Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that prohibited sports betting in most states (Nevada enjoyed an exception). When that happened, the floodgates for legalized sports betting across the country opened up–Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to allow gambling on the result of a game, but they’re not likely to be the final.
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 for his follow-up to this undertaking. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (in addition to showrunner David Check), Jackson produced the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, that tracked the winners and losers of this 2018-19 NFL season–not the ones on the field, but those at the match, wagering a small fortune on the results of the games being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson ahead of the series’ final episode to chat about sports betting, daily fantasy, and what the chances are that Texas enables fans to place a wager on game day in the next few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: Just how large a company this is. I mean, you find the numbers and they are just astronomical. In the opening sentence of this show, when we are showing these individuals gambling on the Super Bowl, that just on the Super Bowl alone, I think that it’s like six billion bucks. But the caveat to this stat is that only 3 percent of that is legal wagering. Meaning 97 percent of all action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was one of the first stats I saw when we were getting into this undertaking, and it blew my mind. And 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 this is prohibited wagering. Therefore it seems like it is one of these things everyone is doing, however, nobody really talks about.
Texas Monthly: Did working on this job inspire you to place any bets?
Bradley Jackson: Yeah. I hadn’t ever done it, and now that I’ve spent six months embedded within this world, I have made a few –low-stakes things, just to find that sense of what it’s like. And it is fun, particularly when you’re wagering a reasonable amount–but the feelings are still there. I’m a really emotional person, so when I lost my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I genuinely felt awful for about an hour. Because naturally I wager on UT, so when OU won, it hurt not just because my team lost–it hurt even more that I lost fifty dollars.
Texas Monthly: Do you have a feeling of when placing a wager like that in Texas might be legal?
Bradley JacksonWe are living in a state that is obsessed with sportsfootball especially. And nothing draws people’s attention over betting on soccer, particularly the NFL. I believe eventually Texas will do some sort of sports gambling. I really don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I think that they’ll do it in cellular, since I don’t think we’ll see casinos in Texas, actually. I have been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings will do some type of pseudo sports betting stuff, which means you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and put on your phone and set a fifty-dollar wager on the Astros, and I think that will be legal 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 think gaming as a source of untapped revenue for the country plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely into it. From a financial point of view, it’s enormous. 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. And that way you can tax it, which is obviously good for the countries, but you can also make sure it’s done above board. When the Texas legislature sniff really how much money can be taxed, it’s a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The prohibited bookie which you speak to in the documentary states that legalization does not impact his organization. What was that like for you to understand?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me off. When we were sketching out the figures we wanted to attempt to determine to put in the series, an illegal bookie was definitely on top of our list. 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 going to be really hurt by all this. When we met this guy, it was the exact opposite. He was just like,”I am not sweating at all.” I was stunned by it. He did state he believes that if each state eventually goes, if this becomes 100% legal in every nation, he then think he might be affected. But he works from this Tri-State region, and right now it is only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five places. He breaks it down quite well in the end of our very first incident, where he just says,”It is convenient and it is charge –both C will never go away.” With a illegal bookie, you are able to lose fifty million dollars on credit, and that may really negatively affect your life. Sometime you can still hurt yourself betting legally, but you can not bet on credit via legal channels. If casinos start letting you wager on charge, then I think his bottom line could get hurt. The longer it’s part of the national dialog, the more money he makes, as people are like,”Oh, it’s legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Why is daily fantasy one of the gateways to sports gambling? It feels like it is just a small variation on traditional gambling.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily dream players in America. He is a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He advised us that the most he has ever produced was $1.5 million in 1 week. One of our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of everyday dream was a gateway to the leagues allowing legalized gaming to actually happen. For years, you saw the NFL say that sports gambling is the worst thing and they would never let it. And then about four years back daily fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel started, and they bought, I think, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you were watching the NFL, any commercial was DraftKings or FanDuel. And a great deal of folks were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say you believe sports gambling is the worst thing ever. What’s 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 believe that it’s B.S., however they state daily dream is not gambling, it is a game of skill. However, I really don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: How people who make money do it tends to involve running huge 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 daily fantasy player above 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 every week there are two or three plays which are completely random, and they make his week or ruin his week, which is 100 percent luck. That really is an element of gaming, because you’re putting something of financial worth up with an unknown result, and you don’t have any control over how that is 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 nicely, but without Ezekiel Elliott producing any profits, and then you see Zeke get, like, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of those happens, then I’m screwed.” And then there’s this little two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I just lost sixty thousand dollars .” And you watch $60,000 jump from an account. There.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has contended that daily dream is illegal in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the country which may make this more challenging to pass, or is something similar to that just a way of staking a claim to the cash involved?
Bradley Jackson: It might just be the pessimist in me, but believe at the end of the day, a lot of it just comes 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 would not pay 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’s not gambling.” And so they did not come to Nevada. I don’t think Texas will necessarily take action right off the bat, but I presume it in a couple years, when they determine how much cash there is to be made, and that there are clever ways to start it, it’ll happen.
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