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Wynn Sportsbook rings in the madness with new TV show and special 900-seat venue for fans

16 March 2009

He'll be putting in outrageous hours and the action will be fast and furious over the next three-plus weeks. But John Avello wouldn't want it any other way. After all, there's a reason they call it March Madness.

"I've been in the sportsbook business for 22 years and there hasn't been one day in which I looked at my watch wondering if it was time to go home," says the Director of Race and Sports at Wynn Las Vegas. "Usually the day goes by so fast I don't even think about how long I've been here. And that will certainly be the case during the next few weeks."

Wynn_sportsbook_john_avello

Wynn Race & Sports Book Director John Avello says the 900-seat makeshift sportsbook the casino has built for March Madness will help him accommodate the crowds this week. photo by Alex Karvounis

Avello is, of course, referring to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which gets underway Thursday morning when the field of 64 teams attempts to advance all the way to the Final Four in Detroit on the first weekend in April. This week will be especially busy at sportsbooks across the city as 48 NCAA games will be played from Thursday through Sunday. An estimated $80 million to $90 million could be wagered in Nevada throughout the entire tournament.

And while none of the games will actually take place in Las Vegas, Sin City is one of the best spots in the country to take in all of the action.

Avello says his biggest challenge is to accommodate all of the guests that will flood his sportsbook for March Madness. To that end, Wynn is trying something new this year by creating a make-shift sportsbook in one of the convention rooms at the hotel. A stanchion with four giant television sits in the middle of the room so the action can be seen from any vantage point. There are also 16 other big-screen TVs as well as food outlets, bar service and craps and blackjack tables.

"Our sportsbook seats 200 and that can fill up pretty quickly," Avello explained. "This room can seat 900. It's a tremendous set-up and it's something that is really going to allow us to accommodate the big crowds that we typically handle."

Wynn is offering "Get Your Game On" packages from $199 per night that includes one resort room with double occupancy, guaranteed seating in the casino ball room and complimentary food and beverages during the games.

"It's exciting, no doubt about it," Avello, 56, says. "I really enjoy it. Just like any other big event, you really get a rush when you work in this business and something big is going on. It's what makes it fun."

Adding to the excitement for this year's tournament at the Wynn Race and Sports Book is the fact that it is hosting a new TV show hosted by former CBS college basketball announcer Billy Packer called "Survive and Advance." The show – which will air March 22 and 29 and April 3 and 5 – is taped inside the VIP area of the sportsbook. Packer's co-host is fellow Basketball Hall of Famer and the winningest coach in Division I history, Bobby Knight.

The first show was taped Sunday night shortly after the pairings for the tournament were announced and was on the air across the country on Fox Sports Net (FSN) at 12 a.m. After the show, Packer and Knight remained on the set and answered questions from the hundreds of fans who came to the sportsbook to watch the show and Avello says that will be case for the rest of the shows as well.

"Considering we've never done anything like this before, I thought the first show went very smooth," Avello said. "I really didn't know what to expect but the fact that we're working with a staff of people who are all true professionals in what they do, that made a huge difference.

"When Steve Wynn decided to do this, his goal wasn't to advertise his name with a basketball show. He wanted to do this because of his close relationship with Billy Packer and the fact that they are both huge supporters of the game of basketball."

In addition to Knight, other guests on the premiere of the show included Quinn Buckner and Isiah Thomas, two of Knight's former players.

"Billy Packer and Bob Knight are two of the biggest names in the college basketball so you can expect to see plenty of other big-names on the show," Avello added.

Avello, a New York native, began his career in the sportsbook business as a ticket writer at the Las Vegas Hilton in the early 1980s. He worked his way up to supervisor and shift manager and eventually became an oddsmaker. In 1990 he was named Director of Sports and Racing at Bally's and spent 15 years there before moving over to Wynn in 2005. He said that the handle for March Madness is typically as big as the Super Bowl and that as the tournament goes along the number of bets played goes down, but the amount of those bets goes up dramatically.

"That's the pattern every year," says Avello, who is known for posting early future numbers and offering unique proposition bets. "March Madness is a different animal because for us it's an event that lasts three weeks, rather than one day or one weekend. But the people really get into it. I think the fans really enjoy the fact that the system for college basketball demands that the games play out and winner is determined. It's not like college football where they just hand the trophy over to someone."

As for the tournament itself, Avello had already penciled in top-seeded North Carolina and Pittsburgh into his Final Four bracket on Monday morning.

"They both have the horses to get there," he said. "North Carolina has proven that if they're going to lose, it's probably going to be a buzzer-beater. I know Pitt has had some clunker games, but they are a very, very strong team.

"After that, it's tough to say. I think Louisville is playing as well as anyone in the country, but they're not in an easy bracket. And I see both UConn and Memphis as teams that are vulnerable.

"Either way, it's going to be exiting. It always is. There's always upsets and there's always a bunch of games that go right down to the final buzzer. As crazy as it's going to be around here, we're looking forward to getting it going."

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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT