Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that prohibited sports gambling in most states (Nevada appreciated an exclusion ). When that happened, the floodgates for legalized sports gambling 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 match, but they’re not likely to be the last.
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 gambling for his follow-up to that undertaking. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Check), Jackson produced the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, which tracked the winners and losers of the 2018-19 NFL season–not the ones on the field, but the ones at the casino, 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 talk about sports betting, daily fantasy, and what the odds 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 project?
Bradley Jackson: How large a business this is. I meanyou find the numbers and they are simply astronomical. From the opening sentence of the series, when we’re showing all these people betting on the Super Bowl, that 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 all action wagered on the Super Bowl is prohibited. 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. Then you look at the real numbers of how much is actually bet in the usa, and it has billions and billions of dollars–so much of that is prohibited wagering. So 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 put any bets?
Bradley Jackson: Yeah. I had never done it, and I’ve spent six months embedded in this world, I’ve made a couple–low-stakes things, just to find that feeling of what it is like. And it’s fun, especially when you’re wagering a reasonable level –but the feelings are still there. I’m a really mental person, so when I lost my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I genuinely felt awful for about one hour. Because of course I bet on UT, so when OU won, it hurt not only because my team dropped –it hurt even more that I lost fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a sense of when putting a wager like that in Texas could be lawful?
Bradley Jackson: We are living in a state that’s obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing draws people’s attention more than betting on soccer, especially the NFL. I think finally Texas will do some sort of sport betting. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I believe they’ll do it in cellular, 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 gambling stuff, so you might go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get on your telephone and set a fifty-dollar wager on the Astros, and I feel that will be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five decades.
Texas Monthly: With this business being huge, illegal, and thus largely untaxed, to what extent do you believe gambling as a source of untapped revenue for your state plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: That will play hugely into it. From a financial perspective, it is 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 stated we need to take sports gambling from the shadows and then bring it into the light. And that way you can tax it, which is always great for the countries, but then you may also make sure it’s done above board. Once the Texas legislature sniff 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 doesn’t impact his business. What was that like for you to learn?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me off. When we had been sketching out the characters we wanted to try and determine to spend the series, an illegal bookie was unquestionably on top of our listing. Our premise was that this is going to hurt them. We thought 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 specific opposite. He was like,”I’m not sweating at all.” It really shocked me. He did say he thinks that if every state goes, if this becomes 100 percent legal in every state, then he think that he might be impacted. But he operates from the Tri-State region, and now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and just in four or five places. He breaks it down really well at the conclusion of our first episode, where he just says,”It’s convenient and it’s charge –the two C will never go away.” Having an illegal bookie, you are able to lose fifty million dollars on credit, and that can really negatively affect your life. Sometime you can still hurt yourself gambling legally, but you can not bet on credit via lawful channels. If casinos begin letting you bet on credit, then I think his bottom line might get hurt. The longer it is part of the national conversation, the more money he makes, because people are like,”Oh, it is legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily dream one of the gateways to sports gambling? It feels like it is only a small variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily dream players in America. He’s a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He advised us that the most he has ever made was $1.5 million in one week. Among our hypotheses for the show was that the pervasiveness of everyday fantasy was a gateway to the leagues letting legalized gambling to really happen. For years, you noticed the NFL state that sports betting is the worst thing and they would never allow it. And then about four years back daily fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel started, and they bought, 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 great deal of people were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say you think sports gambling is the worst thing ever. What’s this not gaming?” It is gambling. We really interview the CEO of DraftKings, and a couple of the high-up people at FanDuel, and I think that it’s B.S., however they say daily dream is not gambling, it’s a game of skill. However, I don’t think that’s true.
Texas Monthly: The way people who make money do it will involve running huge numbers of teams to beat the odds, instead of choosing the guys they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our daily fantasy player above a weekend of creating his bets, 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 just two or three plays which are entirely random, and they either make his week ruin his week, which is 100 percent chance. This really is an element of gaming, because you are putting something of monetary value up with an unknown outcome, and you don’t have any control over how that is 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 need is to get the Cowboys to do well, but minus Ezekiel Elliott producing any profits, and then you see Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of these happens, then I am screwed.” And then there’s this little two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I simply dropped forty thousand dollars right there.” And you watch $60,000 jump out of an account. There.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily dream is illegal in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the state that might make this more challenging to maneuver, or is some thing similar to that just a way of staking a claim to the money involved?
Bradley Jackson: It might just be the pessimist in me, but think in the end of the day, a lot of it just comes down to cash. A fascinating case study is what happened in Nevada. In Nevada they made daily fantasy illegal, which is mad, because gambling is legal in Nevada. Nevertheless, they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues would not pay the gaming tax. So it was just like a reverse place, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is gambling, so pay 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 inevitably do it right off the bat, but I presume it in a couple years, once they determine just how much money there will be made, and that there are clever ways to start it, it is going to happen.
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