What 2020 Meant For The Tennessee Gambling Industry

Posted on December 30, 2020 - Last Updated on April 29, 2021

At the beginning of 2020, the only legal gambling in Tennessee was the state lottery.

The state’s expansion of the gambling market to include online sports betting has seen astronomical gains in a relatively short timeframe.

Now at the year’s conclusion, the Volunteer State is celebrating a record-breaking sports betting debut that redefines industry standards.

Sports betting bill passed in Tennessee

Tennessee’s journey to legalized sports betting technically began in 2018. That’s when the Supreme Court overturned PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act). Consequently, states were finally able to govern and regulate individual state-wide laws for legal sports wagering.

Sports betting was then introduced into the Tennessee legislature in spring of 2019. It marginally passed in the House.

Although Gov. Bill Lee emphasized a personal opposition to gambling, he applauded proponent’s efforts. Lee permitted the bill to automatically become law on May 24, 2019 sans signature.

In effect, online mobile sports betting was legalized, though retail betting locations remain prohibited.

The future of this restriction remains uncertain. The bill legalizing Tennessee sports betting, HB 1, includes a provision to revisit the idea of physical betting locations.

Each local jurisdiction has the right to put casinos to a public vote, leaving the potential for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks open ended.

A long-awaited November launch

The date stamp on legalized sports betting reads May 2019. The state’s official launch, however, came much later in the next calendar year.

Almost a year and a half later, sportsbooks were ultimately permitted to open their digital doors on Nov. 1, 2020.

The Tennessee Education Lottery approved four sports betting apps in time for opening day:

To date, the TEL has approved six suppliers and 90 vendors.

First day revenue reports

As the saying goes, it was ‘baptism by fire’ for the state’s legal sports betting debut weekend. The market kicked off on a busy NFL Sunday in the midst of a pandemic-havocked season.

Sportsbooks recognized that strong wagering incentives help win over enthusiastic bettors. Tennessee Titans fans bet heavily on the home team.

The Titans suffered a 20-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on opening day, resulting in an upset for bettors and a delight for sportsbooks.

However, sportsbook promos and odds boosts for the game helped make the loss a little less painful for many bettors.

More than $5 million was wagered on day one alone.

Tennesseans bet over $27 million within the first eight days, proving the state was long overdue in regards to legal sports betting.

As far as initial launches go, Tennessee is in the highest ranks.

Tennessee sets first month revenue record

Tennessee sports betting both broke and set a national record for the largest first month’s handle reported by any state.

Bettors wagered roughly $131 million in November, amounting to $118 million in winnings. Sportsbooks accumulated earnings of $13 million after paying out a 20% privilege tax – around $2.3 million.

Previously, Indiana held the record for handle with its $35.2 million launch in September 2019.

Indiana’s total handle just reached over $251 million last month.

The two states share a similar population size, although Indiana also offers retail betting locations.

Numbers of such proportion could be on the Tennessee horizon in the coming year. Additional sportsbook licenses will be approved in 2021, as there is no cap on the amount of operators.

The TEL continues to assess applicants – three more of which could go live in early January:

Moreover, a trio of additional operators are also rumored to be navigating the application process – one of those being ZenSports, a revolutionary sports betting platform with peer-to-peer integration.

NBA and NHL seasons gear up in 2021

Tennessee’s online-only approach has given the state a leg up in the industry.

Some states are limited by retail sports betting locations and in-person registration requirements. Mobile wagering, on the other hand, provides accessibility to bettors, allowing Tennessee to capitalize on player engagement.

The success of Tennessee-based pro sports teams like the Tennessee Titans have also played a major part in overall sports betting revenue. Sportsbooks maneuvered to corner the market on customer experience with hefty promos.

The NBA season is gearing up and the NHL is right around the corner, gifting bettors even more to wager on when it comes to hometown greats.

FanDuel became the official sports betting partner of the Memphis Grizzlies in November, and DraftKings announced a collaboration with the Nashville Predators in December.

With the NBA tipping off, the NFL playoffs set to begin in a few weeks, and the NHL season debut around the corner, betting action will likely be bigger than ever in the coming months.

Tennessee is well on its way to being a top-five sports betting market in the near future.

Photo by Dreamstime
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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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