Johnny Avello, head of sportsbook and gaming operations at DraftKings, discusses the alternative markets they have entered during COVID-19 and their constant movement into new states across the country.

 

Video from Johnny Avello Interview

Show notes from Johnny Avello Interview

Ryan Knuppel: All right, welcome back to another episode of The Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every episode. Thank you so much for taking just a little bit of time out of your day to tune in and hear what we got going on in the world of igaming and sports betting. Today we are super blessed to have another special guest with us. We have Johnny Avello, the head of race and sports book operations at DraftKings with us, Johnny, thank you for joining me. 

Johnny Avello: My pleasure, Ryan. 

Ryan Knuppel: Hey, appreciate you being here taking some time out of your busy day and just talking to the audience. So how have you been doing through this COVID pandemic? Have you been hanging in there? 

Johnny Avello: Yeah. I have, the company has, I think we’ve done pretty well. You know, you lose that March Madness tournament and you throw your hands up in the air and you say what do we do, but we’re able to pivot and bring on some different types of content. And to be honest, we’ve done really, really well and now we have things back again to core sports and kind of all is well. 

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, that’s good and you make a good point. You know, pivoting we talked a lot about pivoting through this, you know, when we talk with different businesses and that seems to be the common word that people use. What’s one thing that DraftKings did to I guess pivot during the sports shut down? Is there anything in particular that stands out that you guys did that you would call pivoting?

Johnny Avello: Well, let’s talk about the sports themselves. You know, we’re able to find content using maybe more obscure soccer leagues than we would normally use, australian rules football, darts, professional darts, table tennis. So, you know a lot of different things, and esports, esports has done really well. So, you know, you take things that you dabble in a little bit, and they become kind of your core offerings. But I got to tell you Ryan, the good part about all of this when it all shakes out, is then core sports are back, and everybody loves betting basketball and hockey and baseball and those are doing so well right now. But those other products that we offer, they’re here to stay. So, we’ve added those to our menu and now we have an extensive menu for our guests. 

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, that’s very cool. And DraftKings, you know, is very well-established back from the DFS days. And now, you know, with diving in as, as an operator here in the US, what kind of, I guess things have you guys learned from the DFS days to now? You know what kind of, I guess, you had to have had some momentum with the DFS days now you’re in the sports betting days. I guess what kind of changes is it when you’re now working with sports betting compared to DFS? If that makes sense at all? 

Johnny Avello: Yeah, well, remember the company was founded in 2012. You know, by the three owners. And, you know, in fantasy and fantasy was you all they had up into 2018. They turned it into the best fantasy product out there. And I think in the back of their mind, they always knew that they wanted to expand it into sports wagering, when and if it would happen, and it did happen. So, but you know, now turn your focus to July 2018, PASPA gets overturned, DraftKings is in the sportsbook business, and now we’re in multiple states. So, you know, we’re just, you’re just picking off states now and we’re just on a on a great ride. 

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, that’s amazing. Well expand on that a little bit, you know, because we know that states are slowly but surely joining, I still can’t get my state here in Florida where I’m located, I can’t get them to make any moves. But, tell us a little bit about your expansion you know, starting in probably there in New Jersey and now, tell us somethings that DraftKings have been doing in different states.

Johnny Avello: Some states we are in in both retail and digital. Now what that means is that you can walk into a location, of bricks and mortar location, that would be the retail. And then of course, the digital’s being able to bet online. And then some states we’re in both, we do both of those. In some states, we don’t. New York, we just have a retail location up in Del Lago. In Mississippi, we have a retail location. And so therefore, those places are doing well but not as well as they should be doing because I got to tell you that digital is the future of this business. You know, you’ve been able to open up an account from anywhere within the borders, being able to download the app, make your wager, fund it, withdraw it. That’s where we need to be everywhere. So, everybody will have that eventually, but not everybody does right now. But most of the places we’re in are the digital and the retail both.

Ryan Knuppel: On that note, what is DraftKings doing specifically, or what can DraftKings do to help urge the states in the legislations that maybe aren’t digitally?Or that aren’t mobile? I mean, how do we convince them that that’s the future and that they’re really missing out on a big chunk of the pie here without doing that? I mean, is there conversations going on and that you guys are a part of trying to help convince these states that they’re, they’re missing out? 

