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Legal sports betting is coming to Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Lee returned H 1 without a signature on Friday, allowing the bill to become law as expected. His state is the fourth to legalize sports betting this year, joining Montana, Indiana, and Iowa.
The governor published a statement on Twitter explaining his decision:
I am returning the Tennessee Sports Gaming Act (HB0001/SB0016) to the General Assembly today without my signature. My full statement is below: pic.twitter.com/iolgR8G6J0
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) May 24, 2019
The TN sports betting bill is unique in more than one way.
Most notably, it is the first online-only law on the books in the US. Several other states have passed laws that include statewide mobile betting, but all work in tandem with a land-based gambling operation. There are no casinos in Tennessee.
A second precedent is less useful to the industry.
The law is the first in the country to weaponize official data, forcing operators to enter into a commercial agreement for in-play betting. Such a mandate represents a key victory for the sports leagues, the result of a year-long lobbying effort spearheaded by the NBA and MLB.
The TN sports betting law further empowers leagues by allowing them to restrict the types of available bets — another first in the US.
The governor isn’t the only one who’s not a fan of the new Tennessee sports betting law.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Rick Staples faced opposition throughout the lawmaking process marked by contentious hearings and heavy-handed amendments. In one especially memorable exchange, Rep. Andy Holt drew an ill-conceived parallel between sports betting and slavery.
Several other lawmakers voiced concerns along the way, with some working to undermine the bill’s provisions.
Rep. Bob Ramsey, for example, was successful in his attempt to include a ban on collegiate prop bets. Rep. Jason Zachary invoked the opioid crisis in explaining his objections to legalization. Rep. Jason Powell even proposed a complete ban on Sunday sports betting, though that amendment was turned aside.
Both chambers ultimately passed the bill by dangerously thin margins, and it cleared the concurrence process by just two votes.
The financial framework for TN sports betting doesn’t exactly ease the burden on operators.
Licensees will pay $750,000 annually for the privilege of serving the state, which will take back a 20% tax on their revenue. With a population of less than 7 million and no land-based avenues for conversion, those numbers present a steep barrier to entry.
A virgin sports betting market in the heart of the nation will prove too big a temptation, though. The total number of licenses is one of the few things lawmakers chose not to restrict, and companies like DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook will likely be first in line at the licensing office.
As far as timing goes, the bill officially takes effect on July 1, after which the TN Lottery can begin the rule-making process. Any projections on a launch timeline are premature in a state with little experience regulating gambling.