During the closing days of the recently adjourned 2019 legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers approved a measure allowing online-gaming providers to begin legally offering internet-based sports betting in the state.
The bill initially passed the House on a vote of 58-37 and cleared the Senate 19-12. The Senate’s version was later adopted by the House, 51-40.
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Memphis Rep. Rick Staples, a Democrat, the online-only gaming legislation garnered support across party lines.
Proponents of the initiative project that legally-sanctioned internet-based sports betting in Tennessee could, as a result of taxes and licensing fees, increase state and local revenues by more than $50 million annually.
Staples said at least ten gaming companies have already committed to doing business in Tennessee should the measure become law.
Opposition in both chambers came mostly from majority-party Republicans, but didn’t rise to the level necessary to kill the legislation. They argued that the predicted financial windfalls to the state are exaggerated, and that the drawbacks — in particular, more Tennesseans becoming gambling addicts and squandering family resources — would prove significant.
House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, voted in favor of legalizing online sports-betting, while Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, voted against it.
Most state lawmakers whose districts encompass the Upper Cumberland region voted against the measure, including GOP Senators Mark Pody of Lebanon, Paul Bailey of Sparta and Janice Bolwing of Tullahoma.
House Republicans Ryan Williams of Cookeville and Cameron Sexton of Crossville voted in favor of the bill.
Gov. Bill Lee has expressed personal opposition to gambling and said he won’t sign the bill — but he doesn’t plan to veto it either.
“The governor has said he does not believe that the expansion of gambling is best, but he recognizes that many in the legislature found this to be an issue they want to explore further,” a spokeswoman for Lee said. “He plans to let this become law without signature.”
In Tennessee, the General Assembly can override a gubernatorial veto with simple majorities in both chambers.
Other states seriously considering legislation to legalize sports betting this year include Iowa, Montana, Louisiana, Illinois and Indiana. Sports betting is already allowed in Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
The Tennessee legislation prohibits online betting across state lines or by people under 21.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law strictly limiting state-level gambling, thus paving the way for legislatures to approve gaming.