Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has made his viewpoints clear on casinos. He believes this form of gambling is destructive and doesn’t plan to regulate live or online casinos.
This is in contrast to other forms of gambling. In May 2019, online sports betting became legal and regulated in Tennessee. Betting on horse races, lottery games, daily fantasy sports (DFS) and limited charity gambling are also legal in the Volunteer State.
In addition, Tennessee visitors and residents can enjoy slots and other casino games online at legal, regulated sites, such as Chumba Casino and LuckyLand Slots. These sites use sweepstakes gambling laws to provide games and are becoming increasingly popular.
The alternative choice for casino gaming fans in Tennessee is to cross state lines in order to visit the closest live casinos in a neighboring state.
You’ll find a complete reference guide for live and online casino gambling in Tennessee in this article.
First, we look at the legal landscape and the possibility of state-regulated online casinos in the future.
After that, we cover the current, legal (sweepstakes) options.
Finally, we cover the different types of casino games, other options available for gamblers in Tennessee and the best live options in surrounding states.
Will Tennessee legalize online casinos?
While Lee remains governor, it is highly unlikely that a bill will be brought forward that includes casino gambling.
Gov. Lee refused to sign the recent sports betting bill, although he did not use his veto after the bill got the majority in the Senate and House. However, Lee’s outspoken comments on the risks of casino gambling closely reflect the lack of live options in Tennessee.
With the first sports betting apps and websites going online as early as the end of this year, there is some hope for an online gambling expansion in the future.
If the launch of online sports betting goes well, and the tax revenues are significant, then a future bill becomes more possible. The success of online casino rollouts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is also a factor.
Based on recent comments, Gov. Lee would veto any bill, which means the legalization of online casinos is on hold.
Tennessee online casinos: Sweepstakes casinos
Two casinos and one online poker room already operate legally in Tennessee. These US-based sweepstakes sites also operate in 49 states. These sites are Chumba Casino, LuckyLand Slots and Global Poker.
All three operate under state sweepstakes gaming laws.
Instead of playing casino games and slots for cash, you use “sweeps cash or “gold coins.”
While gold coins are play-for-fun money, sweeps coins is exchangeable for dollars, giving you the means to cash out your winnings. To comply with sweepstakes laws, you can’t buy sweeps coins directly. Instead, the casinos give you some for “free” when you buy gold coins.
This virtual currency is a workaround for existing sweepstakes laws, and it has been an effective method since coming online in 2016. You can deposit using your bank cards and withdraw via a bank transfer.
Most of the games at these legal online casinos are slots, which are lively, colorful and feature excellent animations and graphics.
Each game is unique to the sweepstakes casinos. If you are familiar with live slots, you will quickly spot that their themes and gameplay have been “borrowed” from popular, live slot titles.
You will also find blackjack, video poker and a single bingo title.
Chumba Casino gives players $2 (in sweeps coins) for registering. Both casinos then give you $10 worth of sweeps coins for your first purchase of $5 of gold coins.
Types of online casino games
Whether you play at sweepstakes casinos, out-of-state live casinos or prefer to wait for Tennessee-regulated options, a lot of choices are available when it comes to casino games.
The most popular type are slots with thousands of titles available. There are also table games at online casinos, which now have live dealer options and hundreds of software-based titles. Meanwhile, other popular casino games include keno, bingo, video poker and virtual betting.
Popular casino game categories
Here are the popular options within each of these categories:
- Online Slots: You’ll be amazed by how many online slots exist. Some are live casino slots, which have been adapted for online use, while others are custom-made for online casinos. Expect traditional three-reel slots, five-reel video slots and many interesting variations involving expanding reels, multimedia and often TV/movie tie-ins. Some online slots have massive — sometimes life-changing — progressive jackpots.
- Table Games (software type): Blackjack, roulette and casino poker games now have many variations. Some of these involve side-bet changes; others will switch up the rules. Table games include baccarat, craps and sic-bo.
- Live Dealer Table Games: Online casinos stream games from studios and allow players to bet on the outcome in real-time. This format is hugely popular, with social and interactive aspects that software-based games just can’t match. Roulette, casino poker games, baccarat and blackjack are the most common types.
- Bingo and Keno: Quirky themes and interesting variations of the hitting-the-numbers format is a sure sign of these games’ growing popularity over recent years.
- Video Poker: This bar-top favorite works well online. You’ll find the more volatile bonus poker variations, multi-hand games and the staples like Jacks or Better or Joker Poker competing for your attention online.
- Virtual Racing and Novelty Games: When there isn’t a live race, you can now bet on software-generated races. Some of these games cross over into motorsports or soccer. In this same category are game-show-like casino game titles.
Closest live casinos to Tennessee
If you live close to the state lines, then a trip to Kentucky, Missouri or Mississippi to enjoy casino games becomes possible. Here are the options:
- Kentucky: You’ll find nine casinos, which are associated with the harness and thoroughbred racetracks. They do have slots, though these are Class 2 games that are based on the outcome of past horse races.
- Virginia: The state of Virginia offers minimal options and none within easy reach of Tennesseans. This year saw a proposal to expand the tribal casino options, which is set for a vote in 2020.
- North Carolina: Harrah’s Cherokee is close to eastern Tennessee. Casino giant Caesars Entertainment runs this big tribal casino. There are thousands of slots, table games and a poker room at this casino resort.
- Alabama: Tribal casinos, which are legally “electronic bingo halls,” offer slot games similar to Class 2 machines. There are three of these casinos, plus a racino. Alabama casinos don’t offer table games.
- Mississippi: The Magnolia State is your best bet for casinos, with 35 venues providing more than 30,000 slots and table games. Many well-known, national brands, such as Hard Rock, Ameristar and Harrah’s, are found here.
- Arkansas: This state combines its casinos with horse racing tracks. There are five venues, which include slots, table games and limited poker action.
- Missouri: You’ll find a long list of riverboat casinos in Missouri. There are 13 in total, again including many national brands. These contain a total of almost 20,000 slots and 465 table games.
One neighboring state that did not make this list is Georgia, which doesn’t offer any casino gambling.
Alternative forms of gambling for Tennessee residents
With casinos limited to the sweepstakes brands, you’ll need to look for alternative ways to gamble in Tennessee.
Here are some ideas:
- Online Sports Betting: With the bill to regulate online sportsbooks through, it is now only a matter of time before the first sites appear. These will give you access to singles bets and parlays on pro and collegiate sports, plus many national and international matches.
- Daily Fantasy Sports: Sites like FanDuel and DraftKings have been around for a while. They were made legal in TN in 2016. You can pick lineups and enter various contests for real-money prizes at these popular sites.
- Horse Race Betting: Another option that is fully legal in TN is to take part in the pari-mutuel betting pools at tracks around the US. Sites, including BetAmerica and TVG, legally accept bets from Tennessee residents.
- Lottery: As of 2004, Tennessee state lottery allows its players to participate in the state draws and the big prizes from intra-state pools, Powerball and Mega Millions.
Wrapping up: Online casino gambling in Tennessee
As things stand, no plans exist for regulated online casinos in Tennessee.
For this to happen, there needs to be a change of governor. Success with online sports betting and success with online casinos in other states would strengthen the case for new legislation.
You can already play online slots and limited casino games online from Tennessee. Sweepstakes casinos use sweepstakes contest laws to operate.
By using “sweeps coins” instead of dollars for the games – and making each game into a mini-contest – they can operate legally in 49 states. While the slot and game selection are somewhat limited, there are many high-quality games available.
With live casino gaming available across state lines, the only other options in TN are daily fantasy sports, horse racing and lottery bets.