Welcome to our weekly “Ask a Bookmaker” feature, which will answer 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 inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame last week.
Have a question you’d like to ask Avello? Send them to [email protected]. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
There is a common perception that sportsbooks strive for even action, but others feel books can ‘take a side’ in some cases. In that sense, how comfortable are books taking lopsided action?
Johnny Avello: Very comfortable. Let’s say 90% of the action is coming on one side and 10% on the other. We’re very comfortable with that. Sportsbooks are not making money because they pick winners. People will say, “You’re so close on a line,” or “That line is a trap.” I’m sure you’ve heard that. We put up numbers based on power ratings on particular teams. That’s it. And then we have the juice associated. If you put -110 on each side of a game, the theoretical hold for a sportsbook on a straight bet, without any movement, is 4.5%. You start moving the line, and it can even go less — those numbers can fall.
We’re comfortable, because — and I’ll use small numbers for an example — if we’re in a position to win $1,000 on a game, but we can only lose $650, we like that type of position on games, because over time, that works for us. We’re going to win half those games, and even if we won 48%, we’re still OK, because of the juice factor. We win some of them and we lose some of them, but obviously we have some of our biggest wins when most of the action is on one side.
We’ll move a line because we are getting heavy on one side and we do want to attract some action to the other side, but we don’t try to balance a game out. That’s not what we do. We let the numbers take care of themselves. Wherever that game falls for us — win or loss — we know that over time, we’ll be all right.
So there’s never a case where you feel you have an edge or are confident a game will go the opposite way of the action?
JA: “Taking a side” is forming an opinion on a game, and we try not to do that. We’re comfortable with a game running when all the bettors seem to like one side. I guess you could say we’re taking a position based on the money being bet, but we’re not taking a position handicapping the game itself and who is going to win. The bettors pick who is going to win. We try to put up a solid line and try to make a case for the customer for both sides.
At a seminar last week, in some discussion, somebody said a bookmaker took a side on a Super Bowl. To me, that’s not what you do, especially in a game like that. You put up your number, you’re getting so much business, and wherever the game falls, it falls. If you start trying to pick winners, then you’re putting yourself in the same spot as bettors, and that’s not what bookmakers do.