Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that illegal sports gambling in most states (Nevada appreciated an exception). When that occurred, the floodgates for legalized sports betting 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 game, but they’re 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 past six months immersed in the world of sports gambling due to their follow-up to that project. Reteaming with Dealt manager Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as 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 area, but those in the match, wagering a small fortune on the results of the matches being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson ahead of the series’ final episode to chat about sports betting, daily fantasy, and what the odds are that Texas enables fans to put a wager on game day in the upcoming few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this job?
Bradley Jackson: Just how large a company this is. I mean, you see the numbers and they are just astronomical. From the opening paragraph of the series, when we are showing these people gambling on the Super Bowl, that only on the Super Bowl alone, I think it’s like six billion dollars. But the caveat to this stat is that only 3% of this is legal wagering. Meaning 97 percent of all action wagered on the Super Bowl is prohibited. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was among the very first stats that I saw when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. And then you look at the real numbers of how much is actually bet in the usa, and it’s billions and billions of dollars–and so much of that is illegal wagering. So it feels like it’s one of those things everybody is doing, however, nobody really talks about.
Texas Monthly: Did working on this project 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’ve made a couple–low-stakes things, simply to find that feeling of what it is like. And it is fun, especially when you’re wagering a reasonable level –but the feelings are still there. I am a very mental person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I felt awful for about an hour. Because of course I wager on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not just because my team dropped –it hurt even more that I dropped fifty dollars.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a sense of when placing a bet like that in Texas could be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We live in a country that’s obsessed with sportsfootball especially. And nothing brings people’s attention over gambling on soccer, particularly the NFL. I believe eventually Texas can perform some sort of sport gambling. I really don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I believe they’ll do it in mobile, because I do not think we’ll see casinos in Texas, actually. I’ve been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings is going to do some type of pseudo sports betting stuff, which means you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get on your phone 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 business being enormous, illegal, and so largely untaxed, to what extent do you believe gaming as a source of untapped revenue for the country plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely right into it. From a financial point of view, it’s enormous. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was kind of on the forefront of that. He wrote an editorial for the New York Times about four years ago where he said we need to take sports betting from the shadows and then bring it into the light. And that way you can tax it, which is always good for the states, but then you can also make sure it’s done over board. Once the Texas legislature sniff how much money may be taxed, it is a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The illegal bookie that you speak to in the documentary states that legalization does not impact his organization. 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 show, an illegal bookie was definitely on very top of our listing. Our premise was that this will hurt them. We thought we were going to find some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was likely to be very hurt by all of this. When we met this guy, it was the exact opposite. He was just like,”I am not sweating at all.” It shocked me. He’d say he thinks that if each state goes, if this becomes 100 percent legal in every state, then he think he could be affected. But he operates from this Tri-State area, and right now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and just in four or five spots. He breaks it down really well in the conclusion of the very first episode, where he just says,”It’s convenient and it’s credit–the two C will never go away.” With a illegal bookie, you can lose fifty thousand dollars on credit, and that may really negatively impact your life. Whereas you can still harm yourself gambling legally, but you can not bet on credit via legal channels. If casinos start letting you wager on credit, then I believe his bottom line could get hurt. The longer it’s a part of this national dialog, the more money he gets, because people are like,”Oh, it’s legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily fantasy one of those gateways to sports gambling? It feels like it is just a small variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in America. He is a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing this. He advised me that the most he has ever produced was $1.5 million in one week. One of our hypotheses for the show was that the pervasiveness of everyday dream was a gateway into the leagues letting legalized gambling to really 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 fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel began, and they bought, 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. What’s this not gambling?” It is gambling. We really join the CEO of DraftKings, and a couple of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I believe it’s B.S., however they state daily fantasy isn’t gambling, it is a game of skill. However, I don’t think that’s true.
Texas Monthly: The way people who make money do it will involve conducting substantial quantities of teams to beat the odds, instead of picking the men they believe have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our everyday dream player over a weekend of creating his stakes, and he does not do well that weekend. And he spoke about how what he’s doing is a good deal of skill, but each week you will find two or three plays which are entirely random, and they make his week ruin his week, which is 100 percent luck. That is an element of gambling, as you are putting something of monetary value up with an unknown outcome, and you have no control on how that’s awarded. We see him literally shed sixty thousand dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It’s the Cowboys-Eagles, and he states,”All I need is to get the Cowboys to do well, but without Ezekiel Elliott producing any gains, and then you visit Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he is like,”If one more of these happens, then I am screwed.” And then there is this tiny two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”I simply lost sixty thousand dollars right there.” And you observe $60,000 jump from an account. There is no way that is not gaming.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily dream is prohibited in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the state which may make this more difficult 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 at the end of the day, a lot of it just boils down to money. An interesting case study is exactly what happened in Nevada. In Nevada they made daily dream illegal, which is mad, 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 like a reverse position, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is betting, so pay the gambling taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It’s 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 presume it in a couple years, when they determine just how much money there is to be made, and there are smart ways to go about it, it’ll happen.
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