Tennessee Gambling Guide

Tennessee is one of the toughest states on gambling, both in terms of laws
and options.

They have no commercial casinos, tribal casinos, or racinos in the state. The
Volunteer State doesn’t even allow social gaming, and isn’t afraid to bust home
poker games.

As you might’ve guessed, Tennessee doesn’t have legal online gambling either.
But their state is flooded with a wide range of offshore gaming sites.

Let’s discuss why this is the case as we cover their gambling laws.

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Online Gambling and Tennessee Law

Tennessee doesn’t address internet gambling in its criminal code. This puts
the Volunteer State in a grey area that’s served by many different offshore
operators.

But this doesn’t mean that iGaming is legal in the state, either. Let’s get
to the heart of the matter by looking at Tennessee’s gambling laws.

Is Online Gambling Legal in Tennessee?

No, but it’s not explicitly illegal either.

Tennessee includes no mentions of “online,” “internet,” or “computer” in
their criminal code.

But they do have broad definitions of what constitutes illegal gambling.
Therefore, it’s illegal to offer iGaming to Tennessee residents.

Code 39-17-504 discusses Aggravated Gambling Promotion with the following
points:

(a) “A person commits an
offense who knowingly invests in, finances, owns, controls, supervises, manages
or participates in a gambling enterprise.”

(b) “For purposes of this
section, “gambling enterprise” means two (2) or more persons regularly engaged
in gambling promotion as defined in § 39-17-503.”

The penalty for violating this law is a Class E felony.

Statue 39-17-504 makes it clear that they don’t allow unapproved gambling
businesses in their state. Given that Tennessee has never approved iGaming
sites, these companies are violating the law.

But the Volunteer State has never gone after online gambling sites, which is
why offshore businesses still serve their state.

Can I Get Arrested for Gambling Online in Tennessee?

It’s very unlikely. But you should still be aware of the laws.

The Tennessee Constitution discusses unapproved gambling in code 39-17-501
(1):

“… means risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree
contingent on chance, or any games of chance associated with casinos, including,
but not limited to, slot machines, roulette wheels and the like.”

The only exceptions to this law include the following:

  • Business transactions.
  • Approved charity gaming.
  • State lottery.
  • Daily fantasy sports.

Online sports-betting, poker, and casino games aren’t exempt from illegal
gambling. This means that it’s technically illegal to gamble online in
Tennessee.

But the chances of you being arrested for this crime are nearly zero percent.

Like almost every other state, Tennessee has never arrested someone for
internet gambling. If they haven’t done so in the 2-plus decades of iGaming’s
existence, they probably won’t do so any time soon.

Even if you were busted for unlawful gaming, the penalty is a low-grade
misdemeanor punishable by a $50 fine.

Are Offshore Gaming Sites Safe?

The answer depends upon the site.

We can’t offer a definitive yes, because offshore gaming sites aren’t based
in America. Therefore, they don’t adhere to American laws or licensing
requirements.

This means that an offshore site could technically fold up overnight without
repaying players’ deposit money.

Obviously, this is the nightmare scenario. But the good news is that most
iGaming sites are reputable operations that value repeat business.

Chances are good that you’ll be depositing with a solid site. However, you
should pay careful attention to the next question that we address.

How Do I Choose the Best Offshore Gaming Sites?

The number one thing you should do is read several reviews on a prospective
iGaming site. Reviews cover several important aspects in one place.

If you really want an in-depth opinion, you should also visit the site
directly. Below are some important points you need to address through your visit
and/or reading reviews:

  • Longevity
  • If an offshore
    gaming site has been in business for a while, there’s a good chance that they
    serve customers well and process withdrawals in a timely manner.

  • Reputation
  • Many reviews
    will discuss an offshore gaming company’s reputation, including whether or not
    they have any serious complaints.

  • Welcome Bonus & Promotions
  • Everybody loves earning free cash when playing online casino and poker games.
    This makes welcome bonuses and promotions key to earning money on the side.

  • Bonus Terms & Condition
  • Bonuses are always better when they offer light wagering requirements. The
    industry norm for online casino bonuses is wagering 20x the bonus + deposit
    amount before a cash out.

