You’ll need to turn the clock all the way back to 1835 to understand today’s gambling landscape in Tennessee. When the current state constitution was created, lotteries, bingo, raffles and ‘gambling halls’ were considered sinful – and banned outright.
It took a long time for small changes to be made. There were attempts to introduce bingo in the 1980’s, which failed. Since then, only the lottery in 2004 and sports betting in 2019 have made it through the legislative process. Meanwhile, bingo is restricted to just charity events.
There are limited options, however, with a single online bingo game available through one of the sweepstakes casinos that legally operate in Tennessee. You can also play a bingo-like drawing game via the Tennessee lottery.
This page covers all your options for enjoying online and live bingo in Tennessee. First below you’ll find information on laws, with those legal avenues (charity, sweepstakes and lottery) covered next. A look at the future, including 2019 bills to reintroduce bingo, can be found at the bottom of this page.
The original Tennessee statutes have such a broad definition of gambling that it is difficult for any game not to be caught by it. The law defines gambling as:
“Risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance, not including lawful business transactions.”
With bingo requiring equipment, both running and playing in a game are felonies – punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The original statues had a carve-out for charity bingo run by churches. This was repealed in 1989, though, when it was alleged that the churches were abusing this privilege by fronting for-profit games.
There were some lobbying attempts made in the 1970s by charities, but these did not result in any legislation. 2010 saw the most recent amendments to the charity gambling laws. These include strict reporting requirements and an application process to run (annual) games.
In 2019, Tennessee passed legislation to regulate online sports betting. Act S 16 did not include any other form of games – with bingo, casino and poker regulation not currently on the horizon.
There was a separate attempt to see bingo games expanded and regulated in Tennessee. Senator Frank S. Niceley put forward an amendment, with the proposed proceeds going to education. While this did not make it far, it does show that the prospect on online bingo in TN is not dead.
Even the small carve out for charitable gambling in Tennessee is restrictive. In many states, charitable laws are broad enough that many organizations open their own bingo halls. In Tennessee, charities are restricted to annual events which can include raffles and bingo. Each one of these need to be approved via a separate application process before it can take place. This includes a provision for reporting the amount made (including what % of the overall take was for charity and what % returned to the participants).
There are two online casinos that operate legally in Tennessee using sweepstakes gambling laws. In fact, Luckyland Slots and Chumba Casino currently operate across 49 states in total. They have developed a work-around, which uses laws for sweepstakes contests to get around real money gambling restrictions.
One of them, Chumba Casino, has an online bingo game. This is called ‘Flambingo’. The theme is tropical, with a flamingo the main character. While this is a simple game of chance (with multiple cards possible), it is at least a little something for online bingo fans in Tennessee.
You won’t be able to buy-in to these games directly. Instead you buy gold coins (for fun play only) and are given ‘Sweeps Coins’. You use this to play online bingo and slot machine games – cashing out any winnings in dollars to withdraw to your bank.
You can find out more about how this sweepstakes gambling model works on our separate sweepstakes casinos and poker rooms page.
You can enjoy a bingo-type game at any of the 5,000+ retail locations for the Tennessee lottery. This is not a traditional bingo game – being more of a cross between the instant-win games and keno. Electronic ‘draws’ take place every 5 minutes, making this a quick-fire game. You can choose how many numbers to buy, with the number of strikes on each round showing how much money you’ll find. There is more on the different games on offer on this Tennessee Lottery page.
With sports betting regulation on the books (though not yet live), there is certainly positive movement for gambling fans in Tennessee. Many stake holders in other areas are hoping for a successful start to mobile betting – and big tax revenues for the state. This scenario could pave the way for future legislation to expand online gambling options.
Casino games and poker, along with online bingo options could be the main beneficiary of any such move. Interested parties, including the charities, could well be lobbying already.
There are few states in which bingo options are as limited as in Tennessee. Charity gambling is allowed, but it is not as easy as just setting up a game; there is a one-per-year restriction, as well as application process and reports required after the event.
The only current options are sweepstakes casinos and the retail outlets running the Tennessee lottery. While this is a start, residents of the Volunteer State are hopeful that the recent gambling legislation could expand to include online bingo soon. With only sports betting currently covered, this best case scenario may occur as political circles begin showing increasing interest in finding ways to generate more tax revenue.