Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 law that illegal sports gambling in the majority of states (Nevada appreciated an exception). 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 permit gambling on the result of a match, but they’re not likely to be the last.
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 due to their followup to this project. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Check), Jackson made the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, which tracked the winners and winners of this 2018-19 NFL season–maybe not those on the field, but the ones in the casino, wagering a small fortune on the results of the games being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson in advance of the series’ final episode to talk about sports gambling, daily fantasy, and what the odds are that Texas allows fans to place a bet on game day in the upcoming few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: How big of a business this is. I mean, you find the amounts and they’re just astronomical. In the opening paragraph of the series, when we’re showing all these people betting on the Super Bowl, which just on the Super Bowl alone, I think it’s like six billion dollars. But the caveat to that stat is that just 3 percent of this is legal wagering. Meaning 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is prohibited. That number from Super Bowl weekend was one of the first stats I watched when we were getting into this undertaking, and it blew my mind. Then you examine the real numbers of how much is really bet in the usa, and it has billions and billions of dollars–so much of this 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 job inspire you to put any bets?
Bradley Jackson: Yeah. I had never done it, and I’ve spent six months embedded in this world, I’ve made a couple–low-stakes stuff, simply to find that sense of what it’s like. And it’s fun, particularly when you’re wagering a sensible level –but the emotions are still there. I am a very emotional person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I felt awful for approximately an hour. Because of course I wager on UT, so when OU won, it hurt not just because my team dropped –it hurt more that I dropped fifty dollars.
Texas Monthly: Do you have a feeling of when placing a bet like that in Texas could be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We live in a state that’s obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing brings people’s attention over betting on football, particularly the NFL. I think finally Texas can perform some kind of sport gambling. I really don’t know how long it’s going to take. I believe they’ll do it in mobile, since 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 get on your phone and set a fifty-dollar wager on the Astros, and I feel that would be lawful one day. Probably sometime in the next five decades.
Texas Monthly: With this business being huge, illegal, and so largely untaxed, to what extent do you believe gambling as a source of untapped revenue for your country plays into things?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely into it. From a monetary 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 said we will need to take sports gambling out of the shadows and then bring it into the light. That way you can tax it, which is always good for the countries, but you may also make sure it’s done over board. Once the Texas legislature sniff really how much money may be taxed, it is a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The prohibited bookie which you talk to in the documentary states that legalization does not impact his business. What was that like for you to learn?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me off. When we had been sketching out the characters we wanted to attempt to identify to spend the series, an illegal bookie was unquestionably at the top of our listing. 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 likely to be really hurt by all this. After we met this man, it was the exact opposite. He was like,”I am not sweating at all.” I was really shocked by it. He’d say that he believes that if each state eventually goes, if that becomes 100 percent legal in every nation, then he think he could be affected. But he operates from this Tri-State area, and right 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 charge –both C’s will never go away.” With an illegal bookie, you are able to lose fifty million dollars on credit, and that can really negatively impact your life. Whereas you can still harm yourself gambling legitimately, but you can’t bet on credit through legal channels. If casinos start letting you bet on credit, I believe his bottom line could get hurt. The longer it is a part of the national conversation, the more money he makes, as people are like,”Oh, it is legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily dream one of the gateways to sports gambling? It seems like it’s only a small variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily dream players in America. He’s a 26-year-old child. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He told us that the most he’s ever made was $1.5 million in one week. One of our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of daily fantasy was a gateway into the leagues letting legalized gambling to actually happen. For years, you noticed the NFL state that sports gambling is the worst thing and they’d never allow it. And about four years ago daily dream like DraftKings and FanDuel started, and they bought, I believe, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you’re watching the NFL, any commercial was DraftKings or even FanDuel. And a lot of people were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say that you believe sports gambling is the worst thing ever. What’s this not gambling?” It is gambling. We really join the CEO of DraftKings, and two of the high-up people at FanDuel, and I think it’s B.S., however they state daily fantasy is not gambling, it is a game of skill. But I don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: The way people who make money do it will involve running substantial numbers of teams to beat the odds, rather than picking the guys they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our everyday dream player over a weekend of creating his bets, and he doesn’t do well that weekend. And he spoke about how what he’s doing is a good deal of ability, but every week there are just two or three plays which are completely arbitrary, and they either make his week ruin his week, which is 100 percent chance. This is an element of gaming, because you’re putting something of monetary value up with an unknown result, and you don’t have any control over how that is given. We see him literally shed sixty million 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 well, but minus Ezekiel Elliott producing any gains, after which you visit Zeke get, like, a four-yard pass and he is like,”If one more of those happens, then I am screwed.” And then there’s this little two-yard pass from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I just dropped forty thousand dollars right there.” And you observe $60,000 jump out of an account. There is no way that is not gambling.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has contended that daily fantasy is prohibited in Texas. Are there cultural factors in the country that might make this more challenging to pass, or is some thing like that just a way of staking a claim to the money involved?
Bradley Jackson: It could just be the pessimist in me, but believe in the end of the day, a great deal of it just comes down to money. An interesting case study is what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they made daily fantasy illegal, which can be mad, because gambling is legal in Nevada. Nevertheless, they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues would not pay the gaming tax. So it was like a reverse position, in which Nevada said,”Hey, this is gambling, so cover the gaming taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It’s not gambling.” And so they didn’t come to Nevada. I really don’t think Texas will necessarily do it right off the bat, but I presume it in a few years, when they determine how much money there will be made, and there are clever ways to start it, it is going to happen.
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