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State legislative hearings produce some head-scratching moments and Tuesday’s gathering on Tennessee sports betting proved no exception.
Where else can a person admit they possess no expertise in a complex topic like sports betting, then shortly thereafter pitch a massive change to a law about it?
That is exactly what happened in the Tennessee State Committee as Rep. Bob Ramsey successfully amended the primary TN sports betting bill to ban prop bets on college athletics. Not just games involving Tennessee schools, mind you — the ban extends to all college football and basketball games.
HB 1 spent more than a month mired in committee before finally escaping Tuesday on a 12-5 vote. Ramsey’s amendment passed by voice vote, as did one from Rep. Jason Powell lifting the 10-license cap and another redirecting 5 percent of tax collections to address responsible gaming in Rep. Rick Staples‘ bill.
The bill would create mobile-only Tennessee sports betting, with no brick-and-mortar establishments. The heavily amended bill includes a 20 percent tax on TN sports betting revenue.
A companion bill, SB 16, mirrors HB 1 and advanced through committee Wednesday in the Senate.
The Tennessee sports betting bill advances to the Government Operations committee. We will leave it there for now so we can return to Ramsey’s amendment.
A co-sponsor of the bill, Ramsey carried the amendment at the request of the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University. He said the schools seek to protect confidential information, as well as athletes and their families.
Asked if the amendment mirrors the rules on college prop betting from other states, Ramsey said:
“I would assume that the pattern for this has been adopted from other states, I hope.”
It does not. Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to enact such a targeted ban.
New Jersey sports betting does not allow wagering on in-state college teams in any form. Tennessee still would take action on sides and totals through this bill.
Ramsey directed most questions about his amendment to committee legal counsel. After questioning ceased, Ramsey offered this closing statement:
“We’re experts on very few things in life and sports betting is not one of them. I think these issues have come to light for the protection, and I am encouraged that they have become shareholders and stakeholders in this process.”
Ramsey refers to the universities that asked him to carry the amendment on their behalf. While Ramsey might not consider himself an expert on legal sports betting, some of his colleagues demonstrated a strong grasp in supporting the bill.
Co-sponsor Rep. Bill Sanderson addressed the illegal sports betting market in his remarks, as well as the potential to bring significant revenue to state coffers:
“As a matter of fact, ladies and gentlemen, people are doing this in this state. We’re allowing it. People are doing it every day. This is not going to create something brand-new in the state because it’s already happening.
“But we’re not getting any tax revenue and we’re not taking that $40 million that possibly could come with this and putting it back into our educational system. Regardless of what you thought about the bill, and you probably thought the same thing about the lottery … it works and it puts money back in our educational system.”
Powell, who tried to legalize Tennessee sports betting last year, noted that Tennesseans will find a way to wager:
“I’ve come full circle as I said. I am in favor of gaming. I think our state continues to lose a massive amount of money.
“I was actually out of state this weekend, on the state line, and just happened to drive past a parking lot of a complex where they allow wagering … and I can tell you I saw a lot of Tennessee plates in that parking lot.”
“It continues to take place, Tennesseans continue to game. They are just not doing it in the state of Tennessee, they’re going elsewhere. Or if they are doing it, they’re doing it through unregulated illegal means where we are not collecting any revenue.”
Powell previously tried unsuccessfully to amend Staples’ bill to lower the $750,000 license fee, as well as to ban betting on Sundays.