Legislation to Legalize Sports Gambling in the Works in Tennessee

Democratic Congressman Rick Staples has pre-filed a bill in Tennessee which, if approved, would legalize sports gambling in the state in 2019. The bill, HB 0001, would lay the ground work for the establishment of the Tennessee Gaming Commission to regulate sports betting. If passed, HB 0001 will give the Tennessee Gaming Commission the power to work with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in order to enforce gaming related regulations.

Of note, the proposed bill would levy a 10% tax on gaming revenue in the state. The tax would be distributed as follows: 40% to the general state fund for appropriations; 30% to select public Tennessee; and the remaining 30% to local governments.

The pre-filing of HB 0001 is an important first step in legalizing sports gambling in Tennessee. While there is certainly grounds for optimism in the state ahead of the bill – there are still significant obstacles that must be cleared in order for the dream of legalized sports betting in the Tennessee to become a reality.

First, starting next year, lawmakers in the state must review, debate and then ultimately approve the bill. Second, the bill will have to be approved by a majority of the Republican controlled state House of Representatives and then the state Senate. Finally, the bill would then need to be signed into law by newly elected governor Bill Lee. Unfortunately, Bill Lee’s campaign position was stanchly against allowing gambling in the state.

Hopefully, lawmakers in Tennessee will look at the monetary success in nearby Mississippi as a rationale for approving HB 0001. Of note, it is estimated that approximately 10% of Mississippi’s casino revenues come from Tennessee citizens. There is certainly a large market for in-state gambling in Tennessee. However, Tennessee has a deep history for politically and culturally opposing gambling – so democratic lawmakers, like Rick Staples, have their work cut out for them in 2019.

The good news is that the 6,000 word bill proposing sports gambling in the state has been pre-filed and it will begin its journey from bill to law early in 2019. The wording of the bill is such that it would make Tennessee competitive with other states that allow sports betting. The main issue will be whether or not the Republican controlled elected officials will break the trend of opposing gambling related initiatives in the state and region. Only time will tell – but the wheels are in motion and hopefully the recent legalization of gambling in states like Arkansas last week will arm Democratic leaders in the state with the ammunition they need to show the positive monetary effects that HB 0001 will provide to Tennessee.