Filmmaker Eberly making the best of it

May 10, 2016 3:00 AM
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Scott Pearson Eberly worked for the horse racing network TVG for a decade, producing hundreds of stories on horses, jockeys and trainers.

His true fascination, however, centered on the characters lined up every day at the betting windows. What is it really like to be a professional gambler?

That’s the story he set out to tell with his recently released documentary, “The Best of It,” which is available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vimeo on Demand.

Eberly, 47, decided he’d been around enough horse tracks over the years so he came to Las Vegas to find the answer through the eyes of four professional sports gamblers.

The message: It can turn dark and lonely, become a rollercoaster of emotions for not only the bettor but loved ones, too, and, in the case of one of Eberly’s characters, feel so overwhelming there seems to be no way out.

“I love going to Vegas for a football weekend,” said Eberly, who grew up as a film and sports fanatic in Okoboji, Iowa, and previously also worked for ESPN and CNN. “As a recreational gambler, if you lose a little more than you planned on that weekend, your mortgage is maybe a little tighter, but that’s the extent of it.

“For a professional gambler, if you start to chase bad money, you don’t use discipline and money management… that can be career suicide.”

The plan at one point was to turn the project into a reality TV show, but when that fell through, Eberly decided to proceed on his own.

He purchased his first HD camera after cashing a superfecta bet at Churchill Downs while still working for TVG. He made 50-some trips to Vegas from his home in Los Angeles on his off days. In all, he said he filmed over 1,400 hours of footage, starting in March 2010 and continuing, on and off, through 2015.

Alan “Boston” Dvorkis, a college-basketball betting junkie, is the most complicated character in the 116-minute documentary. Boston rarely leaves home, loves his dog but seemingly nothing else, and is in the process of trying to figure out why he’s chosen this path in life.

Alan “Dink” Denkenson comes off as a much more likeable character, but it’s clear his profession has put his family life on “a rollercoaster ride,” admitted his wife, Gayle.

Dink and Gayle, by the way, were portrayed by Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the 2013 movie, “Lay the Favorite.”

Lem Banker, now approaching age 90, shares the tales that have led some to consider him the godfather of sports bettors in Vegas. But even Banker went through his rough stretches, including having his safe robbed by a relative.

The real darkness of the story, though, came through Eberly’s meeting with Ken “The Shrink” Weitzner. The Shrink, you may recall, was the founder of two popular websites, The Prescription and Eye on Gaming, both geared toward sports-gambling enthusiasts. He also co-hosted a podcast called “Winning Wednesdays.”

About three weeks after Eberly filmed him betting March Madness in 2010, The Shrink and his wife committed a double suicide at their home in Virginia. Massive gambling debts apparently led to their downfall.

“I was shocked,” Eberly said. “I had no idea. I don’t think many people did.”

Eberly had gotten to know The Shrink through numerous telephone conversations in prior months, but that one weekend was the only time they’d met in person.

It was an extraordinarily sad beginning to Eberly’s project, which he ended up putting on hold for over a year.

In the end, Eberly faced another awkward dilemma: “How do I construct this film when I have one person which I shot for 40 minutes over two days and everybody else I have 300 to 400 to 500 hours?”

He eventually figured it out and put together a film that undoubtedly will appeal to anyone intrigued by behind-the-scenes glimpses, for better or worse, into the life of professional gambling.

Asked how he gained the trust of his main characters to let him into their world, Eberly said, “I’m an Iowa boy. I try to be honest and upfront. I think what really started to help was I didn’t have a film crew.”

He was basically a one-man show. Producer, director, you name the title.

How it turns out financially remains to be seen.

“I wouldn’t have pushed the chips to the center of the table if I did not believe in this film,” Eberly said. “The irony is that this is definitely my biggest gamble.”

Dave Dye is a former sportswriter for the Detroit News and FoxSportsDetroit.com. He has covered six Stanley Cup Finals, five Final Fours, three NBA Finals, three Rose Bowls and one World Series. Email: DaveDye@GamingToday.com.