Sports Betting in Tennessee Moves Forward

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Legislation enabling mobile online gambling in Tennessee has passed a key House committee.

“We saw this as an opportunity for Beale Street to have people from the world coming and just thought it would be a great economic opportunity for us,” House Minority Leader Karen Camper said.

Gov. Bill Lee said that he remains opposed to expanding gambling in the state but added he will look at every bill that reaches his desk to decide whether he’ll sign it.

“We try to work with legislators to make a bill as palatable and as beneficial as it can be, but if we can’t get it to a point where we think it’s acceptable, then I won’t sign it. But this bill is moving and we’ll see where it ends up,” Lee said

Sponsored by state Rep. Rick Staples, a Knoxville Democrat, House Bill 1 took several meetings in the State Committee before it emerged on a voice vote and was referred to the Government Operations Committee, where rules will be considered.

Staples amended the bill early in the process to remove brick-and-mortar wagering establishments and turned it into an online gambling app in which 10 licenses would be issued through the Tennessee Lottery. Companies would pay a 20 percent privilege tax and a $750,000 fee to start doing business.

Camper, a prime co-sponsor of the legislation, is hoping this will be the first step for sports betting in Tennessee, considering Shelby County is losing millions in gambling revenue annually to Mississippi casinos and Arkansas wagering. Other lawmakers point out thousands of people gamble illegally already and Tennessee is collecting no revenue on an underground operation.

“I think once members see the benefit to us fiscally and the revenue it’s going to generate for our state, it may be another opportunity for compromise,” enabling wagering to expand to building locations, Camper said.