Vegas oddsmaker: Bet the Pekingese

The Cocker isn't Avello's pick -- but you just never knowJohnny Avello has set odds for 25 years – and he's set the line for the Westminster Kennel Club show for six years. He's currently the Executive Director for Race & Sports at Wynn Las Vegas, and he kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions about how he calculates those odds, who he's rooting for at the show, and whether the Brittany's got a shot this year. (At 300-1, not really. Sorry, David Frei.)

You can see his complete odds sheet right here, and remember – these are just for funsies.

Shine Pets: I don't actually know that much about oddsmaking, so if I'm asking any stupid questions, please forgive me, but what is your process with that?

Johnny Avello: Well, I have to – you know, there's a hundred and eighty-something dogs here. Did you get the list, by any chance?

No, not yet.

You want it?

I do!

[Avello emails us the odds sheet]

Okay…not necessarily what I was expecting to see at the top of the list there.

What were you looking to see?

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Nothing in particular, just not necessarily the Pekingese – that's interesting. How did you come to that?

Well, here's the way the process goes. Are you familiar with the show? Do you have a pick? Do you personally have a pick?

I don't have a pick for what I think is gonna win; I have a preference, but I don't have a pick.

[laughter] I have a preference too! I have three dogs at my house, and none of them are gonna win it, so if that's your preference – is that how you go with your preference, by your own personal dog?

I don't actually have a dog at the moment, but I love the Brittany, so that's what I'm always rooting for.

I don't think I have the Brittany even in the mix this year. So anyway, here's the process. The process is that I take the dogs and I rate them from one to one hundred and eighty-something, whatever there are in here, and then I apply the odds to them, so your question is, how do you rate them.

Well, I look at the dogs that have been doing well at shows throughout 2011; dogs get points for going to shows, and winning, and so I use the points, and my top point-getter's not always the dog that I have on top. On most events I put [odds] out there on who's the favorite to win. On the dog show, I put it out there on who I think has a chance to win, you know, who I think's gonna win.

I'll tell you why that's different, because if the odds on the dog – I think the black Cocker Spaniel, he should be the favorite to win it, he's had the best year, he's got the most points, I mean, he's won everything in sight last year, so he should be the favorite, but I don't have him the favorite; I just don't know whether that's where the favorite's going to come out of this year. That's the Sporting Group, so I had the Pekingese out of the Toy Group as my top dog.

Now I can tell you the Pekingese hasn't won since 1990, so there's 20 years going against it. This Pekingese has been in this mix, though; last year, the Toy Group, this Pekingese was definitely one of the top two dogs out of the group, so I'm looking for it. You know, the dogs' names – I think this dog's name is Palace Garden Malarkey ["close: actually GCH CH Palacegarden Malachy" – ed.], and so I don't put the names down, because sometimes I don't know the names of all of them, they have weird names. I don’t know if you follow these dogs, but their names sometimes aren't exactly what I think they are. So the black Cocker Spaniel, for instance, I believe his name is Casablanca's Thrilling Seduction [laughter], so therefore I just kinda go with the dog only, and then go that route.

So that's how I kind of put them in order. Now! Even though I have the Pekingese on top, he's coming out of that Toy Group, but he's got some stiff competition out of that Toy Group. The Affenpinscher is going to give him a run for his money, [and] you gotta win one of those seven Groups even to get to the final.

Right.

So he needs to beat out the Affenpinscher even to get to the finals. I think the Poodle, the Standard Poodle out of the Non-Sporting Group, I mean, he looks to be the top dog in the Group, so I think he'll make it to the finals but I don't think he'll win. In the Hound Group, there's the Whippet; I think he's the top in the Group this year, and, but I don't think he'll win it. So it's kind of a process that – you know, maybe judges don't think the way I do, but I've been pretty successful. The first year I ever did this, I picked the winner; I picked two winners out of five –

Wow, really! Okay.

So I'm okay at it, but I can't say that I'm bulletproof, because last year I was way off. I think the…who won this last year.

Scottish Deerhound. 60-1.

Yep, Scottish Deerhound, there he is. I had him about 25th or something like that last year? I had him at 60-1, so I'm not always right on the money.

Right. But with all these breeds – well, actually let me ask you this first. Do the odds proceed more from the specific dogs that you're looking at in a given year, or are you looking more at the breed?

Ahhhhh, well, when you say am I looking at the breed, am I looking at the breed for the given year?

Yeah. I saw on the Westminster site, on your odds from last year, there was a disclaimer that said "odds are only gathered on breeds," so do you look at a statistical likelihood that, say –

No. No, I do not. I do not do that, because, you know, when you look at – if you wanna go back and look at the winners, you've got the Fox Terrier, the Wire Fox Terrier, he's won, even though I have him third this year but he's a nice dog in the Group, he's won 13 of 'em; you look at the Scottish Terrier, he's won 8, I think I had him down a little ways; you look at the Airedale Terrier, he's won at least – fourth most wins, I had him way down there, so no, I don't do that. I actually look at the dogs for that year. And so yes, I'm gonna do it by breed, but I'm looking at particular dogs for that year.

