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 game, but they are not going to be the final.
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 due to their follow-up to that undertaking. Reteaming with Dealt manager Luke Korem and fellow manufacturer Russell Wayne Groves (in addition to showrunner David Check), Jackson made the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, that monitored the winners and losers of this 2018-19 NFL season–not those on the field, but the ones at the casino, wagering a small fortune on the results of the matches being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson in advance of the series’ final episode to chat about sports gambling, daily fantasy, and what the chances are that Texas allows 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 business this is. I meanyou see the numbers and they’re simply astronomical. From the opening sentence of the show, when we are showing these individuals betting on the Super Bowl, that just on the Super Bowl alone, I think that it’s like six billion bucks. But the caveat to that stat is that only 3 percent of that is legal wagering. Meaning 97 percent of all action wagered on the Super Bowl is prohibited. That number from Super Bowl weekend was one of the very first stats I watched when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. Then you look at the actual numbers of how much is really bet in America, and it’s billions and billions of dollars–so much of that is prohibited wagering. Therefore 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 put 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 get that sense of what it is like. And it’s fun, particularly when you’re wagering a sensible amount–but the emotions are still there. I’m a really mental person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU bet, I felt awful for about one hour. Because naturally I wager on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not just because my team dropped –it hurt more that I lost fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a feeling of when placing a bet like that in Texas might be lawful?
Bradley JacksonWe live in a state that is obsessed with sportsfootball especially. And nothing draws people’s attention more than gambling on soccer, especially the NFL. I think eventually Texas can perform some sort of sport betting. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think that they’ll do it in cellular, because I do not think we will see casinos in Texas, ever. I’ve been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings is going to do some type of pseudo sports gambling stuff, so you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get in your phone and set a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I feel that would be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five years.
Texas Monthly: With this industry being huge, illegal, and so largely untaxed, to what extent do you think gambling as a source of untapped revenue for the state plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely into it. From a monetary point of view, it’s huge. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was sort of on the forefront of the. He wrote an editorial for the New York Times about four years ago where he stated we will need to take sports betting from the shadows and then bring it into the light. And that way you can tax it, which is obviously great for the countries, but then you can also make sure it’s done above board. Once the Texas legislature sniff really how much money may be taxed, it is a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The prohibited bookie that you speak to in the documentary says that legalization does not impact 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 try and determine to spend the show, an illegal bookie was unquestionably on top of our list. Our assumption was that this is going to 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 this. When we met this man, it was the exact opposite. He was like,”I’m not sweating in any way.” It really shocked me. He’d say that he thinks that if each state eventually goes, if that becomes 100% legal in every nation, then he think that he might be impacted. However he operates from this Tri-State area, and now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five places. He breaks it down quite well in the end of our first episode, where he simply says,”It is convenient and it is credit–both C’s will never go away.” Having an illegal bookie, you can lose fifty thousand dollars on credit, and that may really negatively impact your life. Sometime you can still harm yourself gambling legitimately, but you can not bet on credit through legal channels. If casinos begin letting you wager on charge, I think his bottom line could get hurt. The more it’s a part of the national conversation, the more money he gets, because people are like,”Oh, it is right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily dream among the gateways to sports betting? It feels like it’s just a slight variant on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily dream players in the us. He is a 26-year-old child. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He told us 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 daily dream was a gateway to the leagues allowing legalized gambling to actually happen. For years, you noticed the NFL state that sports betting is the worst thing and they would never allow it. And about four years back daily dream like DraftKings and FanDuel began, and they bought, 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 great deal of people were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say you think sports gambling is the worst thing ever. How is this not gaming?” It is gambling. We really join the CEO of DraftKings, and a couple of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I believe that it’s B.S., but they say daily fantasy is not gambling, it’s a game of skill. But I don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: How people who make money do it tends to involve conducting huge quantities of teams to win against the odds, rather than picking the men they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our daily dream player over a weekend of making his stakes, and he doesn’t 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 two or three plays which are completely random, and they make his week or ruin his week, and that is 100 percent luck. This is an element of gaming, because you’re putting something of financial worth up with an unknown outcome, and you have no control on how that is given. We watch him literally shed sixty million dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It is the Cowboys-Eagles, and he states,”All I need is for the Cowboys to do well, but without Ezekiel Elliott producing any gains, after which you see Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of these happens, then I’m screwed.” And then there’s this tiny two-yard pass from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I just lost sixty thousand dollars right there.” And you observe $60,000 jump from an account. There’s no way that’s not gaming.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily dream is illegal in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the state which may make this more challenging to pass, or is something like that just a means 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 great deal of it just comes down to money. An interesting case study is what happened in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily dream illegal, which is mad, because gambling is legal in Nevada. But they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues wouldn’t cover the gambling tax. So it was just like a reverse place, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is gambling, so cover the gambling taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It’s not gambling.” And so they did not come to Nevada. I don’t think Texas will inevitably take action right off the bat, but I think it in a couple years, when they determine just how much money there is to be made, and there are smart ways to start it, it is going to happen.
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