A Tennessee lawmaker has introduced sports betting legislation ahead of the state’s 2019 legislative session, a key first step for a potentially radical change to the state’s gambling landscape.
Knox County-area Rep. Rick Staples prefilled HB 0001 earlier this week, introducing a sports betting legalization bill for the state House of Representatives ahead of 2019 session. There are numbers obstacles the legislation needs to clear in the Tennessee General Assembly before it becomes law, but the early action nevertheless puts a sports betting bill before lawmakers for the first time since the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban earlier this year.
The parameters of the bill have also excited gambling supporters.
Staples’ initial submission includes a 10 percent tax on gambling revenue, a figure that keeps it in line with other operational markets like Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi and West Virginia. Exorbitant rates, such as the 36 percent rate in Pennsylvania, have delayed market implementation in other states.
HB 0001 also includes mobile wagering provisions, a key asset that greatly expands the market’s potential. New Jersey, which along with Nevada is one of only two states with legal mobile wagering, sees the majority of its bets placed online. This is of extra importance in Tennessee, which has no casinos that would serve as logical locals to take bets.
Taxation and availability will assuredly face scrutiny as other lawmakers consider the bill, but the initial draft provides a steady foundation to make Tennessee’s nascent sports betting market competitive with most others in the country.
The introduction is far from an assurance that the bill will pass.
HB 0001 will be referred to a committee, where a group of lawmakers will then debate and assuredly alter the nearly 6,000-word piece of legislation. The bill introduced by Staples, a Democrat, would then need approval from the majority of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Afterward, the majority of the Republican-controlled state Senate would need to approve the same bill. Assuming both chambers can reconcile and approve a bill, it would then need to be signed into law by incoming governor Bill Lee, who publicly spoke out against gambling while on the campaign trail.
The inherent legislative obstacles of any bill make passage a longshot to begin with. Tennessee also has a deep-rooted cultural and political opposition to any gambling. Conservative politicians, which are typically more gambling averse, have dominated state politics for several decades and maintained control of both houses of the legislature as well as the governor’s mansion after the 2018 midterm elections.
However, that hasn’t stopped bipartisan cooperation on gambling measures in other states, including multiple states along Tennessee’s border.
The shifting gambling infrastructure around Tennessee may force lawmakers to act, even if they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Mississippi, one of the nation’s largest gambling market for more than 20 years, was among the first group of states with legal sports betting, upping the ante of gambling expansion in the nation, and the southeast.
Partially as a means to keep up with Mississippi’s market, Louisiana has considered sports betting legalization as part of a broader trend toward gambling expansion. In Arkansas, voters approved a ballot measure that opened up to four facilities for casino gambling and legalized them to take sports bets.
Similar movement has occurred to Tennessee’s north. A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers in Kentucky have championed a sports betting bill for the Bluegrass State. Even Virginia, long skeptical of any gambling measure, has aggressively pursued multiple new gaming options in the past year.
That’s not to mention more than a dozen other states across the country that will take up similar bills when lawmakers return to their respective statehouses during the first few months of 2019.
Though it faces steep cultural and structural obstacles, new year HB 0001 is sure to at least spark a conversation unlike any ever heard in Nashville. This week’s pre-filling is a pivotal first step.