Deeper Dive Into Tennessee Sports Betting Regulations Reveals Some Murky Waters

Posted on November 25, 2019 - Last Updated on March 9, 2020

Last week, the Volunteer State took a big step toward rolling out legal sports betting in Tennessee. The Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation released to the public initial Tennessee sports betting regulations on Nov. 22.

The first draft of the regulations includes several elements consistent with industry standards to date. However, some sections may benefit from some more specific wording to avoid potential issues down the road.

The use of broad language has one redeeming aspect in that it allows the regulations to adapt to cultural/technological advances in the future. On the other hand, there are some ways in which precise language is key to actually enforcing the regulations.

Vague language surrounding college in-game prop bets

There are several areas in which a few additional words could make these regulations stronger. These additions would assist not only operators but bettors as well.

The first comes in a section governing bets that legal sportsbooks in Tennessee may not accept. The current regulation reads:

“Individual actions, events, statistics, occurrences, or non-occurrences to be determined during a collegiate sporting event, including, without limitation, in-game Propositional Wagers on the performance or non-performance of a team or individual participant during a collegiate sporting event; and…”

While this expressly forbids single-game prop bets on college athletes and teams, it also creates a gray area. The policy doesn’t expressly authorize or forbid wagers on season-long performances, like how many points the Memphis men’s basketball team will score this season.

It could be argued that because those bets are set upon events that take place during collegiate sporting events, they are included in this regulation. The counter-argument would be that because the bet doesn’t depend on any of the Tigers’ performances in a single event but several of them cumulatively, this regulation doesn’t apply.

Advertising regulations in Tennessee attempt to protect minors

Some overly vague language can also be found in the section on advertising. The Tennessee Sports Betting Council has put clear stipulations on how legal sportsbooks in the state may advertise. Several of those regulations are intended to protect minors, including the following:

“Sports Gaming Operator Licensee shall not advertise in media outlets (including social media) that appeal primarily to those under the age of 21.”

The critique here is not on the intention of trying to prevent minors’ exposure to gambling ads. Due to the wording though, it’s unclear exactly which media outlets would be forbidden for advertising purposes. It’s difficult to determine which social media networks appeal primarily to those under the age of 21.

Social media advertising has proven to be a popular and inexpensive method of promotion for operators, so this may be a tough sell. Additionally, the amount of subjective authority this language gives the council could approach a level of First Amendment infringement.

Another item regarding advertising could similarly benefit from some more specific language.

Perhaps the strangest Tennessee sports betting regulation

Also in the advertising section is a policy not only unique to Tennessee but also overly vague. Whether it will appear in the final Tennessee regulations is to be seen.

“Advertisements shall not be created that may be perceived as denigrating the work ethic.”

This one raises many questions. As perceived by whom? Whose work ethic? How is work ethic quantified and who would quantify that?

It’s possible that the council intends to bar sportsbooks from running advertisements that suggest bettors can quit their jobs and get rich placing wagers on sports. That’s already covered, however, in an earlier requirement in the same section.

“Advertisements shall not contain claims or representations that gambling activity will guarantee an individual’s social, financial or personal success.”

Whatever the intention, it will likely be a difficult regulation to enforce if left written as it is.

Still time to amend the Tennessee Sports Betting regulations

The Tennessee Sports Betting Council has time to refine these regulations with their next meeting scheduled for Jan. 14, 2020. Tennesseans have a chance now until Dec. 23 to influence the eventual framework of sports betting in their state.

It’s likely that many of these regulations will survive as currently written. Others may benefit from some clarification that will facilitate future enforcing of the final Tennessee sports betting regulations.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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