Tennessee Legislators Don’t Want To Sit On The Sidelines When It Comes To Casinos

Posted on March 8, 2021

Ante up! Casinos could soon be a reality in Tennessee, according to a joint resolution making its way through the House of Representatives.

House Joint Resolution 93 calls for an amendment to the state constitution that would permit casino gambling.

Are Tennessee legislators finally ready to catch up with the times?

Casinos could be the next step for Tennessee gaming

Four months into Tennessee’s sports betting journey, the state’s gaming industry is budding.

Tennessee’s online-only market launched on Nov. 1 and has since generated over $523 million in wagers. This has amounted to more than $9.8 million in tax revenue for the state.

With such a successful start to sports betting, some representatives naturally view casino gambling as the next step in gaming progression for the state.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, however, strongly opposes gambling expansion and all forms of wagering.

In May 2019, Lee reluctantly allowed sports betting to become law without his signature. Lee claims he intends to veto any further state gambling efforts, noting that casinos are the “most harmful form of gambling”.

In the case of a casino veto, there is still hope for legalization.

The amendment would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate, then it would be put to a final vote by Tennesseans.

Tennessee casino tax could benefit K-12 school systems

Sports betting and the lottery are currently the state’s only two forms of permitted gambling.

As it is, K-12 school systems see none of the tax revenue that come from either form. All funds currently benefit higher education scholarships and grants.

Under HJR0093, casino gaming revenue would instead be funneled into K-12 school education programs and initiatives. Project specifics would be outlined by the Tennessee General Assembly.

State Representative Jason Powell, D-Davidson County, filed the joint resolution back on Feb. 10. Then on Feb. 24, HJR0093 was assigned to the Departments and Agencies Subcommittee.

If approved, the fate of Tennessee casinos would be left up to voters come November 2022.

Tennessee is one of the last southern states to adopt casino gambling

At this point, it only makes sense for Tennessee to jump on the casino bandwagon.

Casinos around Tennessee continue to pop up in neighboring states, and Tennesseans are flocking there to gamble.

North Carolina has long been the go-to option for east Tennessee residents.

Soon, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol plans to open its doors in Bristol, Virginia.

To the west, residents have a plethora of options across the Memphis border in Arkansas and Mississippi.

For Nashville, the closest full-fledged casino lies less than an hour away in southern Illinois.

And although no casinos technically exist in Kentucky, the state has recently won a long-fought battle to permit historical horse racing (HHR) machines in the state. Over 1,500 of these slot-like machines can be found within an hour’s drive of Nashville.

As a result, Tennessee is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue to surrounding jurisdictions.

Arkansas’ first two casinos opened April 1, 2019. During the 2020 fiscal year, statewide casino gambling revenue totaled $32.4 million, bringing in $1.2 million in taxes for the state.

Missouri’s more mature market launched casino gambling in 2011. The state gathered a more substantial $255.6 million in tax revenue in 2020.

Tennessee falls to the back of the pack

Tennessee may be leading the way when it comes to sports betting, but as far as casino gambling goes, the Volunteer State finishes dead last.

The only Tennessee neighbor who has yet to permit some form of casino-type gambling is Georgia. Nevertheless, representatives continue to push for its inclusion. Legislators most recently submitted a resolution calling for a limited number of casino resorts in Georgia, doubling down with accompanying facility renderings.

If progress in the Peach State moves forward, Tennessee may very well become the final surrounding state to legalize casinos.

Tennessee’s plan for casino tax revenue could instill much-needed money into the state. It may even satiate disgruntled representatives fighting for K-12 assistance.

For now, legislators are betting on casino gambling being a solution for their school funding problems.

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Alec Cunningham

As a college athlete, Alec Cunningham played Division II golf at Tusculum University. She graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Professional Writing. She then returned to her love of written word in 2000 after working in the music industry as a concert promoter, tour manager and artist developer. As a journalist, she's covered a variety of topics and currently specializes in Tennessee online sports betting and Virginia casino news. She served as a panelist at this year's All American Sports Betting Summit, discussing the ever-evolving role of women in the gambling industry.

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