Now that a new bill is floating around Nashville that could potentially change who is in charge of Tennessee sports betting, it seems as good a time as any to ask:
Who exactly is on this Tennessee Sports Betting Advisory Council?
If you’re not familiar with the council, it is a group of nine people. Three are selected by the Governor, three by the Lt. Governor, and three by the Speaker of the House. Each appointment to the council serves a tenure of three years.
While the name sounds authoritative, this group actually does only advise, at least for now. The real group in charge of finalizing, adopting, and implementing regulations is the Tennessee Educational Lottery (TEL) itself.
The current leadership at the Tennessee Lottery
Rebecca Hargrove is president and CEO of the TEL. She came to Tennessee after working for the lotteries in Florida, Georgia, and Illinois. She has a great track record when it comes to running a successful lottery, but sports betting is uncharted territory for her.
Vice president Danielle Boyd served as the director of sports gaming regulations until Wednesday, March 31 , when she resigned after nine months on the job. Boyd replaced the TEL’s first sports gaming director, Jennifer Roberts, who spent seven months in the position. The role remains empty for the time being.
Meanwhile, the Chair of the Tennessee Lottery Board is Susan Lanigan. She is an attorney with experience serving on corporate boards for companies such as Kirkland’s.
Together, the Board votes on finalized Tennessee sports betting regulations. With members having limited knowledge on related issues, however, an educated vote can’t always be provided. This is where problems arise.
As far back as February 2020, lawmakers penned a letter to Lanigan asking her to avoid voting on regulations. The letter conveyed concerns over the state of regulations and potentially problematic elements like Tennessee’s originally-proposed 15% hold requirement. The Board put off the vote per the request.
Should the Advisory Council start calling the shots?
Proposals to grant more power to the Advisory Council have been floating around since early 2020. The first draft of proposed sports betting regulations in Tennessee drew a fair amount of criticism. Councilmember Tom Lee told the TN Ledger that the council had no say in the first draft of legislation.
Tennessee’s newest bills would change the role of the appointed Council members from advisory to oversight. Rather than provide feedback and suggestions to TEL, they would approve and enact the regulations themselves.
Most recently, two proposals have been making their way through 2021 legislation. SB 588 found approval in the Senate in late April and is currently awaiting consideration in the House. HB 1267, on the other hand, has yet to be heard in the House.
Is There A Chance For These Proposals To Pass?
With exactly four days left in the session, neither bill has been placed on an agenda to be heard. Senate Bill 588 is receiving some focus at the moment as it was passed in the Senate on Thursday but it now sits in the House waiting to go through the proper channels for approval.
Its companion bill, House Bill 1267, was introduced in February and has since been placed in the State Government Committee where it continues to be delayed for a hearing.
Tom Lee said that while the Lottery is doing its job, it would be nice to have a more collaborative process that included the Advisory Council.
However, if the goal is to put these decisions into the hands of people most familiar with US regulated sports betting, it is fair to ask what experience the Advisory Council brings to the table.
So, let’s take a look at exactly who could end up in charge of regulating sports betting in the Volunteer State.
Members of the Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Council
The Sports Wagering Advisory Council is made up of nine members that run the gamut when it comes to their background.
Former Speaker of the House Glen Casada appointed two members before he resigned in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal.
Gov. Lee’s appointees
Gov. Bill Lee appointed Kevin Carroll, Hanes Torbett, and Billy Orgel to the council.
Carroll has spent his career within the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. He is currently the Director of Security Services and also has experience working with the FBI.
Torbett is a Johnson City, TN native who runs an insurance business. He was also in the news back in 2012 when he was the victim of a scammer. According to the Johnson City Press, the scammer managed to defraud Torbett on two separate occasions for a combined $170,000.
Finally, there is Orgel, who resides in Memphis. In addition to running his communications company Tower Ventures, he also has a minority ownership stake in the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team.
Lt. Gov. McNally’s appointees
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally also appointed someone with connections to the Grizzlies. Kandace Stewart is the team’s director of business operations and external affairs. She first started with the team in 2015 and arguably has the most hands-on experience with sports betting of anyone else on the council. In addition to her experience with the team, she also has a law degree from the University of Memphis.
McNally’s other appointees are also individuals well versed in the law. Brian Fazenbaker is a corporate investigator for Nissan but previously worked as an FBI agent. He is also an Air Force veteran.
Samuel Lee works in the Knox County District Attorney’s Office as the chief deputy. In his career, Lee has worked with both private law firms and the District Attorney’s office.
Glen Casada’s appointees
Like McNally, Casada looked to candidates with legal experience when appointing people to the council.
One appointee, attorney John Valliant Jr, does not exactly have a squeaky-clean history. In 2008, Valliant was embroiled in a scandal that resulted in the dismissal of Knox County Commission Chairman Scott Moore. Valliant allegedly provided favors and free services to the Commission in exchange for preferential treatment.
The other appointee, the aforementioned Tom Lee, has a multi-faceted background as an Emmy-award winning journalist, a lobbyist, and now an attorney with Nashville law firm Frost Brown Todd as well as an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt.
Cameron Sexton’s final appointee
Current speaker Rep. Cameron Sexton appointed the ninth and final member, Michael Keeney, to the council in 2020. Keeney is civil litigation attorney and a Tennessee Supreme Court mediator. He has been named to Best Lawyers in America since 2008.
Does Tennessee need more sports betting experience?
Some lawmakers believe the council members need to have a more proactive role in establishing rules and regulations. However, looking at the council’s experience, there are questions about how much insight on sports betting the group can necessarily bring to the table.
No member of the board appears to have a background in the gaming space. On the sports side, the interests of the Memphis Grizzlies and the NBA are represented, but sports experience and sports wagering experience are not necessarily the same thing.
What lawmakers, the Lottery Board, and the Advisory Council can all agree on is that the regulations are not where they need to be yet. How the state goes about resolving that problem remains up in the air.