It could have been somebody associated with the team that knew it, too. But that’s not the common information that would be out there to acquire.

So in cases like that, where a bettor gets value because they have inside information, or some sort of indication, do you just tip your cap? Maybe you guys have the best information 99% of the time, but in that 1%, is it just a matter of, ‘Hey, they got us on that one’?

JA: They got us on that one, but the Bucs still have to win the Super Bowl. In that instance, if it comes out that Tom Brady is going to play this year, and it’s announced by ESPN, and somebody bets it with us before we adjust, that’s OK. You accept that. But if somebody knows it a few days before, is it the responsibility of the league to announce it or have Brady not tell anybody? Probably yes, but I don’t tell Tom Brady what to do and he doesn’t tell me what to do.

But bettors would probably argue that you guys have better information than them on a regular basis. If the league has an obligation to share something like that, do you see the counter to that? It’s not like you guys are freely sharing information that you have over bettors.

JA: That’s a good point, and I’m not crying about it. But if Tom Brady is coming back, we’ll all normally know it within an hour. If somebody knows four or five days ahead of time, and the league itself doesn’t even know it, that’s a little bit different.

How much does this information acquisition and monitoring things occupy your minds from a bookmaking perspective?

JA: It’s part of the job. When you’re a trader, you must keep your ears and eyes open, and these guys are watching a lot of things. It’s imperative that you’re in tune with what is going on out there, or what could happen on an hourly basis, even down to the minute. That, over the course of time, saves us money. But it also makes bettors money, too. It’s up to us to get that as quickly as we can.

Is there anything you can remember from the past — big trades, big changes, big moves — that influenced the betting market, where you knew it well before it was announced?

JA: There are many, but not any particular one comes to mind. But there have been times when it is 4 p.m. PT and it comes across the screen that the San Antonio Spurs are sitting their best three players, so we’ve already taken some hits on it, because somebody knew that was going to happen. That’s a game changer on a line. That takes a line from a 3-point favorite to an 8 on the other side. That’s an 11-point move, something like that. It’s something you wish was disclosed before the lines went up at the beginning of the day.

I’m thinking of when Michael Jordan retired the first time or when he came back, or when Wayne Gretzky signed with the Kings, or like Tiger Woods this week at the Masters. Those are sport-altering events.

JA: It happens all the time, like when Max Scherzer signed with the Mets. There were three or four big quarterback switches this year. When those things happen, the information goes out, and we don’t necessarily get it first, but we try to. Then the odds change accordingly. If we got hit on it already, that’s fine.

And this has all changed so much in the age of social media, hasn’t it? I even saw LeBron James’ tweet on April Fools’ Day that he was out for the season. Obviously that wasn’t true, but the first thing I thought of was the betting markets. What if people think this is true?

JA: You have to realize it was April 1, and it was a joke, but those guys can certainly make an announcement like that, retract it, and the lines for futures have already moved. That could happen, but that was a joke, and you have to pick up on that. But it rarely happens where a guy says he’s done and the next day he’s not — unless you’re Tom Brady.

Art by Blundell Design

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