Bill Allowing Online Sports Betting Passes Tennessee House Committee

Posted on: April 10, 2019, 07:39h. 

Last updated on: April 10, 2019, 07:39h.

A bill that would legalize sports betting online in Tennessee advanced out of a legislative committee on Tuesday.

State Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) is the main sponsor of a bill in the Tennessee General Assembly that would legalize sports betting across the state. Rather than establish retail sportsbooks, the bill allows companies to establish online applications for bettors. (Image: Nashville Public Radio)

By a 12-5 vote, with one member abstaining, the General Assembly’s House State Committee approved House Bill 1. The proposal would allow Tennessee to become the first state in the U.S. to allow sports betting without establishing any retail sportsbooks.

The bill sponsored by state Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) has gone through several changes since it was filed earlier this session. Lawmakers made more on Tuesday.

In approving the bill, the committee made a number of changes to the bill. Most notably, the committee passed an amendment – at the behest of the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University – that would prohibit certain school officials and students from placing bets.

“It is an effort on those institutions to protect information, protect their athletes, protect the families of the athletes as this goes forward,” state Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) told the committee.

HB1 now moves to the House Government Operations Committee. No hearings have been set up for the bill in that committee yet.

Five Amendments Passed

Two weeks ago, the bill’s status seemed uncertain as the committee decided to move the proposal to the back of its calendar after several amendments were rejected. State lawmakers have been working with other stakeholders, including colleges and state officials, to improve the bill.

Other changes approved by the committee include removing the cap of 10 licenses for sportsbooks.

In addition, while the bill still allows betting on college games, bettors will not be able to make prop bets, such as how many points a basketball player may score, on any individual college athlete.

Another amendment revised how the state would divide the proceeds to allocate $2.5 million annually for gambling addiction programs.

Proponents of the bill say Tennessee loses revenue to neighboring states that set up gaming establishments close to the borders. The state would collect a 10 percent tax on the adjusted gross income from the sportsbooks licensed by the state.

Tennesseans continue to game,” said state Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville). “They are just not doing it in the state of Tennessee. They’re going elsewhere, or if they are doing it (here), they’re doing it through unregulated, illegal means where we are not collecting any revenue.”

Opposition Still Looms

Despite the favorable vote in the committee, questions remain about its chances to become law. The Associated Press reported that a state Senate committee, in a non-binding move, voted against the bill.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has said in the past he opposes sports betting legislation. Although media reports have circulated that Lee’s staff has been working with lawmakers on changes to the bill.

Still, some lawmakers in the House committee objected to the legislation on moral grounds. State Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) said the fact that the state would need to earmark money for addiction treatment shows it’s not worth pursuing.

State Rep. Chris Todd (R-Humboldt) added that sports betting would serve as a poor tax. Further, even with the state setting aside funding for mental health and addiction issues, there are no guarantees those who require those services would use them.

“We need to know the consequences of opening this up to our neighbors,” he said.