Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that illegal sports gambling in the majority of states (Nevada appreciated an exclusion ). When that happened, the floodgates for legalized sports betting across the nation opened —Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to allow gambling on the outcome of a game, but they’re 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 past six months immersed in the world of sports gambling for his followup to this project. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Assess ), Jackson produced the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, that tracked the winners and losers of the 2018-19 NFL season—maybe not those on the field, but the ones at the casino, wagering a small fortune on the outcome of the games being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson ahead of this series’ final episode to talk about sports gambling, daily dream, and what the chances are that Texas enables fans to place a wager on game day in the upcoming few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this job?
Bradley Jackson: Just how big of a business this is. I mean, you see the numbers and they are just astronomical. From the opening sentence of this series, when we’re showing these people gambling on the Super Bowl, which only on the Super Bowl alone, I think that it’s like six billion bucks. But the caveat to this stat is that just 3 percent of this is legal wagering. That means 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was one of the first stats I watched when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. And then you examine the real numbers of just how much is actually bet in America, and it’s billions and billions of dollars—so much of this is illegal wagering. So it feels 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 had never done it, and I’ve spent six months embedded within this world, I’ve made a couple—low-stakes stuff, simply to find that sense of what it is like. And it is fun, especially when you’re wagering a reasonable amount—but the emotions are still there. I am a very mental person, so when I lost my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I genuinely felt awful for about one hour. Because naturally I wager on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not only because my team dropped —it hurt more that I lost fifty dollars.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a feeling of when placing a wager like that in Texas could be lawful?
Bradley JacksonWe live in a state that is obsessed with sports—football especially. And nothing brings people’s attention more than betting on football, particularly the NFL. I think finally Texas can perform some kind of sport betting. I really don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think that they’ll do it in mobile, because I do not think we will see casinos in Texas, actually. I’ve been hearing that maybe Buffalo Wild Wings will do some type of pseudo sports betting stuff, so you might go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get on your phone and place a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I think that will be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five years.
Texas Monthly: With this industry being enormous, illegal, and so largely untaxed, to what extent do you think gaming as a source of untapped revenue for your state plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: That will play hugely right into it. From a monetary perspective, it’s enormous. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was sort 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 out of the shadows and then bring it into the light. And that way you may tax it, which is obviously great for the states, but then you may also make sure it’s done above board. Once the Texas legislature sniff how much money can be taxed, it is a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The prohibited bookie which you talk to in the documentary states that legalization doesn’t impact his business. What was that like for you to understand?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me away. When we were 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 listing. Our premise was that this is going to hurt them. We believed we were going to obtain some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was likely to be very 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.» It shocked me. He’d say he believes that if each state eventually goes, if this becomes 100 percent legal in every nation, he then think he might be impacted. But he operates out of the Tri-State area, and right now it is only legal in New Jersey, and just in four or five spots. 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 will never go away.» With a illegal bookie, you can lose fifty thousand dollars on credit, and that can really negatively impact your life. Sometime you can still harm yourself betting legally, but you can not bet on credit via lawful channels. If casinos begin letting you bet on credit, then I believe his bottom line might get hurt. The more it’s part of the national dialog, the more money he gets, because people are like,»Oh, it is right?»
Texas Monthly: Why is daily dream one of the gateways to sports betting? It seems like it is just a small variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in America. He is a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He told me that the most he’s ever produced was $1.5 million in 1 week. Among our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of daily dream was a gateway to the leagues allowing legalized gaming to really happen. For many years, you saw the NFL say that sports betting is the worst thing and they’d never let it. And then about four years ago daily fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel began, and they bought, I believe, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you’re watching the NFL, every other commercial was DraftKings or even FanDuel. And a great deal of folks were like,»Wait a minute, you guys say you think sports gambling is the worst thing ever. What’s this not gambling?» It is gambling. We actually interview the CEO of DraftKings, and two of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I believe that it’s B.S., but they state daily dream isn’t gambling, it is a game of skill. However, I really don’t think that’s true.
Texas Monthly: How individuals who make money do it tends to involve conducting substantial 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 dream player above a weekend of making his stakes, and he does not do well that weekend. And he spoke about how what he’s doing is a lot of ability, but each week there are two or three plays which are entirely arbitrary, and they either make his week or ruin his week, which is 100 percent chance. This is an element of gaming, as you are putting something of financial worth up with an unknown outcome, and you have no control on how that’s awarded. We see him literally lose sixty million dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It is the Cowboys-Eagles, and he states,»All I want is to get the Cowboys to do well, but without Ezekiel Elliott producing any gains, 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 is this little two-yard pass from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,»I simply dropped forty thousand dollars .» And you watch $60,000 jump from an account. There’s no way that is not gambling.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily fantasy is prohibited in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the state that might make this more challenging to pass, or is some thing like that just a means of staking a claim to the money involved?
Bradley Jackson: It might just be the pessimist in me, but believe at the end of the day, a great deal of it just boils down to money. An interesting case study is exactly what happened in Nevada. In Nevada they made daily fantasy illegal, which is mad, because gaming is legal in Nevada. But they made it illegal since the daily fantasy leagues would not cover the gambling tax. So it was just like a reverse position, in which Nevada said,»Hey, this is gambling, so pay the gambling taxes,» and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,»It is not gambling.» And so they didn’t come to Nevada. I don’t think Texas will inevitably take action right off the bat, but I think it in a couple years, once they see how much money there will be produced, and there are clever ways to start it, it is going to happen.
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