Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that illegal sports betting in the majority of 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 betting on the result of a match, but they are not going 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 previous six months immersed in the world of sports gambling for his follow-up to that undertaking. Reteaming with Dealt manager Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Check), Jackson made the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, which monitored the winners and winners of this 2018-19 NFL season–not the ones on the field, but those in the match, wagering a small fortune on the results of the matches being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson in advance of this series’ final episode to talk about sports betting, daily dream, and what the odds are that Texas enables fans to put a wager on game day in the next few years.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: How big of a company this is. I mean, you see the amounts and they’re just astronomical. In the opening paragraph of the show, when we’re showing all these people gambling on the Super Bowl, that only on the Super Bowl alone, I think it’s like six billion dollars. But then the caveat to this stat is that just 3% of this is legal wagering. Meaning 97 percent of all action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was among the very first stats I watched when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. Then you examine the real numbers of just how much is really bet in the usa, and it has billions and billions of dollars–and so much of that is prohibited wagering. So it seems like it is one of these things everyone is doing, but nobody really talks about.
Texas Monthly: Did working on this project inspire you to put 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 few –low-stakes stuff, simply to find that feeling of what it’s like. And it is fun, especially when you’re wagering a reasonable level –but the emotions are still there. I am a very mental person, so when I lost my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I felt awful for about an hour. Because naturally I wager on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not only because my team dropped –it hurt even more that I lost fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Do you have a feeling of when placing a bet like that in Texas could be lawful?
Bradley JacksonWe live in a state that’s obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing brings people’s attention more than gambling on soccer, especially the NFL. I think finally Texas can perform some kind of sport gambling. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think that they’ll do it in cellular, because I don’t think we’ll see casinos in Texas, ever. I’ve been hearing that maybe Buffalo Wild Wings will do some sort of pseudo sports gambling stuff, so you might go to Buffalo Wild Wings and put on your telephone and set a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I feel that will be lawful 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 your country plays into things?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely right into it. From a financial point of view, it is huge. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was sort of on the forefront of the. He wrote an editorial to the New York Times about four years ago where he said we will need to take sports gambling out of the shadows and bring it into the light. That way you may tax it, which is always great for the countries, but then you can also make sure it’s done above board. Once the Texas legislature sniff how much money may be taxed, it’s a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The illegal bookie which you speak to in the documentary says that legalization doesn’t affect his business. What was that like for you to learn?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me away. When we had been sketching out the characters we wanted to attempt to identify to put in the series, an illegal bookie was definitely at the top of our list. Our assumption was that this is going to hurt them. We believed we were going to obtain some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was going to be really hurt by all this. After we met this guy, it was the exact opposite. He was just like,”I am not sweating in any way.” I was shocked by it. He did say that he believes that if each state eventually goes, if that becomes 100 percent legal in every state, then he think he could be impacted. However he works out of the Tri-State region, and now it is only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five spots. He breaks it down quite well at the conclusion of the very first incident, where he simply says,”It is convenient and it is credit–both C will never go off.” With an illegal bookie, you can lose fifty thousand dollars on credit, and that can really negatively impact your life. Whereas you can still harm yourself betting legitimately, but you can not bet on credit through legal channels. If casinos begin letting you wager on credit, I believe his bottom line might get hurt. The more it’s part of this national dialog, the more money he makes, because people are like,”Oh, it’s legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily dream one of the gateways to sports betting? It feels like it’s 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’s a 26-year-old child. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He told me that the most he has ever produced was $1.5 million in 1 week. Among our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of everyday dream was a gateway to the leagues letting legalized gaming to actually happen. For many years, you saw the NFL state that sports gambling is the worst thing ever and they’d never let it. And about four years ago daily dream 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 you think sports betting is the worst thing ever. How is this not gambling?” It’s gambling. We actually join the CEO of DraftKings, and a couple of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I think that it’s B.S., but they say daily fantasy is not gambling, it’s a game of skill. However, I don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: How individuals who make money do it will involve conducting huge quantities of teams to beat the odds, rather than picking the guys they believe have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our everyday fantasy player above a weekend of creating his stakes, and he does not do well that weekend. And he talked about how what he’s doing is a good deal of ability, but each week you will find just two or three plays that are entirely arbitrary, and they either make his week ruin his week, and that is 100 percent luck. That is an element of gaming, because you’re putting something of financial worth up with an unknown outcome, and you don’t have any control on how that’s awarded. We see him literally shed sixty thousand dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It is the Cowboys-Eagles, and he says,”All I need is for the Cowboys to do nicely, but without Ezekiel Elliott producing any profits, and then you visit Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he is like,”If one more of these happens, then I’m screwed.” And then there is this tiny two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”I just lost sixty thousand dollars .” And you observe $60,000 jump from an account. There is no way that is not gambling.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily dream is illegal in Texas. Are there cultural factors in the state that might make this more challenging to maneuver, or is something similar to that just a means of staking a claim to the money involved?
Bradley Jackson: It could just be the pessimist in me, but think in the end of the day, a great deal of it just comes down to money. An interesting case study is exactly what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily fantasy illegal, which can be crazy, because gaming is legal in Nevada. But they made it illegal since the daily fantasy leagues would not cover the gambling tax. So it was just like a reverse position, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is betting, so pay the gambling taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It is not gambling.” And so they didn’t come to Nevada. I don’t think Texas will inevitably take action right off the bat, but I presume it in a couple years, when they determine just how much money there will be produced, and that there are smart ways to go about it, it’ll happen.
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