Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that illegal sports betting in the majority of states (Nevada appreciated an exclusion ). When that happened, the floodgates for legalized sports betting across the country opened –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 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 gambling due to their follow-up to that 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 monitored the winners and losers of this 2018-19 NFL season–not those on the area, but the ones at the casino, 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 gambling, daily fantasy, and what the chances are that Texas enables fans to put a bet on game day within the upcoming few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this job?
Bradley Jackson: How big of a company this is. I meanyou find the amounts and they’re simply astronomical. In the opening paragraph of this series, when we are showing these individuals gambling on the Super Bowl, which just on the Super Bowl alone, I think that 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 all action wagered on the Super Bowl is prohibited. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was among the first stats I saw when we were getting into this undertaking, and it blew my mind. Then you look at the real numbers of just how much is actually bet in the usa, and it has billions and billions of dollars–so much of that is illegal wagering. Therefore it feels like it’s one of these things everyone is doing, but 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 now that I’ve spent six months embedded in this world, I have made a couple–low-stakes stuff, simply to find that feeling of what it’s like. And it’s fun, particularly when you’re wagering a sensible amount–but the feelings are still there. I’m a very emotional person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I felt awful for about one hour. Because naturally I wager on UT, so when OU won, it hurt not only because my team lost–it hurt even more that I dropped fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a sense of when putting a wager like that in Texas could be lawful?
Bradley Jackson: We live in a state that is obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing draws people’s attention over gambling on soccer, especially the NFL. I believe eventually Texas will do some kind of sports gambling. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I believe that they’ll do it in mobile, since I do not think we’ll see casinos in Texas, ever. I’ve been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings is going to do some type of pseudo sports betting stuff, so you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get in your phone and place 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 industry being enormous, illegal, and thus largely untaxed, to what extent do you think gambling as a source of untapped revenue for your country plays into things?
Bradley Jackson: That will play hugely right into it. From a financial perspective, it’s huge. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was kind of on the forefront of the. He wrote an editorial for the New York Times about four years ago where he stated we need to take sports gambling from the shadows and then bring it into the light. That way you can tax it, which is obviously good for the countries, but you can also make sure it’s done over board. When the Texas legislature sniff really how much money can be taxed, it’s a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The illegal bookie that you speak to in the documentary says that legalization doesn’t affect 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 try and determine to spend the show, an illegal bookie was unquestionably at the very top of our list. Our premise was that this is going to hurt them. We thought we were going to obtain some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was likely to be really hurt by all of this. When we met this man, it was the exact opposite. He was just like,”I am not sweating in any way.” I was really shocked by it. He did state that he believes that if each state goes, if this becomes 100% legal in every state, he then think he could be affected. However he works out of the Tri-State area, and now it is only legal in New Jersey, and just in four or five places. He breaks it down really well in the end of our very first episode, where he just says,”It’s convenient and it’s credit–the two C’s will never go off.” With an illegal bookie, you are able to lose fifty million dollars on credit, and that may really negatively impact your life. Sometime you can still harm yourself betting legally, but you can not bet on credit via legal channels. If casinos begin letting you wager on charge, I think his bottom line might get hurt. The more it’s a part of the national dialog, the more money he gets, as people are like,”Oh, it’s legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily fantasy one of those gateways to sports betting? It seems like it is only a small variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in the us. He’s a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing this. He advised us that the most he’s ever made was $1.5 million in 1 week. One of our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of daily dream was a gateway to the leagues letting legalized gaming to actually happen. For years, you saw the NFL state that sports gambling is the worst thing and they would never let it. And about four years back daily dream like DraftKings and FanDuel started, and they bought, I believe, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you were watching the NFL, every other commercial was DraftKings or FanDuel. And a great deal of folks were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say that you believe sports gambling is the worst thing ever. How is this not gaming?” It’s gambling. We really interview the CEO of DraftKings, and a couple of the high-up people at FanDuel, and I believe it’s B.S., but they state daily dream isn’t gambling, it is a game of skill. But I really don’t think that’s true.
Texas Monthly: How people who make money do it will involve conducting substantial quantities of teams to beat the odds, instead of picking the guys they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our daily fantasy player above a weekend of making his bets, and he does not do well that weekend. And he talked about how what he’s doing is a lot of skill, but every week there are just two or three plays that are completely random, and they either make his week ruin his week, and that is 100 percent luck. This is an element of gambling, because you’re putting something of monetary value up with an unknown outcome, and you have no control on how that’s given. We see him literally lose sixty million dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It is the Cowboys-Eagles, and he says,”All I want is to get the Cowboys to perform nicely, but minus Ezekiel Elliott making any profits, and then you visit Zeke get, like, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of these happens, then I am screwed.” And then there is this little two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”I just lost sixty thousand dollars .” And you watch $60,000 jump from an account. There.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has contended that daily fantasy is prohibited in Texas. Are there cultural factors in the state which may make this more challenging to pass, or is some thing like that just a means of staking a claim to the cash involved?
Bradley Jackson: It could just be the pessimist in me, but think in the end of the day, a great deal of it just comes down to money. A fascinating case study is exactly what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily fantasy illegal, which can be crazy, because gaming is legal in Nevada. But they made it illegal since the daily fantasy leagues would not cover the gaming tax. So it was like a reverse place, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is gambling, so cover the gaming taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It is 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 see how much cash there is to be made, and that there are smart ways to start it, it’ll happen.
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