Sports bettors in Tennessee celebrated legalization more than three months ago. Based on the slow start by state gaming regulators, however, it could be a while before they are able to start placing their first bets at Tennessee online sports betting sites.
The state General Assembly sent a hotly contested sports betting bill to Governor Bill Lee’s desk back on April 30. Despite his objections to any form of gambling expansion, Lee ultimately allowed Senate Bill 16 to become law without his signature on May 24.
From there, sanctioned sports wagering officially became the law of the land on July 1. The industry is currently limited to online-only operators in Tennessee, though, making it the first state to remove brick and mortar bet shops from the equation.
But while gaming regulators in Iowa are fast-tracking the rollout of regulated sports betting to beat the start of football season, gaming regulators in the Volunteer State appear content to take a more deliberative and delayed approach.
Under the terms of the Tennessee Sports Gaming Act, a nine-person “sports wagering advisory council” must be appointed to advise the board of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation (TELC).
As the agency tasked with drafting regulations for the newly created online sportsbook industry, TELC will rely on the advisory council to perform the following duties:
“Advise the board of best practices with respect to sports wagering, provide administrative and technical assistance to the corporation with respect to sports wagering, and carry out any other duties as prescribed by the board.”
The law grants selection powers to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the state House of Representatives, each of whom must appoint three qualified members.
Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally has appointed Brian Fazenbaker, a former FBI agent, and Knox County Chief Deputy District Attorney General Samuel Lee to the advisory council.
And despite resigning amidst a sexual harassment scandal two weeks ago, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-63) used his final days in office to appoint Knoxville lawyer John Valliant Jr. and lobbyist Thomas Lee.
As for Governor Lee, the Republican billionaire and staunch anti-gambling advocate has yet to appoint a single council member.
In a letter to Casada sent to confirm he would allow sports betting regulation to become law, Lee didn’t mince words when expressing his distaste for legalized Tennessee online sports betting during his term:
“I do not believe the expansion of gambling through online sports betting is in the best interest of the state, but I appreciate the General Assembly’s efforts to remove brick and mortar locations. Compromise is a central part of governing, but I remain philosophically opposed to gambling and will not be lending my signature to support this cause.”
In a statement emailed to The Tennessean, Kym Gerlock – spokesperson for the state lottery – confirmed that no progress can be made toward formulating Tennessee online sports betting regulations until the advisory council is fully appointed:
“As required by the Tennessee Sports Gaming Act, the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation is working to create the necessary rules and processes required for online sports wagering. There is no timeline at this point, but we will post updates to our website as they are available.”
State representative Rick Staples – who originally sponsored the House bill which became the Spots Wagering Act – told The Tennessean that he trusts the state lottery to handle sports betting correctly despite the slow pace thus far:
“I just needed to create the statute to give them the base and parameters to work within. The lottery board has a history of doing things right, and they know what they’re doing.”
During a hearing of the General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee in April, lawmakers provided an estimate for bettors waiting to see Tennessee get in the game:
“Due to the effective date of this legislation, it is assumed that sports gaming will not commence and be available to bettors until January 1, 2020.”