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January 26, 2015

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Johnny Avello, Wynn and Encore’s race and sports operations director


Leila Navidi

Johnny Avello, who heads the race and sports book at Wynn Las Vegas, says the flow of information on the Internet has aided bettors on the hunt for weak lines.

Lord of the Book

Director of Wynn Las Vegas Race & Sports Johnny Avello talks to our own John Katsilometes about the ins and outs of sports betting in Las Vegas.

Beyond the Sun

The director of Wynn and Encore’s race and sports operations visited his first racetrack at age 5, bet with a bookmaker as a teen and played team sports through college. Johnny Avello, who dealt blackjack and sold insurance before becoming a ticket writer at the Sands in 1987, welcomes the beginning of football season — which accounts for more than 60 percent of race and sports bets on the Strip — like the beginning of the holiday season.

Are you much of a fan?

I’m a Mets and Giants fan from upstate New York. Truthfully, I do a lot more rooting for the house these days. This business isn’t about enjoying sports or having strong opinions about teams.

How is the betting traffic these days?

It’s about the same as it was a year ago. Sports betting is somewhat recession-proof. Some people struggling to make ends meet manage to find money to gamble on sports. Laying $10 on a parlay still has appeal even when things aren’t going well in people’s lives. It’s been that way in previous downturns.

Any new betting trends?

We’re all getting more creative, especially with proposition bets. It’s not just the Super Bowl anymore but a weekly thing at some places. Futures bets — like who’s going to win their division or championship — are also more popular. They’re good for the house and a better value for players than they used to be.

Has the proliferation of sports information on the Internet changed your business?

It’s great for the players and bad for the books. Sometimes players know things, like an injury and a coach’s strategy, before we do. That information was very difficult to get in the past. We put up a few hundred lines and there could be a couple of weak spots. We have to have the whole menu while players only have to bet one or two mistakes.

Do betting lines differ that much between properties?

After the first day, not much. We post our lines around 9 a.m. on Monday, while others may go up later that day. We eventually get pushed together by the bettors who gravitate toward lower or higher numbers. We use the same consultants and they’re not much different. We know what everyone else is doing, including the foreign and Web-based casinos.

Is horse racing a dying industry?

Our action is down about 15 percent from a year ago, which isn’t as much as some competitors’. There’s a lot of strategy to handicapping a race, while sports betting is quick and easy.

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