Is legal sports betting about to make its way to Tennessee? We’re may soon find out.
Republican Governor Bill Lee has said that he morally opposes legalized gambling, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats and Republicans in Tennessee from filing legislation this session that would legalize sports betting.
One bill, HB0001, which was introduced by Representative Rick Staples (D-Knoxville), includes a 10 percent tax on gaming revenue. 40 percent of that revenue goes to the state’s general fund.
Other features include money towards community colleges and education projects, as well as establishing the Tennessee Gaming Commission to regulate sports betting.
State Representative Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) seems to think that there is a “tough road ahead at this point” in regards to the bill passing. On the other hand, State Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) thinks that the bill “has a good chance of passing”.
The state’s Fiscal Review Committee expects the bill would have a multi-million dollar economic impact. The committee also assumes that there will be at least 50 sports betting licenses initially issued. License holders would pay a modest nonrefundable annual fee of $7,500.
The bill’s fiscal impact statement says,
this Act will result in additional jobs and consumption expenditures within the economy, both ultimately resulting in a recurring increase in sales tax revenue collected by state and local government.
The bill will restrict sports gaming to people 21 years or older, which according to the state would make nearly five million people eligible to participate. If the bill were to pass, it would take effect on July 1.
However, a Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion issued this past December pointed out that the state constitution prohibits the General Assembly from authorizing any form of sports betting that constitutes a lottery.
If skill is the dominant factor in determining the outcome of the contest, the General Assembly may legalize the contest solely through legislative action without a constitutional amendment
Other bills have been filed by lawmakers from Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis. Officials in Memphis have been particularly interested in legalizing sports betting, which is legal nearby at casinos in Tunica, Mississippi.
Cities with a population of 167,000 or larger could opt to hold a referendum to allow sports betting.
Dickerson believes that thousands of people, if not more, across the state “are actively engaged in some form of online betting.”
The state would collect a 10 percent state privilege tax from sports betting operators, revenue that would be earmarked for pre-K through 12th-grade education. Municipalities also have the option to enact a 2 percent privilege tax.
The bills would create a state sports wagering commission that would be housed in the Department of Tourism and would oversee the sports betting operators in Tennessee.
Among the duties of the commission would be to administer a gambling addiction treatment program, as well as a dispute resolution service for complaints against operators.
What I’m committed to is that it be a level and open playing field, I will not propose any bill or bring a bill to vote that favours one vendor over another
Months before Staples joined Dickerson in introducing legislation, he filed the very first bill in the House for the session, before the election, which also dealt with sports betting.
Sponsored in the Senate by Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), the bill is somewhat similar to the one backed by Dickerson.
One major difference is what the 10 percent state privilege tax collected would fund. In this case, it would be divided between the state general fund, Tennessee colleges and community colleges for capital projects, and local government to use for education and infrastructure.
Sports betting in the state is expected to generate another $5.9 million for the state’s general fund each year, along with $4.5 million a year for the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Two other bills filed, HB1033 by Representative Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) and SB1057 by Dickerson, would make office pools for March Madness, which according to Dickerson “technically they may be illegal” in Tennessee, legal. Called the “March Madness and Fantasy Football Freedom Act” the legislation permits pools with entry fees costing no more than $25 and that does not exceed $1,000 for the total pool. The pools must be managed by an individual and not by a business.
Two other Republican lawmakers are taking a different approach to legal sports betting by filing legislation ordering the state to further study the impact that it would have.
HB1012 and SB1463 would require the secretary of state and state comptroller to conduct a study of the economic impacts of sports gambling if legalized in Tennessee, including examining other states where sports betting is legal.