Johnny Avello: Certainly. I mean, there’s a whole team that works for DraftKings and that’s, that’s what they do is you know, talk to states and try to convince them that this is, you know, where you what you want to do. Now, we are on, we’re thinking the way you are, you don’t have to convince us right?

Ryan Knuppel: No

Johnny Avello: We know that this is fun entertainment and you know, people would love to have it in their states and would embrace it. Some states are a little bit slower coming around than others are. Our recent opening was just in Illinois. Casino Queen, and we are there both the retail and with the digital. With the digital you have to actually go into the bricks and mortar location, sign up, and then you can bet within the boundaries of the state. That’s a little cumbersome, but you know, it’s something. But we want to convince, you know, everyone there that the best way to do it, of course, is to sign up without having to come into bricks and mortar location. Some states are a little bit slow to get it to get it going the way that we feel is the most efficient way to do it, but we’re just glad to be in Illinois. 

 Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, Illinois is going to be a great state and that’s my home state. I mean, that’s where I lived most of my life. And so, I’d urge people go to, you know, schedule, ah you can’t really go to a Cardinals game right now. But when baseball is going in their hometown and Cardinals, you can go to their games, Casino Queen’s right there. That used to be my place. I’d go to Casino Queen play in the casino. Now I love to go visit your guys’ sportsbook there. So that’s a great spot right there and kind of East St. Louis, St. Louis area, a good spot for you guys. So, congratulations on that. 

Johnny Avello: Thank you. Yeah, you know, St. Louis being right across the river, we are getting a lot of people to come over and play. And we’re actually doing signups right in the parking lot. 

Ryan Knuppel: Oh, nice. 

Johnny Avello: Yeah. So, we’re making it easy for the customers that just want to come over and get it done quick and now they’re signed up. They don’t need to go into, you know, the Casino Queen if they don’t want to. But we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for the user. 

 Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, for sure. For sure. So, let’s touch a little bit on, you know, sports is kind of coming back here or there. Everybody has their eyes and their focus on what’s going to happen with football, right? I mean, right now college football is kind of in flux with the Big 10 already shutting down what they’re going to do and some other conferences talking about that. But I want to talk a little bit about professional football. I know you guys have a pro football pick’em championship coming up, right? It’s something that you guys have announced or are going to announce here soon. Can you tell us a little bit about your plans for the upcoming NFL season, assuming we can play, and we have a season? 

 Johnny Avello: Yeah, so I’ll talk about the new contest coming up. It’s a pro football contest, as you mentioned, pick’em championship. It’s a $1500 entry fee. You have to pick five games per week, five selections per week against the spread. Now we’re allowing the participant to take off two weeks, bye weeks, so to speak. So why not if the teams are taken off, why not the player get a couple of weeks off too. And we’re not using the last week of the season week 17. So, what it comes down to are 70 picks, five picks a week, selections against the spread, $1 million top prize to the winner. Multi states, right now we are in New Jersey, we are in New Hampshire, hoping we’re working with some regulators to announce some new states hopefully here soon. It’s easy to play. It’s all done on the mobile app. As long as you’re within the boundaries of those states just make your selections. You’re always in it regardless of what kind of a week or month you’re having, because if you go 5-0, you get a free $100 bet, no matter when you do that during the course of the contest. There’s no proxies, so you get 100% of your winnings. We think it’s, you know, one of the best football contests out there. And it’s only going to get better from year to year as we continue to expand that across the country. 

 Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, that’s amazing. That’s going to be fun. I always enjoy playing in those types of contests over the years. Obviously, the big one everybody talks about, what is it, the super contest out in Vegas. And so, this is like a next level, sounds like you guys have added some improvements to some things that maybe you could see being better with this contest. So, I’m excited to see where that goes, and I mean million dollars to the first place. Who doesn’t want to try that? You know, that’s amazing. So, I urge everybody listening, so New Hampshire, New Jersey, and possibly some more states. If you’re there, take a look at that contest. Get out there and play. Man, I wish I could play. It’s killing me here. What’s going to happen with Florida? Are we getting any closer? 

 Johnny Avello: I don’t know. I like to say yes, but..

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, I know your guess is as good as mine, right?

Johnny Avello: Exactly. 

Ryan Knuppel: Oh, cool. So, what else is new with DraftKings? Any other announcements? Anything else that you want to talk to the audience about or just anything on your mind in general? 

