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The twisting road toward legal Tennessee sports betting appears pointed toward the governor’s desk after a whirlwind day at the state legislature.
A heated floor debate ended with H 1 comfortable clearing the House, 58-37, at midday Wednesday. Within hours, its Senate companion bill, S 16, moved quickly through the chamber’s Finance Committee and into Calendar to schedule a floor vote.
With the legislature attempting wrap business this week, not much time remains for the Senate to pass the hotly debated Tennessee sports betting bill.
The measure would create online-only TN sports betting, with a $750,000 annual license fee and 20% revenue tax for operators. The bill also requires the use of official data from sports leagues to settle in-play wagers.
Just last week, Rep. Andy Holt compared sports betting addiction to “slavery” in addressing bill sponsor Rep. Rick Staples in a contentious committee hearing. Wednesday’s floor debate reignited Holt’s uncomfortable language as he questioned Staples in front of the full body.
Holt first asked why the law is needed, then asked Staples if legislators also should consider legalizing methamphetamine to tax it.
Staples, who also fielded comparisons of legal sports betting to illegal drugs in a previous House hearing, responded:
“As an African American male, anything that would support or push the idea of illegal narcotics or something that I have watched be of detriment to my community, I would not support. Thank goodness this is not a piece of legislation about illegal narcotics.”
Holt selected the comment regarding race in responding to Staples:
“I’m just a white guy so I didn’t know that race necessarily had anything to do with sports betting.”
Holt continued for a few minutes, ultimately referencing biblical scripture to describe his moral opposition.
“Are you willing to sacrifice your principles for a few pieces of silver?” Holt said.
The loosely anchored comparisons continued from other legislators who equated potential TN sports betting with the state’s opioid crisis. Rep. Andrew Farmer, a criminal defense attorney by trade, responded with a sober view on the talk of addiction.
“I’m a little appalled with some of the comments that were made on the floor,” Farmer said. “I’m never seen one drug addict with their phone in their hands with their fantasy football app out.”
In addition to potentially codifying official data for the first time, HB 1 changes from its introduction are significant:
Revenue forecasts also drew much criticism throughout the debate. Tennessee legislators are planning for a $20 million increase in state revenue in the first year and $40 million in the second year.