Despite the concerns that some lawmakers have in regards to gambling addiction, House Bill 1 passed on a vote of 58-37 in Tennessee, legalizing online sports gambling. The legislation, which was sponsored by Representative Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) passed without a provision that would permit sports betting in brick-and-mortar establishments. Staples had to vigorously defend his bill against heavy criticism especially after it was overhauled. It was also approved this week in the Senate Finance committee meeting and will now go to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
If this bill is passed by both chambers and then signed by the Governor, it would make the Volunteer State the first state with just mobile sports betting and no physical betting locations. While Tennessee has no casinos, original wording looked at having 50 retail locations spread over the state in addition to the mobile betting options.
The state lottery will regulate mobile sports betting platforms. The state would tax sports gambling at 22.5% and is anticipating around $150 million a year in taxable revenues. Tennessee’s sports betting market should involve an estimated $3 billion per year.
In November, voters elected Republican Governor Bill Lee, who is against sports betting. In the final debate before the election, Lee discussed the topic and said he’d work to make sure the legislature didn’t approve the sports gambling bill. In fact, he feels that legal gambling leads to organized crime, and he doesn’t want that for Tennessee. However, the Governor has also said that he will sign a bill if the legislation makes it to his desk. After that statement, he added that he might be open to gambling if there was “local decision making.”
Despite an earlier version calling for local government approvals, those provisions were removed during the committee process, which might make it harder for the Governor to throw in his support, although having the state lottery oversee the activity might help Lee to sign his name. Any support the bill collects in the upcoming weeks might sway Governor Lee’s favor so we will have to see what comes next.
With that said, there are still plenty of legislators holding out hope that the Governor vetoes the bill. One such lawmaker is Rep. Jerry Sexton who publicly stated:
“I hope to God that Gov. Bill Lee will veto this bill if it does pass.”
Sexton went on to criticize this bill and the possibility of its passing by ridiculing the idea of legalized gambling in the state and bellowing that the government is supposed to protect the people:
“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.”
The current legislative session ends on May 15th, which means that Senate members will have fewer than 30 days to pass the bill. If the Senate makes any changes to the bill before passing it, the House would need to again sign off on any changes. At this point the Senate seems more open to the idea of legal sports betting than the House, so it is likely that it will end up on the Governor’s desk before the end of this session.
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