Avello, Bally’s provide stable for avid horse players

Feb 19, 2002 5:10 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas race and sports director John Âí­Avello, 49, has come a long way from his childhood days in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Avello dealt 21 at the New York City School of Gambling in 1978 before heading to Las Vegas. After working downtown at the Western Âí­Hotel and The Mint, Avello landed a position at the Barbary Coast. He worked for Bob Gregorka at the Sands before joining Bally’s in 1990. Avello sat down last week for a 1-on-1 interview with GamingToday staff writer Mark Mayer to discuss the state of gaming.

GT: Does it help to be Italian?

JA: Not really. At one point, it may have helped if you have some sort of connections. At one point I actually thought I had a good connection to get into the Dunes in late 70s. Dealers made tremendous money at that time. Go to see the same guy every week. High profile place. Never happened for me. Maybe not in right place at right time. It’s all about juice.

GT: What about getting a job today in the industry?

JA: You can’t be one-dimensional any more. They look for versatility. Now, it’s not all about a specialty. Versatility is the key in dealing.

GT: Do you like being in the Race & Sports business?

JA: I love it. I have loved it since getting in the business. I remember Bob Gregorka telling me you have to go home. Just work your eight hours and get out of here. But I love what I do. I can work here 10 hours every day and be constantly busy. It’s stuff that never ends and I enjoy it.

GT: What is the cutting edge of the gaming industry?

JA: The Internet. We have our own website (www.ballysraceandsports.com) which we are proud of. I don’t think there are a lot of places that have their own race and sports website. It’s geared more toward horse racing. Our Kentucky Derby Future Book Contest has had an amazing amount of hits.

GT: Do you think Vegas is better today?

JA: It’s different. Can’t say it’s better one way or another. Corporations now basically have come in and own multiple properties. Used to be owned separately years ago. But, look at the properties we have now. Look at Âí­Bellagio, Mirage, Paris. Would not have that if the transformation didn’t happen. There’s a lot of good that came out of it.

GT: What has happened with the practice of comping?

JA: With us, we have a turf club. Every dollar you wager you accumulate one point. Those points can be used to any amenity the hotel has to offer. We are pretty fair about it. Customers really like it because they know where it’s at. People normally shy about asking for comps now have the opportunity to ask. For us, it has worked really well.

GT: Why does Bally’s favor the race player more than the sports bettor?

JA: In race, you have a lot more to play with. It’s pari-mutuel so we know where we are at as far as the house is concerned. There’s a built-in percentage so we can give a portion back to the player. In sports, we go give some stuff away but it’s so miniscule. What can you give away, a quarter of 1 percent?

GT: Do you make more money from race or sports?

JA: It’s pretty split. In this hotel, we have a good mix of both, but we really do push race. I mean would you rather be dealing with a guaranteed 16 percent of the hold or an if-come-maybe 3 percent? (laughing). In race, you are hoping the customers win. You want them to win so much that they will come back and bet some more. A great thing for us and them. But we would never give up sports. Need them both.

GT: What separates Vegas from other gaming venues?

JA: Everything. You come in here on any event and it’s a magnificent weekend. Super Bowl, March Madness, just a regular basketball weekend. Atlantic City and other places don’t have race and sports books. That sets us apart.

GT: What’s going to happen with the NCAA push to ban betting on college sports?

JA: I’m very unclear on that. It’s out of my hands. We have the AGA (American Gaming Association) working very hard for us. There will hopefully be many more years of college betting.

GT: What about taking large bets like the Barkley wager?

JA: When it comes to huge bets like that, I call my bosses (VP of casino operations and president of hotel) to see if it’s something they want to entertain. I would not take it upon myself to handle that large a wager. Everyone would be informed that I answer to. Nothing is worse than making a decision, finding out it wasn’t right, and having to tell that to the person. Follow procedures, make sure everyone is agreeable and then everything will be fine. I’m sure Nick (Bogdanovich) did this at Mandalay. I believe he got permission to take the bet. It’s the money I’m not sure about.

GT: What brings the most money into the sports book?

JA: NFL is the bread and butter. Sundays full capacity in book. They love it. Maybe the pro aspect of it, but people pack the place.

GT: Are parlay cards a good way for the public to bet?

JA: We do okay on parlays. People look for a big payoff. They’ll put up $5 for 20 straight weeks. Out $100. Or maybe, they will bet that over 40 weeks. However, if they hit just that one card, they hit big and that’s what they like.

GT: What about pro sports making it in Vegas?

JA: This is a strange town. Where I grew up, most of the people were rooting for the Knicks. It was great to go down and root for them. In this town, there is no loyalty. A lot of people are transplanted from all over. Not sure they have that loyalty toward a team here. Lots to do here. At 10 p.m. things just start happening. More to do. Jury is out on whether we can support a pro team. Also, this town won’t support anything but a winner. We’re fickle. I’m not sure a pro team would be good for the town, for all those reasons.

GT: Do you agree that taking the ban off in-state college wagering has had little impact?

JA: There never was any reason not to have UNLV on the board with everyone else. Yes, the lifting of the ban has made little difference. The televised games of the week get more action. Just because it’s UNLV, well it’s just another game on the board.

GT: How tough was September 11?

JA: Forget economy-wise. Everyone in the town went through some hard times. Emotions of people were different. I sat home night after night talking and reading about it. Just a tremendous shock.

GT: Do props on non-sports related items hurt the business?

JA: You know, I consider myself an oddsmaker. I put odds out on so much stuff. I have put odds up on a hot-dog eating contest for four years. I used to put up odds on the Boston Marathon like what the time of the race would be. I could put odds up on anything. I enjoy doing it, no matter the event. And, I think people look for me to do it. People come to Bally’s and Paris wanting to know what I have on Âí­Survivor? From my perspective, I don’t think it cheapens the business. I am an oddsmaker.

GT: Where do you see the industry headed?

JA: Things are not too bad. There will probably be a lot of changes in the next couple of years, which could really be good. Possibly some Internet stuff. We don’t know if wagering will be involved, but Internet is loaded with information. It’s been hot for five years and there could be something hot down the pike that nobody sees yet. We are always looking for an opportunity to improve the business. People, though, still love coming to Vegas. You know you’re going to get your money here.