After months of debate and revisions, a framework for legal sports betting in Tennessee could soon be in place. Even if everything goes well at the next Tennessee Education Lottery Board of Directors meeting, however, the timeline for when operators will actually start accepting wagers in the Volunteer State is still uncertain.
The Lottery announced a special, remote meeting of the Board. At 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday, April 15 the Board could take a big step toward launching legal wagering.
April 15 meeting aims to finalize sportsbook regulations
The meeting, which will take place electronically, has a succinct agenda. It’s all about approving the latest draft of regulations for legal sports betting.
That includes all the latest recommendations from the TN Sports Betting Advisory Council. That body last met on Feb. 10 and made a few alterations to its earlier draft. Among those were:
- Allowing operators to use their choice of vendors for integrity monitoring and risk management
- Clarifying that operators can post prop bets on individual athletes’ performances as long as those athletes are not collegiate athletes but cannot accept any wagers on high school or youth league events
- Clarifying the three-tiered license structure
- Removing a requirement for operators to submit advertisements for approval 30 days prior to using them
- Lowering sportsbooks’ hold requirement from 15% to 5% or raising the payout cap from 85% to 95%, whichever version the board prefers
The Board doesn’t have to accept the Council’s recommendations. In fact, the group is still free to make any further alterations it desires. For example, it could nix the payout cap altogether as several Council members desire.
If the Board does adopt the rules, with or without any further changes, it will mark a significant step toward seeing sportsbooks actually go live in the state. The next item on the agenda is equally important.
The Board could also approve license application documents for dispersal. During the Council’s last meeting, the feeling was that upon approval, those documents could be ready for applicants as quickly as 48 hours after such approval.
If the Board votes in the affirmative for all its agenda items, it could start receiving license applications this month. It’s difficult to ascertain what the turnaround time on those applications will be like right now and there are other unknowns as well.
Interest level, turnaround time, and buildout time all unknowns
Tennessee is a unique market in that the only other legal form of gambling in the state is the Lottery. Unlike every other state with legal sports betting right now, there are no casinos or racetracks.
Because of that, the regulation of sports betting and building a product for the market is new territory for both the Lottery and sportsbook operators. TN is also the only state so far to cap sportsbooks’ payout.
The reason several members of the Council opposed any payout cap is that it could harm legal operators’ chances of competing with illegal bookies and offshore channels. If the tenet survives into the final regulations, it’s uncertain if any operators may punt on TN for that reason.
For those who apply for licensure anyway, it’s hard to tell how quickly the Board may approve those applications. The Board could meet again remotely as they will on Wednesday amidst the coronavirus pandemic, but there are concerns with synchronizing schedules.
Again, the Board’s inexperience could come into play here. Just because the Board may schedule meetings regularly does not ensure that members won’t be conservative in reviewing applications.
At the same time, Board members likely feel pressure to do their part to get sportsbook live prior to the next college football and NFL seasons. The sooner they approve licenses, the better the chance that operators will be ready in time.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that those seasons will begin as currently scheduled. What’s certain is that the Board will meet on Wednesday and it could be a big day for TN sports betting.