COVID-19 Has Bill To Change Sports Betting Regulatory Control Stranded In Committee

Posted on March 23, 2020 - Last Updated on October 27, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has shut down the sports world.  It is also delaying Tennessee legislators’ work on HB 2844. That’s a bill that could impact the regulation of future legal TN sportsbooks

HB 2844 would put the Tennessee Lottery’s Sports Betting Advisory Council in charge of regulating sports betting in the state instead. The council currently has an advisory role only. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is among those in the TN legislature who has expressed concerns about the Tennessee Lottery board’s role in regulating sports betting. HB 2844 is the result of those concerns.

TN House members canceled a hearing on the proposal that was scheduled for Tuesday. It’s unclear right now when activity on the measure will resume.

Why activity on HB 2844 stalled

Simply put, it’s all because of the pandemic. Other concerns, like how to contain the spread of the virus, are dominating the conversation in Nashville.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency on March 12. Four days later, he urged all of the state’s public schools to close.

Although TN hasn’t closed non-essential businesses as other states have, that may be coming to the Volunteer State. The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control recommends that all scheduled gatherings of at least 50 people be canceled or postponed over the next eight weeks.

Despite that recommendation, the TN legislature is still at work, just not on HB 2844. The legislature has canceled almost all committee meetings that aren’t dealing with matters essential to basic life right now.

Unfortunately, for those interested in legal sports betting in TN, that means more delay. That’s because the finalization of regulations for sportsbooks is pending action on HB 2844.

McNally and others have stated that the board may have exceeded its mandate from the state betting law. For example, the law may not have given the board the authority to create different tiers of sports betting licenses.

The council has recommended a complete set of rules for sportsbooks to the Lottery Board. The board has yet to vote on those regulations, however.

The outlook for the future is murky right now

The board may not do so until the legislature decides the fate of HB 2844. While council members are of the opinion that even if HB 2844 becomes law it will just require a few tweaks to the current proposed regulations, it’s uncertain how many members of the board share that opinion.

Finalizing the regulations is the biggest thing holding the process up right now. During the council’s last meeting members shared the belief that once rules are finalized applications could be available for licenses within 48 hours.

While it’s a secondary concern compared to the health and safety of TN residents,  the pandemic is currently also holding up rolling out legal sportsbooks in TN. The delay threatens the ability of TN to meet its stated goal of launching sportsbooks in time for the next college football and NFL seasons. Moreover, with no sports really running now, that curbs the urgency to launch.

This situation, like all others right now, remains fluid. The Lottery Board could technically vote to finalize regulations at any time, but doing so might prove imprudent since HB 2844 might force them to go back and make changes if it becomes law. For these reasons, there is no concrete timeline on when TN residents and visitors may actually be able to place legal wagers.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. 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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