Bally’s race and sports director John Avello has been in the gaming business since 1979 so when he says technology is the future of the industry, it carries a lot of weight.
Thankfully, though, the human touch applies to making lines. Pass that along to the BCS.
"At the end of the year, it’s difficult for bookmakers," Avello said over lunch after finishing the third of his fourth national radio show interviews he does each Friday during football season. "Teams out of it tend to lie down. Those rebuilding will play. You find 10-point dogs winning straight-up. It’s so unpredictable.
Chuck Sippl, senior editor of The Gold Sheet, made a similar argument in the latest issue called "The Bite of The NFL Home Dogs."
"Through the first eight weeks of the season, the home underdogs were only 9-23 against the spread (28.1 percent). Since then, the home dogs have gone 21-8-2 ATS (72 percent). In the second to last weekend of the (regular) season, the home dogs have gone 33-13-1 (71.2 percent) since 1994."
There were five home dogs this past week in the NFL (Minnesota, NY Jets, Cleveland, Houston and Oakland). Not including Monday night’s result involving the Raiders, the count was 2-2.
"If you like a particular side when making the numbers, you don’t want to put too much weight into your opinion," Avello said. "Bookmakers are wrong just like everyone else. So, the bookies job is not to be picking winners. I can’t handicap the game until the number is up. The better team has to be the favorite, but the key is trying to find the balance.
"We like decisions," Avello continued. "Seeing a 50-50 breakdown on a game doesn’t help us. However, we also don’t like games that run, say from 7 to 14 points in a line. The movement tells us either injuries we didn’t foresee or a bad number. Seeing 7 to 8 is much better."
Steve Fessik, the Howard Stern of handicappers and a finalist in the Stardust Invitational Football Contest, said he closely watches the late line movements of games before making a bet.
"Lots of line movements involve popular teams so I’m not really swayed by that," Fessik said when questioned on strategy by host John Kelly during the Invitational’s radio show. "It’s the line moves on games involving the lesser known teams that I notice. Those are the movements caused by the wiseguys, not the general public. They usually carry more weight."
Lame duck Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay was involved in a "popular move" line that resulted is drastic results for those not betting the dog. The Bucs opened as a 6Â½-point favorite against Atlanta and closed at 8Â½. If you like betting dogs, the cover was never in doubt as the Falcons won outright 30-28.
"The Dallas-Giants game was one I wanted no part of," Avello said. "The Cowboys haven’t given 11 to the Giants in a long time. That’s a lot of points for a team without a good offense to be giving."
In college football, the first two bowl games were rewarding for favorites ”” a development that didn’t surprise Avello at all.
"Those were meaningless games," he said. "The MAC has some pretty nice teams. It was absolutely no surprise to see Miami of Ohio play well. As the bowls continue, you can look for underdogs to do better."
Avello freely admits he looks at underdogs or "dots" in evaluating which teams he will support when asked his opinion.
"There are no locks. I never use that terminology except when I’m joking," he said. "I like Ohio State (vs Kansas State) and California (vs Virginia Tech). By beating Oklahoma, K-State drove the line up four points. The line would have been 3. I put a lot of stock in value. Cal beat USC and Phoenix is a favorable locale. Virginia Tech has lost three of its last four. Not a lot of momentum working there."
Avello is more into the managerial aspect of his job as opposed to professionally making lines so he admits not paying much attention to other handicappers or "touts" that advertise their excellence in picking winners.
"A bookmaker’s opinion is worth just that, an opinion," he said. "I would say that hitting 57 percent winners is about right. I’m unclear whether touts hurt the business. My job is to make sure customers come in and bet. And they are in great numbers for football. The sport is king."
And just what does make for a successful bookmaker?
"The ability to adjust when teams aren’t covering a spread," Avello said. "The players are looking at covers. They may not be pretty, but a team like New England does it every week. I’ve noticed the only team getting respect on the road is Jacksonville. The Jags cover and people feel they give you their best every game."