How Sportsbooks Navigate The Betting Variables Of A Topsy-Turvy Sports World

Sportsbooks, like gamblers, are entering a new age.

As the MLB and NBA plan July returns, and with the NFL staring at both a new August preseason and September regular-season start, betting variables are everywhere.

Case in point: There will be no fans at MLB or NBA games. The NFL has more time to decide on that front.

Johnny Avello, the 35-year sportsbook veteran and head of operations for DraftKings Sportsbook, shared his insights on this unprecedented era with NJGamblingSites.

In a wide-ranging interview, Avello said operators are making tweaks rather than wholesale changes to their odds-making models. But tweaks, gamblers know, make a difference.

What are those tweaks, which may decide bets? Let’s take them in order of when sports return.

A world of unknowns in MLB betting

Baseball, returning July 23 with a regional schedule, presents a realm of handicapping challenges.

The 60-game season means that teams such as the defending champion Washington Nationals, who began last year 19-31, won’t recover from a slow gate break.

Win totals may become the trickiest wager of all.

“Rarely during the season will you see somebody jump out to 10-1,” Avello said. “A team like the Yankees might be 5-5 and catch a lot of momentum later. A fast start is more important this year than ever before.”

Avello said middle-inning relief will be significant this year, too. So will the way managers use starting pitchers, especially early in the season. Yankee Gerrit Cole has a 100-strikeout prop at DraftKings.

Avello said a staff ace might get 13-14 starts. Cole would need at least a couple of breakout games, probably in the 12-strikeout range, to hit this prop.

One other consideration involves how long managers let pitchers go, especially early in the season. Some early-season stints will be short and, with the Yankees, there’s one more variable.

Few starting pitchers go past seven innings.

“Cy Young would not have gotten more than seven innings with the Yankees,” Avello quipped, referencing baseball’s all-time winningest pitcher.

New extra-inning rule and over-under game totals

A new rule prompting each extra half-inning to start with a runner on second base will impact over-under game totals. It’s an over bettor’s reprieve, an under bettor’s nightmare.

One might believe this could prompt more bets related to nine innings or special props for extra innings only. But it’s too early to know, said Avello.

“You have to figure there’s a good chance that teams will score there, either with a hit or doing the right things like bunting him over and getting him home with a sacrifice fly. We will have to adjust to that after the season starts, but it is important.”

Rainouts and refunds

What if some games don’t occur because of rainouts?

Avello said DraftKings is approaching an incomplete schedule differently than many other books. There is no minimum number of games required for a bet to be considered fully actioned if the result is known.

If a bettor took the over and it has covered, the bet will count, regardless of how many games the team fails to finish.

Conversely, if the bet was a mathematical loser, it won’t be rescued by the shortened season (e.g., a team is four wins short of the over and only plays 57 of the 60 games. The ticket loses).

Whenever a bet is still “in play,” meaning it could have been decided by the games that were not played, it will be refunded.

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NBA betting and the eight-game warmup

A couple of playoff spots will be determined by an eight-game, season-ending stretch for the NBA.

All the games will be played in Orlando starting July 30.

But for most teams and players, the campaign is designed for them only to hit the playoffs ground running.

“The power ratings for each team stays intact,” Avello said.

“Some teams have injured players, and they will get those players back. We know they will improve, but we don’t know by how much. There is no home-court advantage, from what we see.”

Philadephia 76ers and the lack of a home-court edge

In fact, the absence of the NBA home court is difficult to assess regarding handicapping.

“Without the crowd, I don’t know exactly what that is going to mean for the totals,” Avello said regarding the total points teams combine to score. “We don’t know how each team will react to the environment. That can mean player-wise, shooting-wise or team-wise.

“To me, in this environment, players have total concentration. These players zone out a crowd. Now, the crowd can mean momentum at times. Within the midst of any game, the crowd is going to be a factor at some point. There are also going to be a lot of times when that does not affect anything.”

“Let’s put it this way,” he added, chuckling, “there are a lot of adjustments we are going to make along the way. We don’t have it down to a science right now.”

One interesting team in this mix: the Philadelphia 76ers.

They were a league-best 29-2 at home and an awful 10-24 on the road. Does that even out for them? They are neither home nor truly away. They are perpetually neutral.

Keeping an eye on NBA futures betting

The eight-game season has two important segments.

Players, like championship runners, will want to pattern their stride to hit the postseason at full tilt. They have missed the game so much that they will be eager to perform.

On some bubble teams, such as the Portland TrailBlazers and Memphis Grizzlies, full tilt starts right away.

“There will be some teams out of it after a couple of games, and you figure they take that down a couple notches,” Avello said. “Some teams will have to go all out right away.

“On the futures side, we keep a close eye on anybody testing positive for the virus. They might be out for a minimum of two weeks. The (Milwaukee) Bucks may be able to survive two weeks,” he said of the team with the league’s best regular-season mark of 53-12, “but I don’t know how many other teams can.”

NFL betting: Homefield ‘half’ advantage?

The NFL preseason starts just after basketball’s resumption, but the date circled in NJ sports betting quarters is Sept. 10.

That’s when the NFL resumes, with the Houston Texans visiting the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of their memorable AFC postseason shootout.

Remember that 51-31 shootout? When you had the over bagged by halftime? Or when you took the Chiefs in-game when they trailed 24-0?

Football thus has had more time to prepare and incorporate its attendance variables into NFL odds making. Estimates have ranged from no spectators to a 75%-of-capacity crowd.

What does that mean now?

The 12th man could be gone. Domed teams will suffer more. Think about the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.

Dome is home. Loud stadiums force opposing teams offside, disrupt their signals.

The domes could be empty or partially filled. Avello noted that this changes the odds on two levels.

“Any fans will certainly add to the excitement level of it. If there are no fans, I feel that the home-field advantage is cut in half, but it doesn’t go away.

“With the home field, you are still using your own locker rooms. You are still sleeping in your own home. You are a 10-minute drive away from the stadium, and you are still comfortable with the feel of that stadium. The opposing team still has to travel to get there.”

Applying the philosophy that the home field is worth three points, it now may be 1.5. That would be significant.

A betting brainteaser for DraftKings Sportsbook

The sports world’s overall variables present an unprecedented challenge and some brainteasing fun for DraftKings and NJ sportsbooks.

You won’t see a crowd unraveling a visiting team’s closer. There won’t be an electrifying dunk that, figuratively, tears the roof off of a building. No walk-off grand slam in a packed house. No Lambeau Leap.

But there will still be sports betting, and that’s a big victory, a warm-weather win.

“Usually in the summer you are talking just about baseball,” Avello said.

“This time you have basketball, football, soccer, golf, UFC, etc., all happening at the same time. We are happy about that. There is a lot going on for us and for the bettors.”

As for the business, which was decimated by an estimated 80% back in March, Avello said DraftKings is well on its way back.

He could not release figures but considered an estimate of DraftKings doing 65%–75% of its normal business in the ballpark.

Horse racing odds at DraftKings? It’s a possibility

On a side note, Avello said DraftKings is looking at a horse-racing platform. After all, the app did have fixed odds on the Haskell Invitational Stakes last year.

The idea of fixed-odds horse betting, which gives bettors fixed odds on a horse race bet made in advance (probably the day of the event), is something that could occur this summer.

In the wagering world, gamblers have learned there’s nothing wrong with the word “could.”

“Maybe” is also fine. So is “possibility.” They indicate the potential of something coming.

Situations are changing constantly, but the sportsbook wheels always turn.

There has never been this level of uncertainty — yet relief — in the sports betting community.

About the Author

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.