Tennessee Sports Betting Vendor Applications Coming Soon

Tennessee Sports Betting Vendor Applications Coming Soon

Applications for Tennessee sports betting vendor licenses will be released later this month, an important step forward for the nascent industry. Board members of the Tennessee Education Lottery, which will regulate sports betting in the state, announced the opening of its licensing portal at its meeting Aug. 14.

The timeline for when Tennessee will take its first bet remains undetermined, but the board’s move this week lays out a key foundation point. Applicants will have three months to file for sports betting licenses before the board reconvenes at its next scheduled meeting in November. In a best-case scenario, the board could begin approving early applicants at that meeting.

That positions sports betting to launch early in 2020, assuming applicants pass further regulatory reviews and testing. Tennessee could become the first state in the nation with an online-only market, allowing eligible residents and visitors to place a bet from a mobile device anywhere within state lines.

It will also be the first without any restrictions on the number of operator gaming sites, or “skins.” Should Tennessee mirror other states with online gaming, a dozen or more skins could enter the market in the coming years, creating a diverse, competitive environment that industry observers believe will benefit consumers.

Though it will likely be at least six months until Tennessee takes its first bet, it’s still a comparatively rapid timeline for a state that seemed like it might never accept legal wagers just six months ago.

Sports Betting Continues Unexpected Progression

More than two dozen states considered sports betting legalization bills in 2019. Tennessee seemed to have the longest odds of any of them.

Tennessee remains one of the few jurisdictions in America without any casinos. Other gambling forms that grew in the past century, including horse racing, never gained traction in the Volunteer State. Its lone current noteworthy gaming form, the state lottery, was launched only in 2003, making Tennessee one of the last states in America to do so. Conservative religious and political beliefs still carry significant influence in state government, and newly elected Gov. Bill Lee is an outspoken gambling opponent.

Those systemic obstacles seemed too much for a sports betting bill, let alone one that allowed betting from anywhere within the state. But sports betting champions in both houses of the General Assembly steadily pushed the controversial proposal, centering their pitch around a gambling reality that even the most ardent adversaries couldn’t ignore.

The bills' sponsors presented regulated sports betting not as a form of gambling expansion but as a means to combat gambling that already existed. Billions of dollars are estimated to be wagered in Tennessee each year through illegal bookmakers or offshore betting sites. The state government, sponsors argued, could fight those markets through legalization, better protect customers who were betting already – and gain government tax revenue in the process.

Those appeals ultimately persuaded a skeptical legislature, which not only approved sports betting but gave it the mobile provisions that could allow it to fight the black market. Lee remained opposed, but an unusual Tennessee law that allows the legislature to override a veto with a simple majority, instead of the supermajority requirements in most other states, assured the legislation’s passage.

Moves Reach Beyond State Lines

It’s hard to understate this development’s significance in a state like Tennessee.

Even Mississippi, which had for decades broken with most of its Southern neighbors and actively pushed gambling expansion, couldn’t reach consensus on an online and mobile sports wagering bill.

States that only allow in-person betting have, not surprisingly, seen their revenue totals fall way beneath projections as bettors continue to turn to the convenience of mobile betting. New Jersey sports bettors place around 85 percent of their bets online, a figure that will likely replicate itself in other early online adaptors.

Meanwhile Tennessee could become just the 13th state to take a legal sports bet, and only the seventh to do so via a mobile device.

It is also arguably the most conservative state to pass a bill of that magnitude. North Carolina passed a bill this year to allow its two casinos to take in-person sports bets, but that will have a fraction of the impact as Tennessee’s bill. Mobile sports betting in Mississippi remains a long shot, and other southern neighbors like South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama remain staunchly opposed to sports betting (or gambling in any form).

Still, Tennessee’s move could trigger dominoes further from its state lines. More than a dozen states are expected to seriously consider sports betting bills in 2020. If Tennessee can pass a robust, mobile-friendly sports betting bill, it suffices to say others could do the same.

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