It appears that the legalization of sports betting is something that may be up for discussion in the Tennessee legislature in 2019, as State Representative Rick Staples introduced HB 0001 in the House of Representatives last week, a bill which “authorizes sports betting in this state only in jurisdictions that approve sports betting by local option election.”

As that quote states, even if the bill passes, sports betting won’t necessarily be open to all Tennessee residents. Rather, each county would have to hold its own vote to permit licensees to operate within their jurisdiction.

A Few Details

Licensees would be taxed 10 percent on adjusted gross income. 40 percent of that would go to the state’s general fund and be subject to the legislature’s appropriations. 30 percent would also go to the general fund, but would be earmarked for “each Tennessee college of applied technology and community college.”

The remaining 30 percent goes to the general fund, but will then be distributed to the various local governments in Tennessee.

Rep. Staples’ bill would create a nine-member Tennessee gaming commission. The governor would appoint three of the members, the speaker of the house of representatives would appoint three members, and the speaker of the senate would appoint the final three.

Good Luck Getting the Bill Passed

Don’t count on the governor appointing anyone, though, as the governor is not likely to sign the bill even if it gets through the entire Tennessee legislature. In a gubernatorial debate, Republican candidate Bill Lee, who won overwhelmingly, 59.2 percent to 38.8 percent, answered a question comparing the state lottery to a potential sports betting industry:

“I think the lottery shows and has had the most negative effect on the lowest-income citizens in our state, and I think that would have the same effect with sports betting. That’s why I’ve been opposed to it,” Lee said.

As much as I am in favor of adults being allowed to place bets on sports, I can’t really argue with his reasoning in regards to the lottery.

Lee’s Democratic opponent, Karl Dean, was completely in favor of legalizing sports betting.

“Ultimately, we’re going to be there anyway if surrounding states are doing it,” Dean said, using neighboring state Mississippi as an example, as Mississippi has already legalized sports betting. As is always the case, residents of a state without gambling take some of their entertainment dollars to a nearby state that does have gambling.

Dean’s wanted to keep those dollars – and ultimately tax revenue – in the state, saying, “Memphis is going to need additional revenue to do what they need to do in schools.”

The Memphis reference is relevant because Memphis is right at the Mississippi border; many Memphians cross into Mississippi to gamble and with legalized sports betting in the southern neighbor, even more will in the future.

Dean noted that it would be up to Memphians to decide on sports betting, as the bill – as mentioned – would ultimately require local jurisdictions to decide for themselves if they want it.

Of course Dean is irrelevant to the issue at this point, as Lee will be the governor to sign the bill into law if it gets that far. Sports betting is gaining momentum around the country, so it should be interesting to see how much support the bill gets in the Tennessee legislature.

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