Director Scott Pearson Eberly discusses making the documentary “The Best of It.”
When it comes to gambling, many of us view it as a pastime but for some individuals it’s a way of life. “The Best of It” brings us deep into the world of professional gambling where 4 different individuals are immersed in the world of playing the odds with sports betting. We had the chance to speak with the film’s director, Scott Pearson Eberly who supplemented this film with his own commentary. This discussion takes an already well made documentary to the next level with the perspective of the man behind it all.
On a personal level, I was curious as to what Scott’s connections were to the world of professional gambling. What urged him to look deeper into the subject and what inspired him to make this film?
I was Senior Feature Producer for TVG [Television Games Network]. I produced a lot of features. And I kept finding myself kind of drawn to the professional gamblers. Especially in the mornings because we saw these guys clocking horses and you see them in the afternoon step into the window that had minimum $1000 wagers. And I started doing some horse player features and then I started going over to Vegas and took a long road but I started meeting some people and opening up to the idea of doing a feature-length documentary.
After working day in and day out with these professional gamblers and having access to their knowledge, I was wondering if temptations were there. I asked Scott if he ever took advantage of this knowledge and used it to place a bet himself.
Well…I like football and during my time, not only at TVG but researching, I’d spent enough time over in Vegas when I’d go on the weekends and playing, that I found myself much more interested when I was with my buddies and I was able to focus and kind of watch games. But when I was filming with those guys, I was so worried about running out of battery or running out of this and just trying to get the shot to make sure I’m not missing anything. And the other aspect was with these guys…they’re playing so many games. They’re going back and forth on some games. They’re playing so many games that it’s really hard, outside of 1 or 2 days where Boston had a really big game, most of the time they would have 50 [or] 60 plays and sometimes they’d have 70% on one side, 30% on the other. So there wasn’t really a lot of moments where I was really caught up on just one score…
Throughout “The Best of It” you see an ongoing struggle and various moments of stress with these professional gamblers. While gambling can be an addiction, I was curious as to what made these people continue on in this profession when it was so taxing on their spirits.
…kind of the correlation I saw between when I was filming this and my friends that are in the film business and writers and do a lot of editing…both are kind of a solitary lifestyle. And I think writers are the same way, they say they love it but I think the process sometimes…you’re almost miserable and you find a lot of anguish despite it being a craft that you love.
I think for these guys though…I think part of their frustration we’re seeing is partially due to the technology. The way it’s changed for a sports gambler, it’s harder for them to get the best of it.
As I watched the film I saw a continual numbers game throughout. These professional gamblers were not just making blind bets, they had statistics and books of data supporting their moves. Watching this trend, I immediately thought of stock brokers and inquired about correlations between professional gamblers and trading stocks. Did the two areas share similarities?
Definitely. I think day trading is another form of gambling. I think a gambler and a day trader are both trying to do the same thing. They’re both trying to get the best possible price. And you’re trying to control the outcome as best as you can.
The name of the documentary is a phrase that has significance to a gambler. On a simplistic level, “The Best of It” refers to coming out on top over your opponent, but I wanted Scott to clarify further.
They feel [that] in the long term, if they’re getting the best of it, meaning if you’re playing a favorite and they open as a pick’em and you get it down as a pick’em…if they feel like they’re getting the best number possible, the best total number or side total on the team, they feel in the long term that they will win. So that’s why they’re so driven about getting the best number, the best of it which the title comes from.
When it came to the older, more seasoned gamblers (Lem in particular), there was a lot of history explored about gambling. There were even some mafia ties to the profession which also served as the basis for Robert De Niro’s character in “Casino.” I asked Scott if there were any details left out of the documentary that he could elaborate upon.
There were maybe a couple. I think Lem was a lot more freely talking about it. He has a scene in there where he talks about all the guys that were working for him and they all had nicknames. And he ended up getting a call from a bookie that Memphis was going to be missing three starters. And back then, even in the 80s you didn’t have the internet so this information was something that they could actually use to their benefit. So Lem was trying to get down as much as he could and knowing that some of the east coast shops wouldn’t open for awhile, they might not have the information by then, he got down with a bookie in Minneapolis and he ended up scoring like $30,000 and the guy wasn’t going to pay him. And so he called Lefty, Frank Rosenthal who inspired [Robert] De Niro’s character in “Casino.” And basically they threatened to whack him. I don’t know how serious they are and Lem likes to tell a tale, but he had the money in his bank account the very next morning.
Finally I wanted to know what Scott would want audiences to take away from this documentary. What message was he trying to send? What underlying themes did we miss?
When I would go to the race track with friends or go to Vegas for a weekend, everybody goes there with these great dreams and “I’m going to basically pay for my trip,” but to be a professional gambler, you really have to be disciplined. You have to be good with money management. And you can’t let the highs and the lows get to you, you have to stay at middle ground.
It was a pleasure to speak with Scott Pearson Eberly and I must reiterate how intriguing this documentary actually was. It was well balanced with a diverse group of characters that are sometimes pitted against one another and it’s surprisingly emotional as you learn more about these individuals.
You can find more about “The Best of It” below: