Now that a new bill is floating around Nashville that could potentially change who is in charge of Tennessee sports betting, now 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 TN Lottery. 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.
Jennifer Roberts is the director of sports gaming regulation. While many Lottery employees are not too familiar with sports betting and casino gaming, Roberts has an extensive background in the field. Prior to coming to Tennessee, she was the Associate Director of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
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.
The Board is who will vote on the finalized regulations. Lawmakers already penned a letter to Lanigan asking her to avoid voting on regulations last month. The letter conveyed concerns over the state of regulations and potentially problematic elements like the 15% hold requirement. The Board put off the vote per the request.
Should the Advisory Council start calling the shots?
The new bill proposes to 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. This comes after 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.
Lee also said the Lottery is doing its job, but that 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 regulated sports betting in the United States, 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 Tennesse Sports Betting Advisory Council
There are currently only eight members on what is supposed to be the nine-member council. Former Speaker of the House Glen Casada appointed two members before he resigned in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal. The current speaker, Rep. Cameron Sexton will appoint the final member. He has yet to announce an appointee though.
The other eight members of the council run the gamut when it comes to background.
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 Sports Betting 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.
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 is still up in the air though, which means we are still looking at fall before the first TN online sportsbook starts taking bets.