Will Tennessee take that bet?

Hank Hayes • Feb 18, 2019 at 8:30 AM

Is Tennessee ready to wager on sports betting?

We’re about to find out.

Legislation has been filed to authorize sports betting only in jurisdictions that approve it by a local option election.

The bill has a lot of moving parts.

It imposes a 10 percent tax on gaming revenue; distributes 40 percent of that revenue to the state’s general fund; gives money to community colleges for capital projects and local government for education projects; and establishes a Tennessee Gaming Commission to regulate sports betting.

The Republican-controlled legislature has begun its discovery of the bill.

“I think it has a tough road ahead at this point,” state Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, said of the bill. He chairs the House Commerce Committee.

State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said: “Have not heard major discussions. But I think it has a good chance of passing.”

State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, noted: “I really haven’t talked to enough reps to acquire a proper conclusion.”

The state’s Fiscal Review Committee expects the bill would have a multi-million dollar economic impact. The committee assumes there will be at least 50 sports betting licenses initially issued. License holders would pay a nonrefundable annual fee of $7,500.

“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,” says the bill’s fiscal impact statement.

The bill would also create a shift in money spent on lottery tickets to sports gaming, the committee pointed out.

“In addition, there will be an unknown increase in the number of food and beverage licenses and permits issued, respectively, by state and local governing bodies,” the committee added.

The bill restricts sports gaming to people 21 years old or older, and the state says there are nearly five million who would be eligible to play.

The issue of sports betting was opened up by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, and other states have been quick to act. Eight states are already operating some form of legal sports betting and 21 states introduced legislation on the topic last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion issued last December pointed out 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,” the opinion said.

If the bill passes, it would take effect July 1.