  • Game Variety
  • Games/lines are the key reason why people visit online casinos, poker sites, and
    sportsbooks. Make sure that any site you choose has a nice variety.

  • Banking Options
  • If you
    want to enjoy real-money gaming, you need to be able to deposit. This is why you
    should ensure that any prospective gaming site has a deposit option you can use.

Also On This Page

More Gambling Laws in Tennessee

  • Casino Games (Illegal)
  • Sports Betting (Illegal)
  • Poker (Illegal)
  • Racing Betting (Legal)
  • Lottery (Legal)
  • Bingo (Legal)
  • Charitable Gaming (Legal)
  • Social Gambling (Illegal)

Casinos: Illegal


One thing that the Volunteer State isn’t volunteering to do any time soon is
legalize casinos. They have no commercial or tribal casinos, and there aren’t
immediate plans to change this, either.

Tennessee gamblers who want to enjoy casinos must cross state lines.

Tunica, Mississippi, is a popular gambling destination for Tennesseans,
because it’s 30 miles from Memphis. Over 30% of those who are visiting Tunica
casinos come from Tennessee.

Robinsonville, Mississippi, is another casino town that attracts Volunteer
State residents. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in North Carolina is popular among
gamblers from Western Tennessee.

Lawmakers will have to consider casino gaming at some point. After all,
Tennessee is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue to bordering states.

In addition to keeping tax dollars in state, Tennessee would benefit from
creating more jobs and boosting local businesses with increased tourism.

Charitable Gambling: Legal


Up until 2010, charity gaming was one of several forms of outlawed gambling
in the state.

But this changed when several Tennessee cities were stricken with flooding.
The eastern part of the state also suffered multiple tornadoes that destroyed
towns during the same year.

Looking for ways to help repair the flooding and tornado damage, the State
Legislature voted to legalize charitable gambling.

The Tennessee Charitable Gaming Implementation Law lets licensed charities
run one gambling event every year. Eligible games include cakewalks, cake
wheels, and raffles.

In most states, a government agency reviews and approves charity gambling
applications. But Tennessee is unique in that their General Assembly authorizes
charities by a two thirds vote.

The Volunteer State places tough restrictions on where charitable groups can
hold gambling functions. They also have a strange law where the same location
can only host two gaming functions per month.

Despite these restrictions, charitable gambling has been very successful in
helping raise funds for the state. This is in large part due to the lack of
available gambling options.

Daily Fantasy Sports: Legal


One of the strangest things regarding Tennessee’s gaming market is how
quickly they embraced daily fantasy sports (DFS).

The State Legislature passed a DFS bill in April, then Governor Bill Haslam
signed it into effect on April 28. This made Tennessee the third state to
legalize daily fantasy, preceded only by Indiana and Virginia.

The common theme throughout this discussion is that Tennessee has a tough
view on gambling. But they totally broke character in pushing for regulated DFS
before most other states.

Making things even more improbable is that Tennessee Attorney General Herbert
Slatery said that he believes DFS is illegal. This makes the Volunteer State the
first to legalize the activity when their attorney general advised otherwise.

Lottery: Legal


Legalized in 2002, the Tennessee Lottery became the state’s first legal form
of gambling since pari-mutuel betting.

The lottery officially launched in 2003, and has become one of the most
successful per capita lotteries in the US. The state has 6.6 million residents,
and they sell $1.5 billion in annual lottery tickets.

Available games from the Tennessee Lottery include: Cash 3, Cash 4, Cash For
Life, Hot Lotto Sizzler, Mega Millions, Powerball, Tennessee Cash, and scratch
offs.

Poker: Illegal


Just like casinos, the poker landscape is also barren in Tennessee. If you
want to play live poker, then you’ll need to cross state lines.

Going back to code 39-17-501 (1), Tennessee’s definition of gambling doesn’t
make any exceptions for skill games. This means that people aren’t even supposed
to hold home-based poker games.

Considering Tennessee’s stance on poker, it’s strange to think that 2003 WSOP
Main Event champion Chris Moneymaker hails from Nashville.

Moneymaker won a $10,000 seat to the 2013 Main Event through a $39 online
satellite. The then-accountant battled through an 839 player field to win the
tournament and $2.5 million.

