Johnny Avello On The Art Of Handicapping The Oscars

Written By Jessica Welman on February 21, 2019
Oscars Avello

Even though Las Vegas casinos still don’t take bets on the Oscars, there is one Vegas name that comes to mind when it comes to Academy Award wagering — Johnny Avello.

The former head of Wynn Sportsbook, Avello would post Oscars odds even though no one could bet on them. Now, Avello is director of operations for DraftKings Sportsbook, the top book in New Jersey.

Thanks to the Department of Gaming Enforcement, Avello gets to take Oscars bets for real this year. To him, this is just the beginning of a world of possibilities for New Jersey online sports bettors.

How to handicap the Oscars

Avello learned the Oscars trade from another sports betting legend, Lenny Del Genio. Del Genio used to appear on major shows like Good Morning, America to talk movie betting. He passed the trade on to Avello.

The trick to setting the lines, according to Avello, is to not focus on the movies. It may sound counterintuitive, but it is true.

“I’ve always felt like you have to handicap the Academy and not the movies,” Avello told TheLines. This year, a great example of that is how he is capping BlackKklansman and Spike Lee’s shot at Best Director:

“Maybe they go a way where Spike Lee, who has kind of been shunned for a long time, is not going to win director because Cuaron won the Director’s Guild. When you win that, you are in 90 percent good shape. But, if they want to award [Lee], maybe BlackKklansman is a movie that could be a surprise.”

Meanwhile, he is already writing off The Favourite, A Star is Born, and Vice. As he explained, there is just not enough support for these movies as great films.

Adapting to new Academy membership

While Avello knows the Academy’s history, he does have to adjust and adapt each year. Since the #OscarsSoWhite protest a couple of years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have taken measures to expand membership. The goal is to bring in a number of international and younger, more diverse members. Last year, 928 people were added to the group.

The voting group is growing, but so far, Avello isn’t seeing much drastic change. He did say last year he started to see the tides turning. He is doing his best to adjust accordingly.

“I look at certain areas where I think the new group has a different thought process than the older group,” he said.

Bringing the Oscars to NJ

Avello never got to set lines in Nevada, but it recently came to light that the Nevada Gaming Commission did give casinos the option to try last year. Former NGC Chairwoman Becky Harris told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that regulators opened the door to Oscars betting last year, but no operators bit.

You would think Avello was the one leading the charge to bring Oscars to the Garden State, but that is not the case. He admitted it wasn’t his doing, but he is happy it happened:

“We have a team back in Jersey who proposed it to the gaming board there. They gave us the go ahead and I was very glad to have it happen…It was great to see they were willing to let us do something like this.”

When news broke that books were taking Oscars bets, there were some questions about protecting the integrity of the awards as well as collusion. Avello, though, is not worried at all.

Everything is on the up and up because we are competing for an Oscar here,” he pointed out.

NJ books are limiting their Oscar exposure

Another reason not to worry about collusion is that Avello and others are being very careful about how much money they take on these bets.

“You want to keep the limits so you don’t get too strung out. Because the limit on this is like $1,000, that is how much you can bet. If you bet $100 on a 1-5, you can win $200. If you bet a 4-1 shot, you win $4,000. You’re not betting on a basketball game, so the limits are lower. You want to keep it so no one gets hurt on it, us or the players.”

Early in the betting period, it looked like DraftKings was going to be the most conservative of all. Best Picture bets were limited to the point bettors could only profit around $100. Avello assured us it was a technical issue they have since fixed.

“All this wagering was new to our system,” he said. “So we were trying to figure out how our system could take a bet while staying within the exposure.”

Now, there is much more value in Best Picture. DraftKings is offering an odds boost for a $5 bet on any nominee at 100-1 odds.

Books also set very steep lines on some of the categories that are foregone conclusions. Avello cited Best Supporting Actor and Best Director as two categories he considers near-locks. Just because a nominee is favored in other categories does not mean there are no value spots.

“I know and you probably know that there are some pretty significant favorites every year. The ones that really high priced usually get there, but not all the 1-2s and 2-4s do.”

Avello didn’t offer too much in the way of picks, though he did have a personal favorite among this year’s crop of films. As an Italian-American, he did not love the Italian accents, but he still really enjoyed Green Book.

Early betting coming in on the crowd pleasers

There has been some money coming in on Green Book early, according to data from DraftKings. So far, 12.56 percent of Best Picture wagers are on the old-fashioned film. Meanwhile, the favorite, the little-seen Roma, is just getting around 5 percent of bets.

Avello warned A Star Is Born stands little chance of winning, but that is not stopping bettors from picking the film for an upset in several categories. In fact, three of the five most popular bets involve the remake:

  • A Star Is Born to win Best Picture
  • Black Panther to win Best Picture
  • Bohemian Rhapsody to win Best Picture
  • Lady Gaga to win Best Actress
  • Bradley Cooper to win Best Actor

It’s just a testament to how good Avello is at Oscars betting. He sets the lines and manages to get action in categories where the picks are massive longshots to win. Now all he has to do is get through Oscars night without too many crazy upsets.

ALSO READ: Oscars Betting: Making A Case For Every Best Picture Nominee (Even ‘Vice’)

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