Action’ Producer Bradley Jackson on the Odds of Texas Legalizing Sports Gambling

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Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 legislation that prohibited sports betting in the majority of states (Nevada enjoyed an exclusion ). 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 allow betting on the result of a game, but they’re not going to be the last.
Texas-based documentary filmmaker and UT graduate 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 this undertaking. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (in addition to showrunner David Check), Jackson produced the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, that tracked the winners and winners of the 2018-19 NFL season–maybe not those on the field, but the ones in the casino, wagering a small fortune on the results of the matches 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 allows fans to place a wager on game day in the next few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: Just how large a business this is. I mean, you find the numbers and they are just astronomical. In the opening sentence of the series, when we’re showing all these individuals gambling on the Super Bowl, which only on the Super Bowl alone, I think that it’s like six billion bucks. But then the caveat to this stat is that just 3 percent of that is legal wagering. That means 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is illegal. That amount from Super Bowl weekend was among the very first stats that I watched when we were getting into this project, and it blew my mind. And then you look at the actual numbers of how much is really bet in America, and it’s billions and billions of dollars–so much of that is prohibited wagering. So it feels like it’s one of those things everyone is doing, but 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’ve made a couple–low-stakes stuff, simply to get that sense of what it’s like. And it’s fun, particularly when you’re wagering a sensible level –but the feelings are still there. I’m a very mental person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I genuinely felt awful for approximately an hour. Because of course I wager on UT, therefore when OU won, it hurt not only because my team lost–it hurt even more that I lost fifty dollars.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a feeling of when putting a bet like that in Texas could be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We are living in a country that is obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing draws people’s attention over gambling on football, especially the NFL. I believe eventually Texas will do some sort of sports betting. I don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I think they’ll do it in cellular, because I don’t think we will see casinos in Texas, actually. I’ve been hearing that maybe Buffalo Wild Wings is going to do some type of pseudo sports betting stuff, which means you could go to Buffalo Wild Wings and get in your telephone and set 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, prohibited, and thus largely untaxed, to what extent do you think gaming as a source of untapped revenue for the country plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: This will play hugely right into it. From a financial point of view, it’s enormous. 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 stated we need to take sports gambling out of the shadows and bring it into the light. That way you can tax it, which is always good for the states, but you may also make sure it’s done over board. When the Texas legislature sniff how much money may be taxed, it’s a no-brainer.
Texas Monthly: The prohibited bookie which you speak to in the documentary says that legalization does not affect his organization. What was that like for you to understand?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me away. When we were sketching out the characters we wanted to attempt to determine to put in the show, an illegal bookie was definitely on very top of our list. 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 this. When we met this man, it was the exact opposite. He was like,”I am not sweating at all.” I was really shocked by it. He did state he thinks that if each state eventually goes, if this becomes 100% legal in every nation, he then think he could be affected. But he works from the Tri-State area, and now it’s only legal in New Jersey, and only in four or five places. He breaks it down really well at the conclusion of our very first incident, where he just says,”It’s convenient and it’s credit–the two C’s will never go off.” With an illegal bookie, you can 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 not bet on credit via lawful channels. If casinos start letting you bet on charge, I think his bottom line might get hurt. The longer it’s a part of this national dialog, the more money he gets, because people are like,”Oh, it’s legal, right?”
Texas Monthly: Is daily fantasy one of those gateways to sports betting? It seems like it’s just a small variant on traditional gambling.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily fantasy players in the us. He is a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing this. He told us that the most he’s ever made 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 noticed the NFL state that sports gambling is the worst thing ever and they’d never let it. And 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’re watching the NFL, every other commercial was DraftKings or FanDuel. And a lot 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 people at FanDuel, and I think that it’s B.S., however they say daily dream is not gambling, it is a game of skill. But I really don’t think that’s true.
Texas Monthly: The way people who make money do it tends to involve running huge quantities of teams to beat the odds, instead of choosing the men they believe have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our daily dream player above a weekend of creating his stakes, and he doesn’t do well that weekend. And he spoke about how what he is doing is a good deal of skill, but every week you will find just two or three plays which are entirely random, and they make his week ruin his week, which is 100 percent luck. This is an element of gaming, because you’re putting something of financial worth up with an unknown outcome, and you have no control on how that is awarded. We see him literally lose sixty thousand 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 perform well, but without Ezekiel Elliott producing any gains, and then you see Zeke get, for example, a four-yard pass and he’s like,”If one more of those happens, then I’m screwed.” And then there’s this tiny two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”Well, I simply lost sixty thousand dollars .” And you watch $60,000 jump from an account. There is no way that’s not gaming.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has argued that daily dream is illegal in Texas. Are there any cultural factors in the state which may make this more difficult to pass, or is some thing like that just a way of staking a claim to the cash 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 money. A fascinating case study is what occurred in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily dream illegal, which can be crazy, because gambling is legal in Nevada. Nevertheless, they made it illegal because the daily fantasy leagues would not cover the gaming tax. So it was just like a reverse place, where Nevada said,”Hey, this is betting, so cover the gambling taxes,” and DraftKings and FanDuel were like,”It is 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 think it in a few years, once they see just how much cash there is to be produced, and that there are clever ways to go about it, it is going to happen.

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