 Johnny Avello: Well, one thing I would tell the audience that DraftKings has that everybody can play in across the country is our free pools. We offer free pools every day, multiple pools that cost you no money. We put up the prize money and what pools are the things like the presidential election, we have like 10 different selections in there. And you pick one, pick one each from each 10 and we pay off, you know, the winners. We have it, we do it on horse racing, we do it on the weather, we do it on housewives shows, we do it on Top Chef. And so it’s for entertainment. It’s great. And anybody out there can play. So, I would tell everybody from every state, Florida, and every other state that’s listening to go on to DraftKings website. I go sportbook.draftkings.com. That’s an easy way to get there. Look at the free pools, register, and you’re up and playing. And you get to look at all that wonderful content that we display. 

 Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, amazing. Amazing. And one last question before we get going. So, this you know, may piggyback right on that last comment of the wonderful graphics and this content and all this stuff that you guys have. What would you say is the one thing that sets DraftKings apart from all of these other operators that are coming into this space? A lot of new sports book names that are coming in. What’s the one or two things that really sets DraftKings sportsbook apart in your mind? 

 Johnny Avello: Well, first of all, it’s a very innovative staff and constantly coming up with new ideas to make us better, you know. So we are, we’re constantly doing that trying to come up with the either a new content or new type of bet. The app is so easy to use. And I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve seen a lot of product. It’s the most user friendly to navigate through our app. And that’s important. Because you want to get around, you don’t want to have to stumble and use most of your time finding, you know, where you need to get to. And it’s very stable. This thing works. You have very few issues. So, there’s many things about DraftKings that I can talk about, we can talk about an hour here now, because I’ve only been with the company about two years. And just amazing company that continues to press the boundaries, you try to just make this the best possible user experience that they could have. 

 Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. You know, I said I was only going to ask one more question, but now I got another one because I’d like to hear just a little bit about your background. We kind of skipped over that. So, you’ve only been with DraftKings a couple years? What got you there? How did you get from where you were to DraftKings? Tell us a little bit about your path getting there individually. 

 Johnny Avello: I’ve been in Las Vegas since 1979. And when I first came to town, I was in the table game area, the pits, and so I did all the games and I did that for about five, six years. And then I moved over to race and sports, and I did start at the very bottom again and race and sports. A ticket writer, an admin supervisor, an oddsmaker, I kind of did the progression all the way up because I always like to learn everything from the bottom. And I got to tell you the difference between sports, book wagering, and casino table games is night and day. Those games are structured. You roll a five, you got to roll a five again before seven. You spin the wheel, you put your money on 31, you got to hit 31, right? And in 21, you either hit a soft 17, if you go over 21 you bust. But in sports wagering, we make when we make the line, we say, do I make the line six and a half or seven? I took a big bet on this game, do I move the line or don’t I move the line? So, there’s a lot more thought process, thought process into it. And it’s a much more gray area. And there’s many more decisions to make. Makes it a fun industry to work in. 

 Ryan Knuppel: That’s what I was going to say, man, I mean, with all the number of games and the decisions and the movements and the money coming in, and all of that, I mean, that’s just makes my head spin. But uh, you guys clearly have a good team behind you to kind of make that happen. So that’s amazing. Well, Johnny, I won’t keep any more of your time. If anybody wanted to learn more about DraftKings, learn more about what you do or possibly get ahold of you, what’s the best possible avenue to get out there and reach out to you guys? 

 Johnny Avello: Well, first of all, if you want to do what we do, go to our website because everything is there, which is you know, draftkings.com or if you want to go to sportsbook. Anybody can get ahold of me anytime. My email is [email protected]. If anybody wants to email me, be free to do so I’ll be glad to answer your question. And if I can’t answer it, I guarantee I get back to you with an answer because I will find that answer. 

Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. Johnny Avello, the head of race and sportsbook at DraftKings. Johnny really truly appreciate you giving us a little bit of your time. Thank you for being here. And, you know, good luck with everything as the states continue on. Good luck with everything. 

Johnny Avello: Thank you very much, Ryan. 

Ryan Knuppel: All right, everybody. Take care. Thank you for listening. Stay safe out there. This was Johnny Avello with DraftKings. Until next time, everybody, have a great day. Bye-bye.

 

Relevant for Johnny Avello Links

  • Learn more about DraftKings: DraftKings.com
  • You can connect with Johnny Avello: [email protected]

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