And how long does this process take you, generally?

A while. [laughter] You know, I got a lot of things in the course of the day, you have to remember I'm makin' odds on Super Bowl props, college basketball, hockey –

Manny Ramirez coming back –

[laughter] Manny Ramirez. Any event, any type of event that we actually take wagers on, and then I'm throwing into the mix, I'm an entertainment guy, so, the dog show's in there, American Idol I'm working on a little bit, I'm working on Dancing with the Stars when that comes up, the Oscars I just got done with, I did the Grammys, so you know, I do a lot of these type of shows, and this one, it takes me a good solid, it's probably a good 12 to 16 hours.

Wow.

So I have to find the time to do it.

And they keep adding breeds on you, too.

Yeah. Exactly. Exactly right.

Has that affected how long it takes, over the last few years – are you finding that it's getting longer, or no?

Not really, because – I think four is the most they'll add in a year, sometimes six, and for the most part, those dogs that are added are not gonna win it. You know, they're just gonna be towards – if they've had a good year, they're gonna be in the middle, or the bottom portion, or at the very bottom. So no, they don't really disrupt me, you know, my time to get this done.

Right. Do you have a research team that helps you out?

Yeah, I have a team: it's called "Johnny Avello." That's the only team I have.

Wow. So you must really know a lot about a lot of different things. Do you have certain contacts that you cultivate -- like, this time of year you call people who are more in the dog-show world and you ask them their thoughts, or is it just…you and Google?

I talk to some people – there's people out there, you know, that have some knowledge on this, I will call them, just to kind of get an opinion from them; I do that with my Oscars. I have an idea of where I want to be, but I also want to talk to others who are in that type of business to hear what they're thinking. It's always good to bounce it off someone you know, because no one knows it all.

Right.

And I don’t mind, like I say, I'm not always right; when I do the Oscars, I'm probably, out of the major 6 categories, I think for almost 20 years, I think my batting average is about seventy six percent, somewhere in that area. So I usually hit about three out of four, but some years I've hit 'em all and some years I hit three out of six, so – I'm not always right, but I just try to give it the best I can, using my knowledge and others that I can speak to that are in that type of industry.

Right. How does this stack up against the other events that you make odds for vis-à-vis the difficulty of it? Not so much the time that it takes to do, but the ease of making these calls – is this more difficult than the World Series or Best Actress? Less difficult? Can't compare them?

I would say it's…I mean, I know what I'm gonna do with it, I know exactly how I'm gonna formulate the process to get it done. It's more on the time-consuming part that makes this longer than most, because you're dealing with so many [dogs].

Right.

Most of the things I deal with, you know, in the Oscars there's five in a group, and I've already made Golden Globes awards and other awards during the year, so I have a good idea of where I'm going with that, with those five that are nominated. But this, when you get a hundred and eighty-something – like the Fox Terrier Wire last year, I had him probably in the sixtieth spot. This year I got the Fox Terrier Wire in the third spot, so, you know, things change so much from year to year, so that list I have with all the dogs…

Last year I did it a little different. The first four years, I did every dog. Last year, I did a hundred dogs in the field. This year, I went back to doing every dog again. And the reason I did that is because people want to see where their dog is. So if I don't add the Standard Schnauzer in there, people are gonna say, Where's my dog? And so, I decided to go back and put all the dogs in it again. But you know, from year to year, things change. The Kuvasz? Last year he was probably, what, ninetieth or so? This year the Kuvasz is in the top, the top ten anyway.

I'm sure that once you made the decision to keep it to 100 dogs, there's always that one person with, say, a Viszla, who's like, Hey! How come you didn't rank my dog?

I didn't give 'em the chance to, and I'll tell you what, I didn't get any negative feedback [cutting it] to a hundred last year, but I usually do. If I do something like this and I don't cover all the participants, I usually do, so I'm kind of heading it off at the pass.

Any breed in particular you're rooting for?

Ahhhh, well, I have a terrier at home, and I have a Cocker Spaniel – I actually have a white Cocker Spaniel at home, with blue eyes; he's about 13 years old, and he actually is blind. So, you know, am I rooting for either one of those dogs? I guess; I mean, not really. The dogs, dogs are all great, I love dogs, and so I don't know if I’m rooting for any particular dog.

The best dog in these shows is the one that shows the best, who, you know, best disposition, and so when you look at a Cocker Spaniel, this black Cocker Spaniel here, he's a great one out of the Sporting Group, he's a tremendous dog – but other Cocker Spaniels, if you stick your hand in front of 'em, they'll nip at your finger, so you can't compare dogs against dogs. So I can't say that I'm actually rooting for any particular breed.

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