In the two years since the US Supreme Court ruled that every US state could decide for itself on the legality of sports betting, the topic of placing a wager on football, baseball or basketball has seldom been far from the headlines. Now, the story is being told on the small screen.
Action is a four-part docu-series that premiered on Showtime last year and is now available on a number of streaming services including SHO OD and Amazon Prime. It explores the impact that legalized sports betting has had, both on the gambling industry and on the people who support it, by focusing on a handful of bookmakers, pro gamblers and good old-fashioned American sports enthusiasts.
Sports betting – a little background
In the late 20th century, sports betting in the USA was prohibited under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (1992) (PASPA). The only exemptions were a handful of sports lotteries similar set-ups in Delaware, Oregon, Montana and, of course, Nevada, which had been in existence for years and were grandfathered into the Act.
10 years ago, it seemed unlikely that there would be any change to the status quo. Research conducted by PublicMind showed that two-thirds of Americans were opposed to the legalization of sports betting, while only 20 percent supported it. But then something strange happened. New Jersey’s state legislature made waves, calling a state referendum on the subject and campaigning for the right to legalize.
This started a groundswell of support that even New Jersey’s Governor of the time, Chris Christie, could scarcely have dared to hope for. Not only were New Jersey voters behind him, but nationally, 66 percent now felt that sports betting should be regulated at the state level.
Part of this was undoubtedly down to the rise of the internet, and particularly, the smartphone age. There are scores of offshore sites that will accept wagers from anyone, regardless of where they are based. The gray market is still thriving in both the sports betting and iGaming arenas, with over 100 offshore casinos still offering real money casino games to US players. Bringing this activity into a regulated framework and at the same time collecting millions in tax dollars made sense on every level.
And so it was that in May 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled by a 6-3 majority to strike down PASPA. It gave states the autonomy for which New Jersey had campaigned so passionately to create their own regulatory frameworks for sports betting. It is also the event that launches the narrative in Action.
A new era dawns
A total runtime of 220 minutes spread across four hours gives Action the space to show us the world of sports betting from several angles. There’s professional gambler Bill Krakomberger, for whom sports betting has nothing to do with fun and who makes a living from making the right calls and knowing which games to bet on. Then we meet Kelly Stewart, a handicapper for one of the leading sportsbooks, who is one of the few women in what is still a heavily male-dominated industry.
But where Action really resonates is in its depiction of those everyday sports fans who are passionate about their teams. Unlike the Bill Krakombergers of this world, they are not laying down their dollars because they expect or need to win money. They don’t study the form and analyze the odds. For them, placing a bet is just another way of backing their team, like putting on that game shirt on a Sunday afternoon. The difference, as far as they are concerned, is that with a couple of dollars laid down, they have a personal stake in the outcome, and there’s an extra reason to celebrate every win.
As we watch the crowds of fans gathered together in front of big screens in Las Vegas on Super Bowl Sunday, the biggest sports betting day of the year, it becomes clear just what a big deal sports betting is and how legalization really has heralded a new era for those who enjoy gambling, sport or both.
Looking to the future
Reviews on platforms like Amazon and IMDb have been solid and there is clearly both the scope and viewer appetite for the second season of Action. Naturally enough, the focus was very much on Las Vegas, but it is worth contemplating that when PASPA was struck down in the summer of 2018, commentators predicted that over the subsequent five years, 32 states would be likely to legalize sports betting. Two and a half years in, the number stands at 21, while five more are expected to launch in 2021. A further 14 states are described as likely by the end of 2022.
All this implies that the estimate of sports betting in 32 states by the summer of 2023 is probably on the conservative side. There is a distinct air of the domino effect in play here, as pressure inevitably increases on states to at least debate legalization when they see sports betting taking place just across the border – and generating millions in revenue.
On the face of it, Action provides an intriguing, entertaining and educational insight into the new world of sports betting. But dig a little deeper, and it is about so much more. In countries like the UK, sports betting has been a national pastime since the mid 20th century, and for anyone under the age of 70, bookmakers have always been part of the landscape. There is a sense of bewilderment over the uncomfortable relationship that America has had with gambling over the years. Action shows how attitudes are changing, and as the domino effect continues and reaches some of the more conservative states, there is surely plenty more to be explored.
Action is currently available to stream online via Showtime’s On Demand service and has also been added to Amazon Prime, where viewers can purchase either the full season or individual episodes in HD.