Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 law that prohibited sports gambling in most states (Nevada appreciated an exception). When that occurred, the floodgates for legalized sports gambling across the nation opened –Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to permit betting on the result of a match, but they’re not likely to be the last.
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 previous six months immersed in the world of sports betting for his followup to this project. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow manufacturer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Check), Jackson made the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, which tracked the winners and losers of the 2018-19 NFL season–maybe not the ones on the area, but the ones at the casino, wagering a small fortune on the outcome of the matches being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson in advance of this series’ final episode to chat about sports betting, daily dream, and what the chances are that Texas allows fans to put a wager on game day within the upcoming few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: Just how big of a company this is. I mean, you find the amounts and they are simply astronomical. In the opening paragraph of the show, when we’re showing these individuals gambling on the Super Bowl, that just on the Super Bowl alone, I think it’s like six billion bucks. But then the caveat to this stat is that just 3% of this is legal wagering. That means 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That number from Super Bowl weekend was among the first stats I saw when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. Then you look at the actual numbers of just how much is actually bet in the usa, and it has billions and billions of dollars–so much of this is illegal wagering. Therefore it feels like it is one of these things everybody is doing, however, nobody really talks about.
Texas Monthly: Did working on this job inspire you to place any bets?
Bradley Jackson: Yeah. I had never done it, and now that I’ve spent six months embedded within this world, I have made a couple–low-stakes things, just to find that sense of what it is like. And it’s fun, especially when you’re wagering a sensible amount–but the feelings are still there. I’m a very mental person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU bet, I genuinely felt awful for approximately one hour. Because naturally I wager on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not just because my team dropped –it hurt more that I lost fifty dollars.
Texas Monthly: Do you have a feeling of when putting a wager like that in Texas might be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We are living in a state that’s obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing brings people’s attention over betting on soccer, particularly the NFL. I think eventually Texas will do some sort of sports gambling. I really don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think that they’ll do it in mobile, since I do not think we’ll see casinos in Texas, actually. I’ve been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings will do some sort of pseudo sports betting stuff, which means you might go to Buffalo Wild Wings and put on your phone and place a fifty-dollar wager on the Astros, and I think that would be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five decades.
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 your country plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: That will play hugely right into it. From a financial perspective, it is huge. 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 need to take sports betting 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 then you can also make sure it’s done above board. Once the Texas legislature sniff really how much money may be taxed, it’s a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The illegal bookie which you speak to in the documentary says that legalization does not affect his organization. What was that like for you to learn?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me away. When we were sketching out the characters we wanted to try and identify to spend the show, an illegal bookie was unquestionably on very top of our listing. Our assumption was that this is going to hurt them. We thought we were going to obtain some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was going to be really hurt by all this. When we met this man, it was the specific opposite. He was like,”I’m not sweating at all.” I was stunned by it. He did say he believes that if each state eventually goes, if that becomes 100% legal in every nation, he then think that he might be affected. However he works out of this Tri-State region, and right now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and just in four or five places. He breaks it down quite well at the conclusion of our very first incident, where he just says,”It is convenient and it is charge –the two C will never go off.” With 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 legally, but you can’t bet on credit through legal channels. If casinos start letting you wager on charge, I think his bottom line might get hurt. The longer it is part of the national dialog, the more money he makes, as people are like,”Oh, it is right?”
Texas Monthly: Why is daily fantasy one of the gateways to sports betting? It seems like it’s just a small variant on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in the us. He is a 26-year-old child. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He advised us 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 everyday fantasy was a gateway to the leagues allowing legalized gambling to really happen. For years, you noticed the NFL state that sports betting is the worst thing ever and they would never let it. And about four years ago daily fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel started, and they purchased, I think, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you were watching the NFL, every other commercial was DraftKings or FanDuel. And a lot of folks were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say you think sports gambling is the worst thing ever. How is this not gaming?” It is gambling. We really join the CEO of DraftKings, and two of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I believe it’s B.S., but they say daily fantasy isn’t gambling, it’s a game of skill. But I don’t think that’s true.
Texas Monthly: How individuals who make money do it tends to involve running 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 talked about how what he is doing is a good deal of ability, but every week you will find just two or three plays that are completely arbitrary, and they make his week ruin his week, and that is 100 percent luck. That really is an element of gaming, as you’re putting something of financial worth up with an unknown outcome, and you don’t have any control over how that is awarded. We watch him literally shed sixty thousand 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 well, but minus Ezekiel Elliott making any profits, after which you visit Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he is like,”If one more of those happens, then I am screwed.” And then there’s this little two-yard pass from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I simply lost sixty thousand dollars right there.” 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 that might make this more challenging to maneuver, 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 in the end of the day, a lot of it just comes down to cash. An interesting case study is what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily fantasy illegal, which can be mad, because gaming is legal in Nevada. But they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues would not pay the gambling tax. So it was just like a reverse place, in which Nevada said,”Hey, this is betting, 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 do it right off the bat, but I presume it in a few years, once they determine just how much cash there is to be produced, and that there are clever ways to go about it, it’ll happen.