Tennessee Senate and House Committees Pass Sports Betting Bills

  • Tennessee traditionally has been conservative about gambling expansion
  • Sports betting legalization is improving the fortunes of many nearby states
  • Sports betting bills are progressing through the House and the Senate
  • Time is running out as the current legislative session ends in mid May
Two sports betting bills in Tennessee are progressing through the House and Senate committees.
Two sports betting bills in Tennessee are progressing through the House and Senate committees, but may face opposition in the General Assembly.

Progress towards legal sports betting

Tennessee traditionally has been very conservative on the matter of gambling. However, neighboring states are seeing great success from expanding their gambling laws. Lucrative tax revenues are up for grabs and Tennessee now wants in on the action.

Talk about a potential sports betting bill originated ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections. Knox County Democrat Representative, Rick Staples was main lawmaker pushing for this bill.

This original bill specified a 10% tax for sports betting revenues, with a monthly tax payment being made to the state government from the sportsbook operators. Upon approval of the original bill, it would give each local community the ability to make sports betting legal in their jurisdiction.

This meant that it would be up to the “local communities to then petition their local government with at least 10% of voters calling for a vote on legalizing betting in their area.”

Staples was outspoken in his support of legal sports betting. He went on record saying:

“Billions of dollars leave the state of Tennessee to our neighboring states with casino and table gambling. So this is a new stream of revenue that the federal government is allowing the states to take advantage of.”

A lot of the proceeds of the tax revenues would go towards funding education programs.

Bill amendments

Governor Bill Lee was one of the main people standing in the way of legal sports betting. He has historically spoken out against gambling expansion. In advance of the midterms, he said that if he got elected he would do everything in his power to stop the approval of new pro-gambling laws.

He believes that there is a strong correlation between gambling and crime. He said: “Organized betting frequently develops into organized crime that we don’t need in our state.”

However, his stance on the subject has been softening. He is now looking to be part of the team that makes amendments to the bill. According to the WKRN Tennessee news outlet:

“Governor Lee continues to believe that gambling expansion is not in the best interest of our state. The Lee administration will often work with lawmakers to improve a bill that impacts the state’s economic and social health, even if it’s not something we plan to support.”

However, there are no official reports that he has been playing a role in amending any sports betting bill.

With the current legislative session ending in mid-May, many lawmakers will want to push this amended bill through quickly .

Bills voted through

Sports betting legalization bills with these amendments have made progress through both  Senate and House committees. The Senate state and local government committee gave approval to online sports betting following a vote of 7-2. This bill now goes to a vote in the Senate finance committee.

The House state and local government committee approved a companion bill. The result of the vote was 12-5 in favor of progressing the bill. It now goes into the House Government Operations Committee.

There was approval to allocate 5% of sports betting tax revenues to fund problem gambling programs.

These bills are only calling for legal online sports betting. They would not permit retail sports betting, or college prop bets. Estimates suggest legal sports betting could be worth $150m each year in the state.

There is still a debate over tax rates for sports betting. Most experts believe that these bills will not progress further, as the main opposition to legal sports betting is in the General Assembly.

Most opponents cite moral and societal reasons. The two houses also are in the control of the Republicans, who traditionally have been against gambling expansion. If both bills do manage to find their way onto the floor, they will have to then be consolidated to create a single bill.

This single bill would then have to get re-approval from the two respective houses. The final step before the bill becomes law would be for Governor Lee to add his signature to sign it into law.

Two sports betting bills in Tennessee are progressing through the House and Senate committees, but may face opposition in the General Assembly. The current legislative session ends in mid-May.