Moneymaker’s victory started a large marketing campaign that showed that
anybody can win big in poker. And this was one of several factors that
contributed to the Poker Boom in the mid 2000s.

Apparently, the State Legislature isn’t impressed by the story, because
they’ve yet to make any serious efforts towards legalizing live or internet
poker.

Racing: Legal


Tennessee has live pari-mutuel betting and simulcast wagering.

One two counties allow live pari-mutuel wagering, but they don’t have a
racetrack. This means that simulcast betting is the only way to bet on horse
racing.

Social Gambling: Illegal


The Volunteer State doesn’t make an exception for social gambling; therefore,
it’s illegal. Tennessee enforces these laws, too, especially when there are
other illegal activities surrounding a gambling function.

One example involves a

2012 poker game in Chattanooga
, where 39 players were cited for illegal
gambling and possession of an illegal gambling device (chips/cards).

Two people were also arrested for hosting the game. Police seized cash,
marijuana, and prescription pills during the bust.

As the 39 cited players show, it’s not lawful to play in home poker games.
But chances are that your social gambling function won’t be busted if it meets
these standards:

  • No host taking rake (poker) or imposing a house edge.
  • No host selling food and alcohol for a profit.
  • No illegal drugs or guns on the property.
  • No high stakes.
  • No people bragging about the game to outsiders.

We’re not saying that your home game will be 100% safe if you follow these
conditions. But chances are that police won’t be raiding a low stakes poker game
that’s purely for fun.

Gambling Venues in Tennessee

As covered before, Tennessee doesn’t offer a single poker room or casino.
This makes the Volunteer State one of the worst places for a serious gambler to
live.

If you want to play live casino games and/or poker, you’ll have to cross
state lines. Here are a few casinos that are near Tennessee’s borders.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

777 Casino Dr,

Cherokee, NC 28719

Hollywood Casino &Hotel

1150 Casino Strip Resort Blvd,

Robinsonville, MS 38664

Resorts Casino Tunica Resorts

1100 Casino Strip Resort Blvd,

Robinsonville, MS 38664

Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall

1477 Casino Strip Resort Blvd,

Robinsonville, MS 38664

History of Gambling in Tennessee

The Volunteer State’s recorded gambling history begins in 1804, when the
first racetrack in the state opened. Horse racing proved to be very popular,
with 10 tracks springing up by the late 1830s.

After the turn of the twentieth century, the State Assembly banned all forms
of gambling, which crippled the racing industry for years.

Tennessee’s early gambling history shows that they’ve never been friendly
towards the activity. In fact, they only allowed charity gaming in 2010 as part
of efforts to help flood victims.

We’re surprised that lawmakers were so quick to legalize fantasy sports,
doing so in April 2016. Unfortunately, they haven’t made any legislative efforts
towards regulating other forms of online gambling.

1804

Horseracing begins at Tennessee’s Gallatin.

1839

Tennessee’s horseracing popularity produces 10 racetracks.

1906

State General Assembly passes anti-gambling law.

1989

Government closes hundreds of illegal bingo halls.

2002

Voters approve state lottery by a wide margin.

2003

Accountant and Tennessee native Chris Moneymaker wins in 2003.

2011

State Legislature approves limited charity gambling to help with flood relief.

2015

Tennessee Lottery breaks record with $1.48 billion in ticket sales.

2016

State legalizes daily fantasy sports.

Tennessee FAQs

Why Hasn’t Tennessee Legalized Online Gambling?

Tennessee only has three forms of legal gaming:

  • Charitable
  • Lottery
  • Pari-mutuel

The lottery is the only one of these options that’s offered in full capacity.

Charitable gaming only includes cakewalks, cake wheels, and raffles. And the
pari-mutuel betting boils down to two counties without a track and simulcast
wagering.

Considering this, it’s no wonder why Tennessee hasn’t regulated online
gambling yet.

This is one of the staunchest states when it comes to gaming. And if it
weren’t for heavy flooding and tornadoes in 2010, Tennessee wouldn’t even have
charitable gambling.

Besides their anti gambling stance, the Volunteer State hasn’t legalized
iGaming because they don’t have commercial casinos. So far, no state that
doesn’t also have a commercial casino industry has regulated online gambling .

