The number of casinos within the United States is increasing year after year. Many of the states surrounding Tennessee have legalized casinos. However, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is staunchly opposed to gambling, believing casinos to be the “most harmful form of gambling.”
That means for now, Tennesseans must flock to other states to scratch their gambling itch.
Tennessee brought the lottery to the state back in 2002, becoming the 48th state to offer some type of gambling within its borders.
Sports betting has most recently become legal in Tennessee. The first online sportsbooks will launch in the state on Nov. 1, 2020. Otherwise, Tennessee’s gambling laws remain strict.
Tennesseans will not find any casinos within their borders. Luckily, residents can visit surrounding states where multiple forms of gambling are legal.
No matter where you live in Tennessee, you can drive a short distance and find a casino for all your gaming needs.
Tennessee residents find Mississippi to the south and Missouri to the west, two states known for their rich casino history.
While the majority of Tennessee residents travel to these states to do their gambling, there are also a handful of other states easily accessible to players in the area.
The majority of casino options can be found in Mississippi within a short drive of west Tennessee.
In 1990, Mississippi became the third state to legalize riverboat gambling. After Hurricane Katrina, these casino boats were permitted to rebuild within 800 feet of the shoreline. Some were even granted permission to re-build their casinos as land-based facilities.
Memphis residents can reach a full-service Tunica, Mississippi casino option by driving as little as 42 miles. The city is one of the two major gambling metropolises in Mississippi, alongside Biloxi.
Tennessee residents located in the southwest portion of the state have a variety of options waiting for them in Tunica. Tunica is home to eight casinos, any of which could rival the size and grandeur of Las Vegas facilities.
The closest Tunica casinos to the Tennessee borders are:
Outside of Tunica, the next-closest casino is Island Capri Casino Hotel, located 45 miles south in Lula.
Mississippi casinos have Vegas-style gambling with the following amenities:
Mississippi’s gambling options include riverboat gambling along with horse and greyhound racing.
Roughly 37,000 slots and gaming machines and almost 1,000 table games can be found in the 35 casinos and pari-mutuel facilities throughout the state.
Bets can be placed in Mississippi for as little as $0.01 and for as much as $10,000.
Riverboat gambling was approved in Missouri in 1992. Since then, the law was amended in 1998 to allow casinos to be considered riverboats if they are surrounded by a makeshift moat or artificial pond.
Residents in the northwestern part of Tennessee can visit the Lady Luck Casino Caruthersville in Missouri, which is a small riverboat on the Mississippi River. The casino is located a short hop and skip across the Tennessee border.
Another option is located 78 miles north of the Tennessee border. Century Casino Cape Girardeau is the second-closest Missouri casino for the area.
However, with it being that far from the border, residents are better off going to Harrah’s Metropolis in Illinois, which is only an hour’s drive from Tennessee.
Casino gambling in Arkansas has had a short but verdant history. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2018 to allow four casinos to be built in the state.
The first two casinos opened April 1, 2019. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort was launched in Hot Springs and Southland Gaming & Racing was built in West Memphis.
Located just 11 minutes west of Memphis, Tennessee, Southland Gaming & Racing is by far the closest Arkansas option for west Tennessee residents.
The casino offers over 2,000 slots and table games as well as live greyhound racing.
Jefferson County and Pope County will be home to the remaining two casinos. The Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma has been granted a license in Jefferson County to construct the Saracen Casino.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas Racing Commission approved Gulfside Casino Partnership to construct the River Valley Casino in Pope County.
Once fully constructed, Arkansas’ casinos will feature almost 10,000 slots and gaming machines along with roughly 250 table games.
Kentucky has a total of 10 gaming and pari-mutuel facilities with over 3,900 gaming machines. Louisville is home to two of those facilities. The rest are spread throughout the state.
Kentucky law prohibits games of chance, making traditional slot machines illegal. Instead, the state has competition-based historical racing machines (HRM).
Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel is Kentucky’s largest and newest gaming site. While it does not have table games, there are 1,300 slot-like HRMs on the gaming floor.
This now gives residents of Nashville, Tennessee two close Kentucky facilities to choose from.
Kentucky Downs is another option that is a 40-minute drive from Nashville, while Oak Grove is a 57-minute drive from the city.
For residents of northern Tennessee looking for the full casino experience, they can travel two hours north to Harrah’s Metropolis Casino & Hotel in southern Illinois.
Alabama casinos are only permitted on Native American land, meaning the state of Alabama is not able to tax this revenue. These casinos primarily consist of bingo casinos, though slot machines, video gambling machines, pull-tab card and horse racing can also be found.
The closest casino to the Tennessee border is Greenetrack Bingo & Racing in Eutaw, Alabama. This facility is located more than two and a half hours from any portion of the southern Tennessee border.
Wind Creek Wetumpka, Wind Creek Montgomery and VictoryLand are the next closest facilities.
For residents living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, these three facilities can each be reached in three and a half hours or less.
While gambling is not legal in the state, Georgia does permit a state lottery along with multiple poker clubs.
The Emerald Princess Casino docks in Brunswick, Georgia and is currently the only operating casino boat in Georgia. It is a six-and-a-half-hour drive for residents of Chattanooga. The boat operates by traveling three miles into international waters, where gambling is legal.
If you live in east Tennessee, North Carolina is currently your only close option for gambling.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is located just 45 minutes from Gatlinburg and serves as the closest option for residents on the eastern side of the state. Harrah’s also happens to be the largest casino in North Carolina with over 3,000 gaming machines and 100 table games.
In total, North Carolina casinos have over 6,000 gaming machines and more than 200 table games. Bets in these casinos range from $0.01 to $100.
Ground was broken on the Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort in July 2020.
Once the casino is built, it will be located just south of Charlotte, providing another strong option for east Tennessee residents willing to drive two and a half hours across the border.
Almost 2,000 gaming machines and over 50 table games are expected to be integrated into this casino.
Casino gambling is still a work-in-progress for Virginia. The state currently only allows bingo, horse racing, daily fantasy sports, and a state lottery.
However, a new gaming law was passed in March 2019, permitting five casinos to be built in economically challenged cities throughout the state. The five cities identified for new casino locations include:
More legislation must be passed and city residents will need to approve the casinos by vote. This process could take two or three more years before construction begins on any of these facilities.
Once approved, the Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino will boast the largest gaming space in the state. It also happens to be the closest potential Virginia casino to Tennessee.
Located just across the border in Bristol, Virginia, the $150 million casino would be a 90,000-square-foot project.
Riverboat on the Potomac, an off track betting (OTB) facility that specializes in horse racing and keno, is currently the only Virginia gambling option available. The riverboat is located within a six-hour drive from the border near Bristol, Tennessee.