LAS VEGAS — Johnny Avello has a big title, executive director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas.
But in a town that talks about point spreads with the same intensity farmers discuss the weather, he has an even bigger reputation. He is considered a don in one of this city’s most respected fraternities, the brotherhood of bookies. Call him a wizard, a Wizard of Odds.
It is a title bestowed on those who put out point spreads, or lines, on scores of sporting contests all year, but have a turn in the mainstream spotlight once a year when the Super Bowl transforms the country into a coast-to-coast sports book. They decide the numbers and proposition bets for football’s biggest game, affecting everything from office pools to bets made with neighborhood bookies and organized crime syndicates.
In Nevada, more bets are placed on the Super Bowl than any sporting event. Last year, for example, a record of nearly $99 million was bet in Nevada’s sports books. Of that amount, the books kept $7,206,460.
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While even the best quarterbacks fumble and the seemingly invincible teams find ways to lose, the sports books nearly always wind up ahead. In Las Vegas, they have a $5.5 million average win margin over the last 10 Super Bowls and have won 21 of the last 23 outright.
The Wizards know there are two kinds of money: the sharp dough of professional gamblers and the square dollars of the public. They know betting lines are meant to be moved.
Avello and his colleagues make the market in a sports-betting industry considered to be worth more than $400 billion globally.
On paper, it seems straightforward enough: Set a line, or number, that attracts an equal amount of betting money on the favorite and on the underdog and then pocket the “vig” or “juice,” or 10 percent fee for handling the bet. It rarely works out that cleanly, but over the course of a year, the ledger consistently favors the side of the sports books.
In 2012, $3.45 billion was wagered in Nevada, and the books kept more than $170 million.
In a world where algorithms rule, putting out a number on a football game remains an old-school endeavor. Each oddsmaker creates his own power rankings, and some confer with math-based consultants. Mostly, though, they read the sports pages of local newspapers, surf the Internet, watch games and trust their instinct as keen observers of the human condition.
They know square money is enthralled by favorites and falls hard for teams that have done a lot for them lately. The Denver Broncos, for instance, not only covered against New England in the AFC Championship Game, but looked good in the process.
It is part of the reason Denver is a 2½ -point favorite at most locales even though oddsmakers opened with the Seahawks — a team most of them believe is superior — as the favorite.
The flood of square money that inundates the Super Bowl makes the game one of the easiest lines of the year for oddsmakers.
“It’s the only line that we make for the entire year that is geared towards the betting public,” said Jay Kornegay, director of the sports book at LVH — Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
“Most of the betting public are just your average Joes that are just fans and doing it for entertainment on a weekly basis. They will overrun any type of sharp money that we will take on the Super Bowl.”