Tennessee is one of many states looking into the possibility of legalizing sports betting, but its new governor will have something to say about it.
Since the Supreme Court decision in May 2018 to end the federal ban on sports betting, many states have taken advantage of the change in the law.
Traditionally conservative states such as Mississippi and West Virginia are embracing this change and seeing decent results since legalizing sports betting in their states. Unsurprisingly, their neighbors are sitting up and taking notice.
Tennessee has long been against gambling, but there appears to be a new momentum in the state to push for legalization.
News broke before the midterm elections that a representative was preparing a draft sports betting bill for 2019. However, many people believe that the election of the new state governor, Bill Lee, will make legalization a tricky proposition.
The draft sports betting bill
Rick Staples, Democrat representative for Knox County, is drafting the new sports betting bill, which will be put in front of the legislature when the 2019 session begins. This gives politicians in the state sufficient time to look at the draft bill and to properly inform themselves about the issue.
The draft bill suggests a 10% state tax on sports betting revenues. This is a competitive tax rate in comparison with other states currently offering sports betting.
Having an excessive tax rate would act as a disincentive to operators to place many resources into their sportsbooks.
The draft bill calls for the introduction of mobile gambling. Since New Jersey launched legal sports betting, mobile sports betting has become more popular than placing bets at offline venues.
Lawmakers are often hesitant to embrace mobile gambling. It is easier for people to place bets this way and therefore could lead to an increase in problem gambling.
Discussion surrounding this bill has been largely positive in Tennessee, but there are a number of major hurdles to overcome.
Staples will be submitting the draft bill for consideration to a special committee, which will suggest any alterations to the bill as they see fit.
The next step will be to submit it to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. If it gains approval there, it will move onto the Republican-led state Senate for approval.
Traditionally, conservative politicians have been against expanding gambling. Certain states have seen success by taking a bipartisan approach to sports betting, which is hard to envisage in Tennessee.
Finally, if the Senate approves the bill, the new governor will have to sign it into law. While running for the governorship, Lee spoke out against gambling, which is not an optimistic sign for the bill.
Other states saw changes in the control of their Houses, but this was not the case for Tennessee following the midterms in November 2018.
Is legalizing in Tennessee realistic?
Governor Lee has been outspoken against gambling. During a campaign debate in October, he told listeners that he will be working closely with the Assembly to ensure that no pro-gambling legislation will get approval.
He believes there is a strong correlation between expansionary gambling laws and crime. He referenced this point during that October debate: “Organized betting frequently develops into organized crime that we don’t need in our state.”
Of course, the governor can have his opinions but ultimately Lee is a servant of the people of Tennessee. If the majority of the people are in favor of legalizing sports betting, it needs to be seriously considered.
Neighboring state Mississippi is already seeing great success with its sports betting offering; Tennessee officials will be looking at those tax revenues.
If Tennessee decides to remain outside of the sports betting sector, it will have to watch from the sidelines as other states add significantly to their coffers through gambling tax revenues.
Some of its other bordering states such as Kentucky, Virginia and Arkansas are currently seriously considering legalization themselves.
This would mean a lot of Tennessee residents will be crossing the borders into other states to get their sports betting fix. This is a trend that has already been seen in other states currently offering legal sportsbooks.