The Numbers Guy

Johnny Avello, The Wynn’s executive director of race and sports book operations

Johnny Avello has been called the “Wizard of Odds,” posting lines on everything from sporting events to the Academy Awards to American Idol.

But the 57-year-old’s career in Las Vegas started in 1979 under far less prestigious circumstances. The Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native had planned to move to Atlantic City after graduating from the New York School of Gambling, but the city that inspired the board game Monopoly wanted dealers from gaming schools in New Jersey. That led Avello to move here and take a job as a dealer at the Hilton, where he also started writing betting tickets part time in the sports book as a clerk in 1985. That led to jobs at the Sands and Bally’s, where he became sports book director in 1995.

At Bally’s, Avello worked under Lenny Del Genio, who started posting odds on the Oscars in the early ’80s. Avello began making his own lines for the Oscars in ’95 and expanded his range to reality shows in 2000 after TV Guide asked him to make odds for the first season of Survivor.

Now Avello, who moved to Wynn in 2005, gets calls from national publications asking him to set odds for such varied competitions as Dancing With the Stars, the Westminster Dog Show and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, and even oddities such as celebrity marriages and rock bands reuniting.

He uses the same mathematical formula for entertainment odds as he would on future book odds in the sports world, ensuring that the book makes a profit if an equal amount were bet on every competitor. There’s also a bit of intuition that goes into making entertainment-related odds, as Avello solicits input from trusted co-workers to help sort things out.

Avello’s most recent offerings were odds for the Emmy Awards, which were held on Aug. 29. (He nailed Best Comedy Series, Best Drama Series and Best Actor in a Drama).

Of course, no legal wagering is allowed in Nevada on any of the entertainment odds, but it’s a great marketing tool for Avello, who follows all the events he posts odds on. “If I’m making odds on it,” he says, “I’m watching it.”

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Seven Days

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Thur. 26 The desert is a different place at night, awash in moonlight instead of the merciless sun. If you haven’t experienced it, the Full Moon Hike at Spring Mountain Ranch is your chance. Be sure to bring along a flashlight and water. A park ranger will lead the hike. No pets are allowed. Hikers meet at 7:45 p.m. at the tour gate; admission is $7 per vehicle. Call 875-4141 to reserve your spot.