Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that prohibited sports betting in the majority of states (Nevada enjoyed an exception). When that occurred, the floodgates for legalized sports gambling across the country 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 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 that project. 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 monitored the winners and winners of this 2018-19 NFL season–maybe not the ones on the field, but those at the casino, wagering a small fortune on the outcome of the matches being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson in advance of the series’ final episode to chat about sports gambling, daily fantasy, and what the odds are that Texas enables fans to place a bet on game day within the next few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: How large a company this is. I mean, you find the amounts and they are just astronomical. In the opening sentence of the show, when we’re showing all these people betting on the Super Bowl, which only on the Super Bowl alone, I think it’s like six billion bucks. But then the caveat to this 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 very first stats I saw when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. And then you examine the real numbers of how much is actually bet in the usa, and it’s billions and billions of dollars–and so much of that is prohibited wagering. Therefore it seems like it is one of those things everyone is doing, but nobody really talks about.
Texas Monthly: Did working on this job inspire you to put any bets?
Bradley Jackson: Yeah. I hadn’t ever done it, and I’ve spent six months embedded in this world, I have made a few –low-stakes stuff, simply to get that feeling of what it is like. And it’s fun, especially when you’re wagering a reasonable amount–but the feelings are still there. I’m a really mental person, so when I lost my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU bet, I felt awful for approximately one hour. Because of course I bet on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not only because my team lost–it hurt even more that I lost fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a feeling of when placing a wager like that in Texas might be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We are living in a country that is obsessed with sportsfootball especially. And nothing draws people’s attention more than gambling on football, especially the NFL. I think eventually Texas can perform some sort of sports betting. I really don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I think that they’ll do it in mobile, since I don’t think we will see casinos in Texas, actually. I have been hearing that maybe Buffalo Wild Wings will do some type of pseudo sports betting stuff, so you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and put on your telephone and set a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I feel that would be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five years.
Texas Monthly: With this industry being huge, prohibited, and so largely untaxed, to what extent do you believe gambling as a source of untapped revenue for the state plays into things?
Bradley Jackson: That will play hugely right into it. From a financial perspective, it’s enormous. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was kind of on the forefront of that. He wrote an editorial to the New York Times about four years ago where he stated we 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 always great for the countries, but then you may also make sure it’s done above board. When the Texas legislature sniff really how much money may be taxed, it is a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The illegal bookie which you speak to in the documentary says that legalization does not impact his organization. What was that like for you to understand?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me away. When we had been sketching out the figures we wanted to attempt to determine to spend the series, an illegal bookie was unquestionably at the very top of our list. Our premise was that this will hurt them. We thought we were going to find some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was likely to be very hurt by all of this. When we met this guy, it was the exact opposite. He was like,“I am not sweating in any way.“ It shocked me. He did state that he believes that if every state eventually goes, if this becomes 100% legal in every nation, then he think that he might be affected. However he works out of the Tri-State region, and now it is only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five spots. He breaks it down really well at the conclusion of the very first episode, where he just says,“It’s convenient and it is 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. Whereas you can still harm yourself betting legitimately, but you can not bet on credit via lawful channels. If casinos start letting you bet on charge, then I believe his bottom line could get hurt. The longer it’s a 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 those gateways to sports betting? It feels like it’s only a small variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in America. He’s a 26-year-old child. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He advised us that the most he’s ever made was $1.5 million in one week. One of our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of daily dream was a gateway to the leagues allowing legalized gaming to actually happen. For many years, you saw the NFL state that sports gambling is the worst thing and they’d never allow it. And about four years back daily dream like DraftKings and FanDuel began, and they bought, I think, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you’re watching the NFL, any commercial was DraftKings or even FanDuel. And a great deal of folks were like,“Wait a minute, you guys say you believe sports gambling is the worst thing ever. How is this not gambling?“ 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 say daily fantasy is not gambling, it is a game of skill. But I don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: How people who make money do it tends to involve running huge numbers of teams to win against the odds, instead of picking the men they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our daily dream player above a weekend of making his bets, and he doesn’t do well that weekend. And he spoke about how what he is doing is a good deal of skill, but each week you will find just two or three plays which are completely arbitrary, and they either make his week or ruin his week, and that is 100 percent luck. This really is an element of gambling, as you’re putting something of monetary value up with an unknown result, and you have no control on how that’s given. We watch 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 perform nicely, but minus Ezekiel Elliott producing any gains, and then you see Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he is like,“If one more of these happens, then I am screwed.“ And then there is this tiny 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 from an account. There.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has contended that daily dream is prohibited in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the state that might make this more difficult 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 at the end of the day, a lot of it just comes down to cash. An interesting case study is exactly what happened in Nevada. In Nevada they made daily fantasy 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 place, where Nevada said,“Hey, this is gambling, so cover the gaming taxes,“ and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,“It’s not gambling.“ And so they did not come to Nevada. I really don’t think Texas will necessarily take action right off the bat, but I think it in a few years, when they see just how much money there is to be produced, and that there are smart ways to start it, it’ll happen.