DraftKings’ Johnny Avello: Ontario Sports Betting Will Ultimately Come Down to Quality of Product

DraftKings’ Johnny Avello: Ontario Sports Betting Will Ultimately Come Down to Quality of Product
By Mark Keast

There might not be a bigger name in the world of sports betting than Johnny Avello, DraftKings’ director of race and sportsbook operations. Avello was inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame in 2021.

So, in an interview with OntarioBets.com, the conversation started with some clarity on what his role will be with the newly licensed DraftKings Sportsbook Ontario, the company’s Ontario sports betting platform. The province is unlike any of the states where DraftKings has been operating.

DraftKings getting a nice sportsbook name brand like Avello to join its team was a coup of sorts. With advertising restrictions north of the border, where competing Ontario sports betting apps can’t attain and retain customers with inducement offers, the rubber hits the road when talking quality of product and branding. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, as we’ve heard countless times from people talking about the market here.

So with the launch of DraftKings Sportsbook Ontario last week, we thought it was a good time to chat with Avello, from his Las Vegas base of operations. Avello has never been to Toronto, but has heard a lot about the size of the market and the passion of sports bettors here and intends to get up here in the short term, he said.

OntarioBets: What is your role with DraftKings in Ontario?

Johnny Avello: So I can’t narrow it down to just one thing. I am associated with the trading team, the guys that put out the odds. I am associated with the retail team, where we are rolling out bricks and mortar locations. I also work with customer acquisition and any type of events that we run, so there's a lot of different things.

 
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Standing Out in Ontario Market

OntarioBets: Keeping in mind how competitive the sports betting market is in Ontario, how can DraftKings differentiate itself in the market? What’s your strategy to attain then retain customers here?

Avello: Well, it is a competitive market for sure, and we’ve been preparing for it for a long time. In terms of offerings, we don’t think there will be anyone else out there that can do what we do. We have such a large menu. When we rolled out the item list, there is just so much.

You can expect us to keep adding to that menu. We do sports like cornhole (a lawn game where players take turns throwing a fabric bean bag at a raised platform) and we do the Academy Awards, and we do a lot of other things that others don't have. We try to do an array of everything.

”I think quality of offerings is going to be the differentiator (in Ontario). People know DraftKings, and they know what DraftKings can do.”

People (in Ontario) were familiar with our fantasy football, which of course is on hold right now, we hope to have that in the future, and you can go to other provinces and play that, so people I think are familiar with the DraftKings name. They associate with it, they’ve seen it now for years on the sports end. And that helps us a lot in the marketing that we’ve done.

”The in-play is quite a market at this time. That has grown substantially over the past several years, and we do that with all the major sports, like football, college basketball, NBA.”

A lot of people enjoy betting that market because they don’t like what the number is or what the spread is at the beginning of the game, but they know if they are patient enough, they will find something they do like during the in-game.

Another market that has grown is same game parlays, where you can take five to 10 different items in a particular game and just parlay them all altogether. Every day I see a $10 bet come back at $8,000-$10,000, I've seen some of 'em run as high as $80,000-$90,000. So we have all these different types of wagers that people aren't accustomed to that they will now see, and I think those will be really popular. 

So you take one game, it could be a hockey game, and within that game itself as you can bet the game, the total, how many goals a player will score, how many goals a team will score, how many shots on goal, parlay all of that, and the payoff is quite substantial. So those types of bets have become really popular on our network, and we are starting to see some of that in Ontario now. I think it’s going to be really popular in Ontario.

 
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‘NHL Playoffs Have Been Outstanding’

OntarioBets: What are your thoughts on the NHL Playoff series?

Avello: Tampa Bay knows how to win, so obviously going into playoffs it’s important that you know how to win and apply that, and they've done that so far.

I didn't believe that Edmonton, I thought they had a chance, but I didn't know that they would take a commanding 3-1 lead, especially after Calgary won the first game. I think the feelings were that Calgary had a good enough team possibly to get to the final this year, so that's a real surprise (Edmonton eliminated Calgary Thursday night). 

St. Louis has taken Colorado now to at least six games, so you know they have made that a little more interesting than I think that people thought. The other series, the Rangers-Carolina series, is also really tight. 

You know even prior to these four series the NHL playoffs have been outstanding. It’s really been good for us in the U.S. market, because they usually collide with the NBA, they both start at the same time, but this year the NHL was a little later.

That has helped them, they are more isolated on certain days, and don’t have to go up against the NBA slate. 

The NHL has been doing very well in terms of handle. Colorado has been the favourite since the beginning of the year, you could have got them at 6/1, now they are sitting at 7/5 or so. It’s not like they are a minus, though, you still get a small plus. They are followed by Tampa, at around +250 or so. I wouldn’t say there is any favorite, where you have to put up more to get less.

 
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Contributors

Mark Keast

Mark Keast has recently covered the sports betting industry in Canada for The Parleh, and is a long-time sportswriter and editor, most notably with the Toronto Sun.