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Gambling Big John Avello: Wynn Sportsbook Director, Linesmaker, on College Basketball, Bracketology and the Madness that is March

Moving into March Madness and the excitement of college basketball, CYInterview welcomes John Avello, Executive Director of Race and Sports at the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

John’s also a linesmaker. He’s been in sportsbooks for 24 years and has over three decades in the gaming industry. Avello’s been kind enough to provide CYInterview’s readers and listeners analysis on the upcoming NCAA Tournament. He also provides some insights into other wager and gambling industry topics. You can read and listen to the whole interview below:

Listen to the John Avello CYInterview:

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Chris Yandek: Before we get into everything, how long have you been in the industry and how long have you been a sports book manager at the Wynn?

John Avello: “Well, I guess when you talk industry, if you’re talking gaming industry 30 years. If you’re talking sportsbook only, we’re looking at 24 years. So I’ve been through quite a few events over that span of 24 years.”

CY: I’m sure there’s a lot of great stories.

JA: “Oh yeah. Yeah. There’s a lot of stories. As a matter of fact, I wish would’ve kept a journal of all of them. Would’ve been a great book that’s for sure.”

CY: Well, compared to the way the world is going right now and the amount wagered last year compared to this year, how are you guys doing?

JA: “You know sports is actually been ok for the books over the last couple of years even though the economy’s been poor. The reason for that is probably if you’re gonna gamble, the A vs. B is what we offer for the most part in the books. When I say that, A vs. B is team A vs. team B, the whole percentage is low and so you have a better chance than maybe some of the other games that are offered throughout the casino. Where we have suffered, I can tell you, is in the horse racing business where you’re picking more than A against B. You’re actually picking a horse to beat 8, 10 or 12 others. So that’s where I believe we’ve all kind of had a decline in handle so to speak.”

CY: So basically gamblers are trying to only bet money where they think they get the best odds?

JA: “Yeah and sports has always been that way. Let’s face it, you only have to pick one team against the other and if you do a fair amount of handicapping and you think you have a little bit of edge, you’re gonna apply it over here at the sportsbook on a game and that’s what’s happened not just over the last couple of years, but for a long time going back. But what’s happened over the last maybe 10 years or so is there’s more information out there now for the gambler. Internet can supply him with newspapers from around the country and he has accessible information to players and other happenings of teams and events.”

CY: So what are some the wagering trends you’ve seen so far in recent days as we get into the middle of the NCAA Tournament?

JA: “Well, I think the consumer is a little more savvy than they used to be. So yeah we’ve seen Duke go and win the ACC Tournament, we’ve seen Connecticut make a run and win the Big East Tournament, but what they also realize is that on the way to winning that tournament, they maybe have used a lot of their horsepower, especially a team like Connecticut. So trends are one thing to follow a team that’s going well, but also take into consideration that you need to win six games to win this tournament and they look at the matchups and what’s gonna take for one team to not only win it, but get to the Final Four. So I believe that your consumer now looks for more than just teams that have played well as of late.”

CY: Once the field and bracket is announced, how long does it take for you to set the lines on the games and how are the lines put together?

JA: “Two hours. That’s what it takes me. Two hours. I take the matchups, I have my own set of power rating numbers, I make numbers to the game, each and every game. I have a consultant that I use. I get the consultant’s numbers. I look at both sets of numbers to see if we’re close. Sometimes I’ll take an average of the two. Sometimes I’ll weight it my way. There’s a lot of different things that go into that, that opening number. You also think about what the customers maybe looking at and they go up. At that point, it’s pretty much out of my hands. It’s up to, it’s money that dictates where the number goes.”

CY: We might be seeing Big East teams for example, facing each other in round three and beyond, do regular season matchups have any impact on the NCAA line in the tournament game if they face each other earlier in the year?

JA: “There’s the old saying about that it’s tough to beat a team three times. So if there is a matchup where they’ve played twice or three times and they haven’t been able to beat that team, of course you need to look as an oddsmaker you need to look at that to see if they are capable of beating them the third or fourth time. You’re right, with the Big East, there’s so many teams that got in that they’re bound to meet each other if they win moving forward, they’re bound to meet each other because the way that the brackets are structured, you couldn’t separate them in any way where they couldn’t meet each other.”

CY: Who’s your pick to win the whole thing or who are some teams we should keep an eye on?

JA: “Well, I think that your top four seeds are obviously aren’t gonna end up, most likely aren’t going to end up in the Final Four, but at least one or two of them may. I’m not so sure about Duke making it to the Final Four this year. They’re the winner from last year. I think their run last year and there needs to be not only this year, but every year, you need to be fortunate, have some luck, some things need to go your way and last year I think Duke had some things go their way. Out of that particular region [West], if Duke doesn’t win it, I could see some surprises like a Arizona or possibly a Texas or even the San Diego State team who just gave the UNLV Rebels just fits this year. They are very athletic, but their downfall could come down to free throw shooting. I know they shoot about 70 percent for the year.

You need to be in the 80, 85 range in this tournament because those key free throws at the end of the game are just going to be crucial. There could be an outsider there like a Texas or an Arizona. I think Kansas may get there, but a couple of teams that could give them problems could be a Notre Dame or a Louisville. In the Southeast Region, although Pittsburgh is the top seed, I look for a team like Florida who I think is probably as good as Pittsburgh to be among those teams looking to get into the Final 4. Then out of the East, Ohio State is the number 1 seed in the entire tournament and if they’re not gonna get there, you may see a veteran team like Syracuse, but Ohio State is a quality team. But like I said just a few sentences ago, you need to be very fortunate and have things go your way.”

CY: In closing, I’d like to know what advice can you give to the every day recreational gambler on how to win a bet? I mean, honestly, I know that you put the lines up and you make them as sharp as you possibly can, but what advice can you give to the recreational gambler?

JA: “What I can tell you if you absolutely 100 percent want to win a bet is to bet both sides of the game. That will assure you a win. Besides that, I would say do a little bit of research, don’t necessarily listen to your friends with their betting or what they’re thinking and rely on that little bit of that research or gut feeling and go with that. Don’t bet with your heart. Don’t bet with a team that’s from your home state. You can and you can root for them, but that’s not the sensible way to do it. So I would say, before you’re putting your money out there, make sure you kind of have a little sense of the two teams that are playing.”

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