Tennessee Sports Betting Bill Passes House Vote

A bill to legalize mobile sports betting in Tennessee cleared an important hurdle yesterday after passing a full House vote. Numerous lawmakers opposed the bill on gambling addiction concerns, but those in favor had all the momentum and the bill passed on a vote of 58-37.

The Tennessee sports betting bill now goes to the Senate for debate and a vote. Lawmakers have previously told news outlets they believe the bill has strong support in both chambers. That proved true in the House at least, and now we wait to see what happens in the Senate.

Supporters of legalization frame their argument on the fact that sports betting already happens in TN through unauthorized bookies and offshore betting sites. Legalizing, they say, would only bring sports betting out of the shadows and into the light of regulatory oversight.

House Speaker Glen Casada said this in support of the bill:

“it’s something that is currently being done by an overwhelming number of citizens in the state, so at least this way there’s some regulation and some oversight into it, versus right now, it’s done without those things.”

Opponents of the measure expressed their distaste as well leading up to the vote. Representative Jerry Sexton used particularly alarming language to express his opposition:

“If they want to gamble, let them gamble. We don’t need to be getting in the gambling business. Why don’t we set up a casino right out here in the state lobby? Have some slot machines in it? Why don’t we just start gambling here? I thought state government was supposed to be for the people and watching out for them.”

A Look Inside the Bill

HB 0001 seeks to authorize mobile sports betting in Tennessee for people 21 or older and physically present within state lines. Lawmakers have already filed numerous amendments changing various aspects of the bill such as tax rates, licensing fees and more to an extent that it is difficult to determine what the final bill will say.

This is all subject to change, but here’s what we know so far:

  • Tennessee will have online/mobile betting only
  • Language authorizing in-person betting and kiosks has been stricken via amendment
  • Tax rate set at 20%
  • Operators required to rely on official league data for in-play betting
  • Operators must pay a nonrefundable licensing application of $50,000
  • Successful operators must pay an additional $700,000 licensing fee

Governor Lee on TN Sports Betting

If the bill passes a full Senate vote, it will be sent to Governor Bill Lee for his signature. Governor Lee has come out against any form of gambling expansion in Tennessee and could still derail the effort with a veto.

However, Governor Lee has made comments that seem to leave the door open to approval. Local media reported back in March that he may be working with sports betting supporters on ways to shape the bill more to his tastes. Since then, language authorizing sports betting at brick-and-mortar locations has been stripped from the bill to make this an online-only wagering proposal.

A spokesman for Governor Lee also said this in a statement to WRKN:

“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.”

Furthermore, not even a veto from the governor would guarantee the death of the bill. As the Times Free Press reported yesterday, legislators could override a veto with the same majority of votes that have approved this bill so far.