Tennessee Lottery Gives First Approval for Churchill Downs to Offer Sports Betting

Posted on: January 9, 2021, 09:00h. 

Last updated on: January 10, 2021, 10:04h.

Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. (TELC) officials on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to Churchill Downs Interactive Gaming to operate a sportsbook in the Volunteer State.

Churchill Downs Tennessee sports betting
A statue of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro sits at the main entrance of Churchill Downs in Louisville. Churchill Downs this past week received preliminary approval for a sports betting license in Tennessee. (Image: Kybluegrass/Wikimedia)

There still remain a few items for the lottery to address with the Louisville-based company before it can start accepting bets in Tennessee. One, according to a recording of the Sports Wagering Committee of the TELC Board of Director, the state must approve the player account management system that GAN Limited provides. Lottery officials also await the final GLI certification.

“We also have received the $500,000 bond that was required from them,” Danielle Boyd, TELC’s vice president of sports gaming operations, told the committee at its special called meeting Wednesday. “We have that on file and we have confirmed that their reserve account has been set up… and we have confirmation that it will be sufficient and that the cash balance will remain at a sufficient level to include all patron deposits and funds.”

Lottery officials approved the only operator’s license for Churchill Downs, which currently operates sports betting under its BetAmerica brand. The committee also approved 12 vendors as well.

Other operators have submitted sportsbook licensing applications as well.

When it comes online, BetAmerica will be the fifth licensed sportsbook in the state. BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and Tennessee Action247 all have been operational since sports betting started on Nov. 1.

New Brand Name Coming for Sports Betting

Don’t expect to see the BetAmerica brand name in Tennessee for very long.

The day before the TELC committee approved its license application, Churchill Downs Inc. – the parent company of Churchill Downs Interactive Gaming – announced it would rebrand its sportsbook and iGaming operations under the TwinSpires label.

Company executives expect the rebrand to first take effect in Michigan. Churchill Downs anticipated its  online sportsbook and iGaming to start in that state later this month. The name change will take place over the next five months in other states where BetAmerica currently operates.

TwinSpires currently serves as the gaming company’s advance-deposit horse racing wagering account service. While Churchill Downs does not release how many active customers use TwinSpires, the Oregon Racing Commission notes TwinSpires has ranked No. 1 nationally in terms of online handle since 2013.

Churchill Downs’ online racing site is legal to use in the state. That will give Churchill Downs an established customer base it can leverage to build up the sports betting operations.

In discussing the potential for a name change last year, CDI executives noted the brand awareness TwinSpires offers.

CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen told stock analysts last fall that TwinSpires’ brand awareness will help it as it vies for sports betting customers in a highly competitive marketplace.

That’s a big advantage for us,” he said on the Oct. 29 call. “We also are a company that’s recognized in the gambling space among the casual consumers.”

BetAmerica is currently operational as a retail sportsbook in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, and Colorado. Mobile sports betting is available in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana, with iGaming offered in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Churchill Downs Owns Track/HHR Near Tennessee Line

Once Tennessee officials formally approve Churchill’s sports betting operations, it wouldn’t be surprising to see cross-marketing opportunities pop-up with the company’s major line of business.

There are no race tracks in Tennessee. However, in September, CDI opened Oak Grove Gaming, Racing and Hotel, a harness track and historical horse racing (HHR) parlor roughly a mile north of the state line near Clarksville, Tenn.

Figures from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission through November show Oak Grove HHR has an average daily handle of $1.8 million. That already places it third among the state’s parlors, behind Kentucky Downs and Churchill’s Derby City Gaming.

Strong Start for Tennessee Sports Betting

Late last month, TELC officials announced impressive numbers for the first month of sports betting in Tennessee.

The first-month handle in the state was $131.4 million. That’s the best debut of any state since the Supreme Court overturned PASPA. As a caveat to that, most states have focused on getting retail sportsbooks launched first, and then pushing mobile. In Tennessee, there are no brick-and-mortar locations, only online apps.

The lottery received $2.4 million in tax revenue from those wagers.