Sports betting is now legal in Tennessee. That news may come as a bit of a surprise to many onlookers as the Volunteer State has been anything but friendly regarding gambling issues.
The Supreme Court rocked the gaming world in May 2018 when it struck down a federal law banning sports betting. It paved the way for all 50 states to regulate their own rules around the industry.
In April 2019, this land-locked state in the U.S. South approved gambling on sports teams, including games involving the NHL's Nashville Predators, NFL's Tennessee Titans or NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.
Gov. Bill Lee accepted the sports betting bill and allowed it to become law but declined to sign it, saying he is “philosophically opposed to gambling and will not be lending my signature to support this cause.”
Still, the state's new sports betting law isn't without its restrictions. The Tennessee General Assembly passed the bill to legalize online sports betting only. It does not allow for brick-and-mortar sports books. Also, bettors need to be at least 21 years old and physically present in the state when making a wager.
Betting Laws in Tennessee
Almost seven million people live in the state of Tennessee, which is the cornerstone of country music with the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Nashville, which is located between Memphis and Knoxville, is the state capital and the largest city with a population of almost 700,000 residents.
Gambling laws in Tennessee — whether it's buying a scratch ticket in the state lottery or picking your team in Daily Fantasy Sports — is regulated at the state level.
All legalized gambling in Tennessee is limited to the following areas:
- Sports betting
- Pari-mutuel wagering
- Daily fantasy betting
- Charitable gambling
Players that are 18 years of age or older in Tennessee may enjoy most legal forms of gambling in the state. These include the state lottery, pari-mutuel wagering at off-track venues and online sites like Bovada, limited raffles, bingo for non-profit causes and daily or season-long fantasy sports.
A bettor must be 21 years or older to wager on sporting events in Tennessee.
There are no land-based commercial or tribal casinos in the state at all. Tennessee has no state gaming commission for slot machines and the like as the state constitution prohibits such games of chance. It's even illegal for collectors to own a used slot machine.
As the Tennessee Constitution prohibits gaming, and Tennessee having no federally-recognized American Indian tribes, there can be no state-tribal gaming compact.
Tennessee residents will have to travel to neighboring states like Mississippi if they want to play their favorite casino games. There are nine large gaming facilities in Tunica, which is southwest of Memphis. The other option is to join top-ranked online sites like Bovada, which offer casino games, poker and sports betting.
The state government banned horse racing gambling in 1905, but 82 years later in 1987 lawmakers approved the Racing Control Act, which legalized pari-mutuel wagering. Several racetracks were proposed, but they couldn't survive local resistance and none were built.
Legislators are trying to restore the horse racing commission once again, which hopefully will attract a developer to build a racetrack in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Lottery, which sold its first ticket in January 2004, was among the last states to legalize lottery games. Proceeds from the lottery are used to benefit the state's education system.
The lottery offers scratch tickets, daily draw games and multi-jurisdictional jackpot games like Powerball, Mega Millions and Hot Lotto.
Tennessee Sports Betting Laws
It may not be a tourist attraction like Graceland, Dollywood or the Great Smoky Mountains, but Tennessee has joined the list of states to legalize sports betting. The new law, passed in April 2019, allows residents and visitors to bet on their favorite teams online only, as casinos are still illegal in the Volunteer State.
The state is still creating specific licensing rules and sports wagering regulations, so state-sponsored online sports books might not be up and running until early 2020.
Tennessee is the first online-only law on the books in the country. Other states have passed laws that include statewide mobile gambling, but all work in tandem with a land-based gambling operation.
Tax revenue from the sports gambling industry is projected to bring in an estimated $50 million each year, which will be set aside for education, local government and gambling addiction treatment.
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Tennessee's Favorite Sports Teams
The Volunteer State is home to three professional sports teams and a number of large universities, including the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.
The Tennessee Titans, who relocated from Houston in 1997, play their NFL home games at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Titans have won one conference title, but lost the Super Bowl in 1999 to the St. Louis Rams.
The Memphis Grizzles, who relocated from Vancouver in 2001, are the only pro team in this southwestern Tennessee city. The Grizzlies have never won an NBA Final and were swept in their only appearance in a conference final in 2013.
The Nashville Predators, who were founded as an expansion team in 1998, have won one conference title (2017) and two division titles. They lost their only appearance in a Stanley Cup Final in six games.