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

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 happened, the floodgates for legalized sports betting across the country opened –Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island became the first to allow betting on the result of a game, but they are not likely 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 previous six months immersed in the world of sports gambling due to their followup to that undertaking. Reteaming with Dealt director Luke Korem and fellow producer Russell Wayne Groves (as well as showrunner David Assess ), Jackson made the four-part Showtime documentary series Action, that tracked the winners and losers of this 2018-19 NFL season–not those on the field, but the ones in the match, wagering a small fortune on the outcome of the games being played. Texas Monthly caught up with Jackson in advance of this series’ final episode to talk about sports betting, daily fantasy, and what the odds are that Texas allows fans to place a bet on game day within the next few decades.
Texas Monthly: What did you learn from this project?
Bradley Jackson: Just how large a company this is. I meanyou see the numbers and they are just astronomical. From the opening paragraph of the series, when we are showing all these people betting on the Super Bowl, which only on the Super Bowl alone, I think that it’s like six billion dollars. But then the caveat to this stat is that just 3 percent of this is legal wagering. That means 97 percent of action wagered on the Super Bowl is prohibited. That amount 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. And then you look at the real numbers of how much is actually bet in America, and it’s billions and billions of dollars–so much of that is illegal wagering. Therefore 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 had never done it, and now that I’ve spent six months embedded in this world, I’ve made a few –low-stakes things, just to get that feeling of what it’s like. And it is fun, especially when you’re wagering a sensible amount–but the emotions are still there. I’m a really emotional person, so when I dropped my fifty-dollar UT vs. OU wager, I felt awful for about an hour. Because of course I bet on UT, so when OU won, it hurt not just because my team lost–it hurt more that I dropped fifty bucks.
Texas Monthly: Can you have a feeling of when putting a wager like that in Texas might be legal?
Bradley Jackson: We live in a state that’s obsessed with sports–football especially. And nothing brings people’s attention over gambling on soccer, especially the NFL. I believe eventually Texas will do some sort of sports betting. I really don’t know how long it’s likely to take. I believe they’ll do it in cellular, because I don’t think we will 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 get in your telephone and set a fifty-dollar bet on the Astros, and I feel that would be lawful one day. Probably sometime in the next five years.
Texas Monthly: With this industry being huge, illegal, and thus largely untaxed, to what extent do you believe gambling as a source of untapped revenue for your country plays into matters?
Bradley Jackson: This 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 the. He wrote an editorial to the New York Times about four years ago where he stated we need to take sports gambling from the shadows and bring it into the light. That way you can tax it, which is obviously good for the countries, but then you can also make sure it’s done over board. Once the Texas legislature sniff really 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 organization. What was that like for you to learn?
Bradley Jackson: It blew me away. When we were sketching out the figures we wanted to try and identify to spend the show, an illegal bookie was definitely at the very top of our list. Our premise was that this will hurt them. We thought we were going to obtain some New Jersey illegal bookie whose bottom line was going to be very hurt by all this. After we met this man, it was the specific 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 that becomes 100% legal in every nation, then he think that he might be impacted. However he operates out of this Tri-State area, and now it is only legal in New Jersey, and just in four or five places. He breaks it down really well in the conclusion of the first incident, where he simply says,”It’s convenient and it’s credit–the two C 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 hurt yourself gambling legitimately, but you can’t bet on credit via legal channels. If casinos start letting you bet on credit, 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’s right?”
Texas Monthly: Why is daily dream one of those gateways to sports betting? It feels like it’s only a slight variant on traditional gaming.
Bradley Jackson: In Episode 3, we follow one of the top five daily dream players in the us. He’s a 26-year-old kid. He makes millions of dollars doing this. He advised me that the most he has ever made was $1.5 million in one week. Among our hypotheses for the series was that the pervasiveness of everyday dream was a gateway into the leagues allowing legalized gambling to really happen. For years, you noticed the NFL say that sports betting is the worst thing ever and they would never allow it. And about four years ago daily dream like DraftKings and FanDuel started, and they bought, I believe, 30,000 ad spots across the NFL Sunday platform. When you’re watching the NFL, any commercial was DraftKings or FanDuel. And a great deal of folks were like,”Wait a minute, you guys say that you believe sports gambling is the worst thing ever. How is this not gambling?” It’s gambling. We actually interview the CEO of DraftKings, and a couple of the high-up individuals at FanDuel, and I believe that it’s B.S., but they state daily dream is not gambling, it is 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 quantities of teams to win against the odds, instead of choosing the men they believe have the best matchups this week.
Bradley Jackson: Right. We filmed our everyday dream player above a weekend of creating his bets, 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 there are two or three plays that are entirely arbitrary, and they make his week ruin his week, which 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 have no control on how that’s given. We watch him literally shed sixty million 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 perform nicely, but minus Ezekiel Elliott producing any profits, and then you see Zeke get, like, a four-yard pass and he is like,”If one more of these happens, then I’m screwed.” And then there is this little two-yard pass away from Prescott to Elliott and he goes,”I simply lost sixty thousand dollars .” And you observe $60,000 jump from an account. There is no way that is not gambling.
Texas Monthly: Ken Paxton has contended that daily fantasy is illegal in Texas. Are there cultural factors in the country which may make this more difficult to pass, 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 think in the end of the day, a lot of it just comes down to cash. A fascinating case study is exactly what happened in Nevada. In Nevada they left daily dream illegal, which is mad, because gaming 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 betting, so cover 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 take action right off the bat, but I presume it in a few years, when they determine just how much money there will be made, and there are smart ways to start it, it is going to happen.

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