Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 law that illegal sports betting in most states (Nevada enjoyed an exclusion ). When that occurred, the floodgates for legalized sports gambling across the nation opened up–Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to allow gambling on the outcome of a game, but they are not likely to be the final.
Texas-based documentary filmmaker and UT grad Bradley Jackson, who produced the surprise hit Dealt, about a blind San Antonio card shark, spent much of the past six months immersed in the world of sports betting for his followup to that project. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow manufacturer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Check), Jackson produced the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, that tracked the winners and winners of the 2018-19 NFL season–not the ones on the field, but those in the match, wagering a small fortune on the outcome of the games being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson in advance of this series’ final episode to chat about sports betting, daily fantasy, and what the chances are that Texas enables fans to put a bet on game day in the next few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: How big of a business this is. I mean, you see the amounts and they are just astronomical. From the opening sentence of the show, when we are showing all these individuals gambling on the Super Bowl, that only on the Super Bowl alone, I think that it’s like six billion bucks. But the caveat to that stat is that just 3% of that is legal wagering. That means 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is prohibited. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was one of the very first stats that I saw when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. And then you examine the actual numbers of just how much is actually bet in the usa, and it has billions and billions of dollars–so much of this is prohibited wagering. So it feels like it’s one of these things everyone is doing, however, nobody really talks about.
Texas Monthly: Did working on this job inspire you to place any bets?
Bradley Jackson: Yeah. I hadn’t ever done it, and I’ve spent six months embedded within this world, I have made a couple–low-stakes stuff, just to find that sense of what it is like. And it’s fun, especially when you’re wagering a sensible level –but the emotions are still there. I am a really 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, so when OU won, it hurt not just because my team lost–it hurt more that I lost fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Do you have a sense of when placing a bet like that in Texas might be lawful?
Bradley JacksonWe are living in a country that’s obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing brings people’s attention more than gambling on football, especially the NFL. I believe eventually Texas can perform some kind of sports gambling. I don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I believe that they’ll do it in cellular, because I don’t think we will see casinos in Texas, actually. I’ve been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings is going to do some sort of pseudo sports betting stuff, which means you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get on your phone and place a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I feel that would be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five decades.
Texas Monthly: With this industry being enormous, prohibited, and so largely untaxed, to what extent do you think gambling as a source of untapped revenue for the country plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely right into it. From a financial perspective, it is huge. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was kind of on the forefront of the. He wrote an editorial to the New York Times about four years ago where he stated we will need to take sports betting out of the shadows and bring it into the light. And that way you can tax it, which is obviously great for the countries, but you can also make sure it’s done over board. When the Texas legislature sniff how much money may be taxed, it’s a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The illegal bookie that you talk to in the documentary says that legalization doesn’t impact his business. What was that like for you to understand?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me off. When we had been sketching out the figures we wanted to attempt to identify to spend the series, an illegal bookie was definitely on very top of our list. Our premise 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 really hurt by all of this. After we met this man, it was the exact opposite. He was just like,”I’m not sweating at all.” I was really shocked by it. He’d state that he believes that if each state goes, if that becomes 100% legal in every nation, he then think he could be impacted. However he operates out of this Tri-State area, and right now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five spots. He breaks it down really well in the end of our first incident, where he just says,”It’s convenient and it is credit–both C’s will never go off.” With a illegal bookie, you can lose fifty million dollars on credit, and that may really negatively affect your life. Sometime you can still hurt yourself gambling legitimately, but you can not bet on credit via lawful channels. If casinos begin letting you bet on charge, then I believe his bottom line could get hurt. The longer it is a part of the national conversation, the more money he makes, because people are like,”Oh, it is legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily dream one of those gateways to sports gambling? It seems like it’s just a slight variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in the us. He’s a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing this. He advised me that the most he has ever made was $1.5 million in one week. Among our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of everyday dream was a gateway into the leagues allowing legalized gambling to actually happen. For many years, you saw the NFL say that sports gambling is the worst thing ever and they would never let it. And about four years ago daily dream like DraftKings and FanDuel began, and they purchased, I think, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you’re 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. What’s this not gaming?” It’s gambling. We actually join the CEO of DraftKings, and two of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I think that it’s B.S., however they state daily dream is not gambling, it is a game of skill. But I don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: How people who make money do it tends to involve running huge quantities of teams to win against the odds, instead of picking the men they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our daily fantasy player above a weekend of making his stakes, and he does not do well that weekend. And he spoke about how what he is doing is a lot of skill, but each week you will find two or three plays that are entirely arbitrary, and they make his week or ruin his week, which is 100 percent luck. That is an element of gaming, as you are putting something of monetary value up with an unknown outcome, and you have no control over how that is awarded. We watch him literally lose sixty thousand dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It is the Cowboys-Eagles, and he states,”All I need is to get the Cowboys to perform well, but minus Ezekiel Elliott producing any profits, and then you see Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of those happens, then I’m screwed.” And then there is this tiny two-yard pass from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”I simply lost sixty thousand dollars right there.” And you observe $60,000 jump out of an account. There’s no way that is not gaming.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily fantasy is illegal in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the country which may make this more challenging to pass, or is something similar to that just a way of staking a claim to the cash involved?
Bradley Jackson: It might just be the pessimist in me, but think at the end of the day, a lot of it just comes down to money. An interesting case study is what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily fantasy illegal, which is mad, because gambling is legal in Nevada. Nevertheless, they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues wouldn’t pay the gaming tax. So it was like a reverse position, in which Nevada said,”Hey, this is gambling, so pay the gaming taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It is not gambling.” And so they did not come to Nevada. I really don’t think Texas will necessarily do it right off the bat, but I think it in a few years, when they determine how much money there will be made, and that there are clever ways to start it, it’ll happen.
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