Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that illegal sports gambling in the majority of states (Nevada enjoyed an exclusion ). When that happened, the floodgates for legalized sports gambling across the nation opened –Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to permit betting on the outcome of a match, but they’re not likely to be the last.
Texas-based documentary filmmaker and UT graduate Bradley Jackson, who made the surprise hit Dealt, about a blind San Antonio card shark, spent much of the past six months immersed in the world of sports gambling for his follow-up to this project. Reteaming with Dealt manager Luke Korem and fellow manufacturer Russell Wayne Groves (in addition to showrunner David Check), Jackson produced the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, that tracked the winners and losers of this 2018-19 NFL season–maybe not the ones on the field, but the ones at the match, wagering a small fortune on the outcome of the games being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson ahead of this series’ final episode to talk about sports gambling, daily dream, and what the chances are that Texas allows fans to put a wager on game day in the next few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this job?
Bradley Jackson: Just how big of a business this is. I meanyou find the numbers and they’re just astronomical. In the opening sentence of the series, when we are showing these people betting on the Super Bowl, which only on the Super Bowl alone, I think it’s like six billion dollars. But the caveat to this stat is that just 3 percent of that is legal wagering. That means 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That number from Super Bowl weekend was among the very first stats that I watched when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. Then you look at the real numbers of just how much is really bet in the usa, and it’s billions and billions of dollars–so much of this is prohibited wagering. So it seems like it’s one of these things everybody is doing, but nobody really talks about.
Texas Monthly: Did working on this job inspire you to place any bets?
Bradley Jackson: Yeah. I had never done it, and now that I’ve spent six months embedded within this world, I’ve made a few –low-stakes things, just to find that feeling of what it is like. And it’s fun, especially when you’re wagering a sensible amount–but the emotions are still there. I’m a very mental person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU bet, I felt awful for approximately an hour. Because naturally I bet on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not just because my team lost–it hurt more that I lost fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a feeling of when placing a wager like that in Texas might be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We live in a country that’s obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing draws people’s attention more than gambling on football, especially the NFL. I believe eventually Texas can perform some kind of sports betting. I really don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I believe they’ll do it in cellular, because I don’t think we’ll see casinos in Texas, actually. I have been hearing that maybe Buffalo Wild Wings will do some sort of pseudo sports gambling stuff, so you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and put on your telephone and set a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I think that will be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five decades.
Texas Monthly: With this industry being huge, illegal, and thus largely untaxed, to what extent do you think gambling as a source of untapped revenue for the country plays into things?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely into it. From a financial point of view, it’s huge. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was kind of on the forefront of that. He wrote an editorial to the New York Times about four years ago where he stated we will need to take sports gambling from the shadows and bring it into the light. And that way you can tax it, which is obviously good for the states, but you can also make sure it’s done above board. Once the Texas legislature sniff how much money can be taxed, it is a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The illegal bookie which you talk to in the documentary states that legalization doesn’t impact his business. What was that like for you to understand?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me off. When we were sketching out the figures we wanted to try and determine to put in the series, an illegal bookie was definitely on very top of our list. Our assumption was that this is going to hurt them. We believed we were going to find some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was going to be very hurt by all of this. After we met this guy, it was the specific opposite. He was just like,”I am not sweating at all.” I was shocked by it. He’d say that he thinks that if every state goes, if that becomes 100% legal in every nation, then he think he could be affected. However he works out of this Tri-State area, and right now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five places. He breaks it down quite well at the conclusion of the first incident, where he just says,”It’s convenient and it’s charge –both C’s will never go away.” With a illegal bookie, you are able to lose fifty million dollars on credit, and that can really negatively impact your life. Sometime you can still hurt yourself betting legally, but you can’t bet on credit through lawful channels. If casinos start letting you wager on charge, I believe his bottom line could get hurt. The more it’s a part of the national conversation, the more money he makes, as people are like,”Oh, it is right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily dream one of the gateways to sports betting? It feels like it is just a small variant on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in the us. He is a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing this. He advised us that the most he’s ever produced was $1.5 million in one week. One of our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of everyday fantasy was a gateway into the leagues letting legalized gaming to really happen. For years, you saw the NFL state that sports betting is the worst thing and they’d never allow it. And then about four years back daily fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel started, and they purchased, I believe, 30,000 advertisement spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you were watching the NFL, every other commercial was DraftKings or FanDuel. And a lot of folks were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say that you think sports betting is the worst thing ever. How is this not gambling?” It’s gambling. We really join the CEO of DraftKings, and two of the high-up people at FanDuel, and I think that it’s B.S., however they state daily dream isn’t gambling, it’s a game of skill. However, I don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: How people who make money do it will involve conducting huge numbers of teams to beat the odds, instead of picking the guys they believe have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our everyday fantasy player over a weekend of creating his bets, and he does not do well that weekend. And he talked about how what he is doing is a good deal of skill, but each week you will find just two or three plays which are entirely random, and they make his week ruin his week, and that is 100 percent chance. That really is an element of gambling, as you are putting something of financial worth up with an unknown result, and you have no control on how that’s given. We watch him literally shed sixty million dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It’s the Cowboys-Eagles, and he states,”All I want is for the Cowboys to do nicely, but minus Ezekiel Elliott making any profits, and then you visit Zeke get, like, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of those happens, then I am screwed.” And then there is this little two-yard pass from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I simply dropped forty thousand dollars .” And you observe $60,000 jump out of an account. There is no way that’s not gaming.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily fantasy is prohibited in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the state which may make this more challenging to maneuver, or is some thing similar to that just a means of staking a claim to the money involved?
Bradley Jackson: It might just be the pessimist in me, but believe at the end of the day, a lot of it just boils down to cash. A fascinating case study is exactly what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily dream illegal, which can be crazy, because gambling is legal in Nevada. But they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues wouldn’t cover the gaming tax. So it was like a reverse position, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is betting, so cover the gaming taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It is not gambling.” And so they did not come to Nevada. I don’t think Texas will necessarily take action right off the bat, but I presume it in a few years, once they see just how much cash there is to be produced, and there are smart ways to go about it, it is going to happen.
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