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 betting across the nation opened up–Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to permit betting on the result of a match, but they are not likely to be the last.
Texas-based documentary filmmaker and UT graduate Bradley Jackson, who produced 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 followup to this undertaking. Reteaming with Dealt manager Luke Korem and fellow manufacturer Russell Wayne Groves (in addition to showrunner David Assess ), Jackson produced the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, which tracked the winners and winners of the 2018-19 NFL season–maybe not those on the field, but those in the casino, wagering a small fortune on the outcome of the games being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson ahead of the series’ final episode to chat about sports betting, daily dream, and what the odds are that Texas allows fans to put a bet on game day within the next few years.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this job?
Bradley Jackson: How large a business this is. I meanyou find the amounts and they are just astronomical. In the opening sentence of this show, when we’re showing all these individuals betting on the Super Bowl, which just on the Super Bowl alone, I think it’s like six billion bucks. But the caveat to that stat is that only 3% of that is legal wagering. Meaning 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That number from Super Bowl weekend was one of the first stats that I watched when we were getting into this undertaking, and it blew my mind. And then you examine the actual numbers of how much is actually bet in America, and it has billions and billions of dollars–so much of that is illegal wagering. So it seems like it is one of those things everybody 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 now that I’ve spent six months embedded within this world, I’ve made a couple–low-stakes stuff, just to find that feeling of what it is like. And it’s fun, particularly when you’re wagering a reasonable 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 of course I bet on UT, so when OU won, it hurt not just because my team lost–it hurt even more that I dropped fifty dollars.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a feeling of when putting a wager like that in Texas might be lawful?
Bradley Jackson: We are living in a state that is obsessed with sportsfootball especially. And nothing draws people’s attention more than gambling on football, particularly the NFL. I think finally Texas will do some sort of sports betting. I don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I think they’ll do it in cellular, because I don’t think we’ll see casinos in Texas, actually. I’ve been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings will do some sort of pseudo sports betting stuff, which means you might go to Buffalo Wild Wings and put on your telephone and place a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I think that will be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five decades.
Texas Monthly: With this industry being enormous, illegal, and thus largely untaxed, to what extent do you think gambling as a source of untapped revenue for the country plays into things?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely right into it. From a monetary 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 will need to take sports gambling from the shadows and bring it into the light. That way you can tax it, which is always great for the countries, but then you can also make sure it’s done over board. When the Texas legislature sniff really 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 organization. What was that like for you to understand?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me away. When we were sketching out the characters we wanted to attempt to identify to spend the series, an illegal bookie was definitely on top of our listing. Our assumption was that this will hurt them. We believed we were going to find some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was likely to be very hurt by all of this. After we met this man, it was the exact opposite. He was like,”I’m not sweating in any way.” It really shocked me. He did say he believes that if every state eventually goes, if that becomes 100% legal in every nation, he then think he could be affected. However he operates from the Tri-State region, and now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five places. He breaks it down quite well in the conclusion of the very first episode, where he simply says,”It’s convenient and it is charge –the two C will never go off.” Having an illegal bookie, you can lose fifty thousand dollars on credit, and that can really negatively affect your life. Whereas you can still harm yourself gambling legitimately, but you can not bet on credit through lawful channels. If casinos begin letting you wager on charge, I think his bottom line could get hurt. The more it is a part of the national conversation, the more money he gets, as people are like,”Oh, it is legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily fantasy one of those gateways to sports gambling? It seems like it is just a small 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 kid. He makes millions of dollars doing this. He told us that the most he has ever produced was $1.5 million in 1 week. Among our hypotheses for the show was that the pervasiveness of everyday fantasy was a gateway to the leagues letting legalized gaming to actually happen. For many years, you noticed the NFL state that sports gambling is the worst thing ever and they would never let it. And about four years ago daily fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel began, and they purchased, I think, 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 gaming?” It’s gambling. We actually join the CEO of DraftKings, and a couple of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I think it’s B.S., but they state daily fantasy isn’t gambling, it’s a game of skill. However, I really don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: The way people who make money do it tends to involve running huge numbers of teams to win against the odds, instead of choosing the men they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our everyday fantasy player above a weekend of making his stakes, and he doesn’t do well that weekend. And he spoke about how what he’s doing is a lot of ability, but each week you will find just two or three plays which are entirely random, and they either make his week or ruin his week, which is 100 percent luck. That really is an element of gaming, as 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 lose sixty thousand dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It’s the Cowboys-Eagles, and he says,”All I want is for the Cowboys to do nicely, but without Ezekiel Elliott producing any profits, after which you visit Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of those happens, then I am screwed.” And then there’s this little two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”I simply dropped forty thousand dollars right there.” And you observe $60,000 jump out of an account. There.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has contended that daily dream is illegal in Texas. Are there cultural factors in the country that might make this more difficult to pass, or is some thing like that just a means 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 boils down to cash. An interesting case study is exactly what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they made daily dream illegal, which can be crazy, because gambling is legal in Nevada. Nevertheless, they made it illegal since the daily fantasy leagues wouldn’t pay the gaming tax. So it was just like a reverse position, in which Nevada said,”Hey, this is betting, 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 necessarily do it right off the bat, but I presume it in a couple years, once they see just how much cash there is to be made, and that there are smart ways to start it, it’ll happen.
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