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.
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Over the years, I’m sure you’ve had many experiences with big wins and big losses as a bookmaker. Of all the things you’ve been through, what do you recall in those categories?
Johnny Avello: When it comes to big losses, you’re usually looking at a big event. You’re not going to have your biggest loss on a Week 15 NFL game. Those are always Super Bowls, NCAA finals, World Cup finals. I’ve had some huge decisions on World Cup finals. But for me, it’s mostly been the Super Bowl.
At DraftKings, we had a decision — $3.6 million on one bet, with Mattress Mack. That’s one of the biggest bets I’ve ever taken on a game. Now, Tiger Woods winning the Masters, that would have probably been one of our biggest losses of all time, but he didn’t win. But that win by Mattress Mack — that was one of the bigger ones, when Tampa Bay won Super Bowl LV.
But I would imagine you’ve made plenty back on Mack over the last couple years. Didn’t he go on a pretty long losing streak?
JA: He’s been a great customer. He’s bet a lot of different things, and we’ve done well on a lot of them.
But I’ve been through a lot of gamblers in my career. Sometimes, when I think about it, it comes down to is the bettor sharp or is the bettor lucky? Anybody that bets a lot of money, first of all, is not a so-called “square” or “unsophisticated.” In today’s world, guys who bet a lot of money do at least a little bit of research, and they know what they’re doing.
Now, I’ve had some guys that are flat-out unlucky. They’ve just lost a lot of money on a lot of bets, and things just don’t go their way. And I’ve had guys on the opposite end. It seems like everything they do is right, and everything falls right for them.
I have one guy, he tells me about his friend. The guy just cannot pick a winner. So, I’ve told him, any time he bets something, let me know, and we’ll move the line that way, because he’s going to lose. And it’s unbelievable how much this guy loses. At worst, you should be winning at 45-46%, and this guy is probably around 25%. It’s pretty remarkable how unlucky some people can be.
I recall some stories about huge losses around Super Bowl XLII, when the Patriots were favored in the teens over the Giants, and then of course the Giants won outright. Am I remembering that correctly? Was that a big loss?
JA: That was a pretty good loss, yes, because the Giants cashed on the money line, which was a pretty huge price. There was one guy that beat us in the futures for a million dollars, then won the NFC for about $700,000, and he had about a million on the game, so I remember him cashing out for around $2.7 million. That was just one guy when I was at Wynn.
But on that game we didn’t do that badly. I was able to get back close to a million at halftime, and that’s what you need to do sometimes as a bookmaker — put yourself in a position to win a bet. Sometimes you are in that position as a bookmaker, but sometimes you are not. I happened to be in that position that day.
How about big wins? Does anything stand out over the years, where one side was so lopsided and you cashed in?
JA: That’s happened a lot, and that’s such a good feeling to have that kind of a day. That’s when you pound yourself on the chest and say, “I really know what I’m doing.” Those other days, when you get absolutely pounded, you think, “Am I losing my touch? What’s happening? Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”
Going into a game like that —where you know the action is lopsided, and it’s going to be either a big win or a big loss — doesn’t that wear on you?
JA: It does. Being in this business will take its toll on you. There is a lot of stress at times. One way to relieve that stress is to always keep your bosses or your owners informed. Just to let them know where you’re at, not to spring it all on them when it’s done. That’s the worst thing, to say, “Look, the game is over, and we lost $10 million.” It’s best to let them know — this is the position we’re in, and this is why we’re in that position.
You already have the stress of one side getting action, and nobody likes the other side. The other side of the stress is that you have to tell you bosses. So, reduce your stress level by keeping everybody in the loop.
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