One more holdup is that none of Tennessee’s neighbors have legalized internet
gambling.

Ever since Delaware and New Jersey regulated iGaming, they’ve sparked
conversations in neighboring Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Tennessee doesn’t have this because they border several Deep South states
that don’t care about iGaming either.

When will Tennessee legalize online gambling?

Commercial casinos are the first thing that needs to happen. But the problem
is that Tennessee seems miles away from ever legalizing casinos.

Earlier, we discussed how the Volunteer State will inevitably look at casino
gambling to keep tax dollars in state. But we’re surprised that they haven’t
already begun examining the issue.

Tennessee hasn’t had a single serious legislative effort towards legalizing
brick-and-mortar casinos.

Once this happens, it may take several years for a bill to pass. If
legislation passes, then it’ll take a few more years for casinos to be built.

Looking at everything, Tennessee is at least 8 to 10 years away from
seriously considering online gambling.

Why does Tennessee allow online casinos?

Tennessee doesn’t allow internet gaming sites – they merely tolerate them.

Few states have taken legal action against offshore gaming companies because
this is a big task.

Most offshore sites are located thousands of miles away in destinations like
Antigua, Costa Rica, Curacao, and Panama. This makes it harder to prosecute
operators than if they were located within the US.

The only states we’ve seen take serious action against offshore gaming sites
include Kentucky, Maryland, and New York.

Out of these, New York had the only successful case (United
States v. Scheinberg
), because it was backed by the US Department of
Justice.

Tennessee doesn’t care enough about offshore operators to risk a difficult
and unsuccessful case.

Why wasn’t Chris Moneymaker arrested for playing online poker?

This is an old question that we received a couple times during the height of
the Poker Boom.

As covered before, Tennessee’s criminal code makes it illegal to place
unauthorized bets. Considering that only charitable, lottery, and pari-mutuel
betting are legal, this makes most gambling illegal in Tennessee.

Chris Moneymaker essentially broke the law when he was playing online poker
satellites. Then, after winning the 2003 WSOP Main Event, he became one of the
most famous gamblers in modern history.

If Tennessee wanted to make a high profile example out of somebody, they
could’ve cited Moneymaker. But we believe that there are three reasons why this
didn’t happen:

  • Tennessee has never arrested anybody
    for internet gambling.
  • The state largely ignores iGaming –
    including both operators and players.
  • Arresting Moneymaker would send a bad
    message about personal freedoms.

Above all, we haven’t seen a single state bust somebody for playing online
poker. And it appears that Tennessee didn’t want to set this trend with
Moneymaker.

Can I gamble on my smartphone in Tennessee?

You’re not legally allowed, but we highly doubt that you’ll be cited.

Code 39-17-505 (2)(c) states the following:

“Possession of a gambling device or record is a Class B misdemeanor.”

In the busted poker game we discussed before, players were cited for both
illegal gambling and possessing an illegal gambling device.

If chips and cards are viewed as illegal devices, Tennessee would view
smartphones the same way.

But again, the key is that the Volunteer State has never arrested anybody for
internet gambling. And we don’t see them arresting you for playing casino and
poker games on your smartphone, either.

Additional Resources

The Future & Your Views

Tennessee doesn’t have a favorable view of gambling, and this doesn’t look to
change any time soon.

The only form of gaming that the Volunteer State has embraced is the lottery.
And $1.5 billion in ticket sales show that Tennesseans have a thirst for
gambling.

But with no casinos, poker rooms, racetracks, or social gambling, the state
has very few options for their residents. The lack of casinos is especially
damning because this impacts legal iGaming.

This leaves Tennessee with the following barriers towards online gambling:

  • No casinos.
  • No politicians seeking casinos.
  • No neighboring states with legal internet gambling.
  • Anti-gambling attitude.

This isn’t to say that Tennessee will never regulate iGaming. After all, they
did show a progressive attitude towards legalizing daily fantasy sports.

But on the other hand, they’ve taken no serious legislative steps with legal
internet gambling.

The only good news is that the Volunteer State hasn’t taken action against
offshore operators or players. That means you can enjoy iGaming sites until the
State Legislature finally begins serious discussions on the matter.