Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that prohibited sports betting in most states (Nevada enjoyed an exception). When that occurred, the floodgates for legalized sports betting across the nation opened up–Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to permit betting on the result of a match, but they are 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 previous six months immersed in the world of sports betting due to their followup to this project. Reteaming with Dealt manager Luke Korem and fellow manufacturer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Assess ), Jackson made the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, which tracked the winners and winners of this 2018-19 NFL season–not those on the field, but the ones in 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 chat about sports betting, daily dream, and what the chances are that Texas allows fans to place a bet on game day within 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 find the numbers and they are just astronomical. In the opening sentence of the series, when we are showing all these individuals gambling on the Super Bowl, which just on the Super Bowl alone, I think that it’s like six billion bucks. But the caveat to this stat is that just 3% of this is legal wagering. Meaning 97 percent of all action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was one of the first stats I saw when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. And then you examine the actual numbers of how much is really bet in the usa, and it has billions and billions of dollars–so much of this is illegal wagering. So it seems like it’s one of those things everybody is doing, however, 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 now that I’ve spent six months embedded within this world, I’ve made a few –low-stakes stuff, just to find that feeling of what it’s like. And it’s fun, especially when you’re wagering a reasonable amount–but the feelings are still there. I am a very emotional person, so when I lost my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU bet, I genuinely felt awful for approximately an 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 dropped fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Do you have a sense of when placing a wager like that in Texas could be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We live in a state that’s obsessed with sportsfootball especially. And nothing draws people’s attention more than betting on soccer, especially the NFL. I believe finally Texas can perform some sort of sports gambling. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think that they’ll do it in cellular, because I don’t think we’ll see casinos in Texas, ever. I’ve been hearing that perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings is going to do some sort of pseudo sports gambling stuff, so you might go to Buffalo Wild Wings and put on your phone and set a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I feel that would be legal one day. Probably sometime in the next five decades.
Texas Monthly: With this business being enormous, illegal, and so largely untaxed, to what extent do you believe gaming as a source of untapped revenue for your country plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: That will play hugely into it. From a financial point of view, it’s enormous. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was kind of on the forefront of the. He wrote an editorial to the New York Times about four years ago where he said we will need to take sports betting out of the shadows and then bring it into the light. That way you can tax it, which is always good for the countries, but then you may also make sure it’s done over board. When 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 does not impact his business. What was that like for you to learn?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me off. When we were sketching out the figures we wanted to attempt to identify to put in the series, an illegal bookie was definitely at the top of our listing. Our premise was that this is going to hurt them. We believed we were going to find some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was going to be really hurt by all this. After we met this guy, it was the exact opposite. He was just like,”I’m not sweating at all.” I was stunned by it. He did say he believes that if each state goes, if that becomes 100 percent legal in every state, he then think he could be impacted. But he works out of the Tri-State region, and now it is only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five places. He breaks it down quite well in the conclusion of our first incident, where he simply says,”It’s convenient and it’s charge –the two C’s will never go away.” With an illegal bookie, you can lose fifty thousand dollars on credit, and that can really negatively affect your life. Sometime you can still hurt yourself gambling legitimately, but you can’t bet on credit through legal channels. If casinos begin letting you bet on credit, I think his bottom line could get hurt. The longer it’s a part of this national conversation, the more money he gets, because people are like,”Oh, it is right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily dream among those gateways to sports gambling? It seems like it’s just a slight variation on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily dream players in the us. He is a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing that. He told us that the most he’s ever made was $1.5 million in one week. One of our hypotheses for the show was that the pervasiveness of everyday dream was a gateway to the leagues allowing legalized gaming to actually happen. For many years, you noticed the NFL say that sports gambling is the worst thing and they would never allow it. And about four years back daily fantasy like DraftKings and FanDuel began, and they purchased, 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 folks were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say you believe sports gambling is the worst thing ever. What’s this not gaming?” It’s gambling. We actually join the CEO of DraftKings, and two of the high-up people at FanDuel, and I believe it’s B.S., but they say daily dream is not gambling, it’s a game of skill. However, I really don’t think that is true.
Texas Monthly: The way people who make money do it will involve conducting substantial numbers of teams to beat the odds, rather than picking the men they think have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our daily dream player over a weekend of making his stakes, 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 you will find two or three plays which are completely arbitrary, and they make his week or ruin his week, which is 100 percent chance. This really is an element of gambling, 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 thousand dollars on a three-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. It’s the Cowboys-Eagles, and he says,”All I want is to get the Cowboys to do nicely, but without Ezekiel Elliott making any gains, after which you visit Zeke get, like, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of these happens, then I’m screwed.” And then there is this tiny two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I simply lost sixty thousand dollars .” And you observe $60,000 jump from an account. There is no way that’s not gambling.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily dream is illegal in Texas. Are there cultural factors in the country which may make this more difficult to maneuver, or is something similar to 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 lot of it just comes down to cash. An interesting case study is what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily dream illegal, which can be crazy, because gambling is legal in Nevada. But they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues wouldn’t pay the gambling tax. So it was like a reverse place, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is gambling, so pay the gambling taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It’s not gambling.” And so they didn’t come to Nevada. I don’t think Texas will necessarily do it right off the bat, but I presume it in a few years, when they determine how much money there will be made, and that there are smart ways to go about it, it’ll happen.

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