BETTING on Zero is a feature-length documentary that exposes the financial motives behind the growing popularity of betting on horse racing in America. Narrated by Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino, the film dives into the murky world of betting and horse racing, revealing who is actually bankrolling the phenomenon and how they are benefiting from it.
The film examines high-stakes gambling as a cultural issue, exploring the influence of social media and how the betting industry is changing with the times. Through extensive interviews and rarely-seen footage, BETTING on Zero digs deep into the world of the “super-betting” industry, where professional gamblers risk millions on a single horse race, revealing how unregulated sports betting has turned into a full-blown cultural epidemic in contemporary America.
The Rise Of Billionaire Baby Boomers
With the advent of social media, the world’s wealthiest are having an unprecedented impact on politics, culture, and the economy. The film explores the rise of a new wealthy elite, known as the “Billionaire Baby Boomers,” whose combined fortunes account for much of the growth in the global betting industry.
Over the past 10 years, a small group of wealthy and influential men and women have been quietly accumulating astronomical sums of money through investment and entrepreneurial activities. The world’s best-known billionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Michael Bloomberg have all bet on horse races, helping to fuel the explosive growth in the sports betting industry.
Between 2006 and 2016, the collective net worth of this group of men and women (known as “Globos”) increased from $9.9 trillion to $26.7 trillion, an increase of $17.8 trillion. During the same time period, the combined assets of the world’s wealthiest individuals (Bill Gates not included), as measured by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, increased from $16.2 trillion to $38.2 trillion, an increase of $21.1 trillion.
A $150 Million Gamble
In 2007, a man named Doug Lennex launched a $150 million horse-racing wager on the then-record-setting Thoroughbred Racehorse Shackleford. When Shackleford lost, Lennex spent the next six years battling an alcoholic hedge-fund manager named Jesse Kramer, who sought to pay back the debts that the wager had incurred. During this time, the courts ordered Kramer to pay back approximately $24.9 million to Lennex. In 2013, Kramer finally settled with Lennex for an undisclosed sum.
The case became a symbol of the growing influence of wealthy sports betters, who were able to use their financial clout to beat the system. It also brought to light the very real financial risks that the “smaller” sportsbooks (those with lower betting limits) faced due to financial limitations and legal requirements that restrict the types of bets that they can make.
A 2017 New York Post investigation into the world of online betting sharks uncovered a group of wealthy individuals who prey on unsuspecting recreational bettors, convincing them to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars on unsound horse-racing predictions. The piece dubbed these individuals “Billionaire Bozos,” and reported that they were responsible for “causing millions of dollars in damages” to smaller online bookmakers via predatory trading.
The identity of the “Billionaire Bozos” remains unknown, but individuals interviewed for the story spoke on the record about the group’s existence and detailed their tactics. One of the individuals named in the piece, who goes by the moniker “Ned” and is the founder and CEO of a company called Nedgroup Inc., claimed that the group was “basically an organized crime family” that used “front men” to carry out their illegal activities. He also claimed, without evidence, that the group had ties to the Russian mafia, the Greek mafia, and the Mexican cartels. The founder of another company called Betserra, who goes by the pseudonym “Tony,” described how he was conned by a pair of “Billionaire Bozos” into risking $200,000 on some unsound horse-racing picks. He added that he suspected that the two men were “probably Russian.”
While there is no indication that any of the “Billionaire Bozos” were Russian, Greek, or Mexican nationals, the tactics that they used to defraud others bear some resemblance to those used by Russian organized crime groups. For example, the founder of Betserra, Tony, employed a team of researchers to comb through social media and search engines for sensitive information regarding his customers, as well as hired private investigators to track down his victims and bring them to justice. In several cases, Tony and his team of researchers were able to identify the individual or individuals who perpetrated the fraud and bring them to prosecution, though in several others, the victims were either unaware of the fraud or failed to come forward to the authorities. The founder of Nedgroup Inc., Ned, has made similar claims about his group, noting in one interview that his team of researchers had identified over 100 “scams” that they traced back to Russia. He has also been quoted as saying: “You would be surprised at how many of these scams are Russian-run operations.”
Why Are They So Influential?
The rise of the “Billionaire Baby Boomers” and the conmen that they employ is due, in large part, to their unfathomable resources and their willingness to use those resources to further their economic and political goals. They are a group of extremely wealthy and well-connected individuals who enjoy great influence in all areas of society, and they are highly skilled at wielding that influence for selfish purposes.
The most prominent members of the “Billionaire Baby Boomers” are billionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Michael Bloomberg, who have all fueled the growth of the sports betting industry. In 2007, Gates, who is arguably the world’s richest individual, acquired a 2% stake in Zynga, the social gaming company, which at the time was valued at $6 billion. In 2010, Microsoft made an additional $2.5 billion investment in the company. (Gates owns a total of 5% of Zynga.) In 2013, the company was reportedly valued at $10 billion to $20 billion. As of mid-2017, Zynga is valued at over $20 billion. Other prominent members of the generation include the co-founders of Facebook, who own a combined 24% of the social media network; the founders of Google, who own a combined 18% of the search engine; and the founders of Amazon, who own 10% of the online retailing giant.
These billionaires are influential figures in society and in the financial world; their combined influence stems from their financial resources and their willingness to use those resources to further their economic goals. In a 2015 interview with Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg was asked about his influence as a billionaire. He responded: “I don’t really see myself as having that much influence. If you look at the facts, I’ve been around longer than most presidents, but I don’t really see myself as being that influential.” Nonetheless, he added, “I do get people interested in what I do. And if you’re interested in an issue, that means you’ve moved beyond just thinking about it to acting on it.”
The influence of the “Billionaire Baby Boomers” extends into all facets of American life, and the rise of “small” sportsbooks is a testament to that. As of 2016, there were 1,600 U.S. businesses licensed to take bets, ranging from local bars and restaurants to national brands. Many of these businesses struggle to stay afloat, operating in a world where regulators barely scrutinize the actions of the industry, which is why the documentary makes such a valuable contribution to the public debate about the need to regulate sports betting.