Tennessee Sports Betting Bill Still Faces Hurdles

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After stalling in the state House due to bipartisan issues, a bill to bring sports wagering to Tennessee is advancing - slowly.

House Bill 1, supported by Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) and a similar Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) passed through the state House committee on a 12-5 vote.

The bill limits sports betting to mobile only.

If it gets full support, the proposal would make Tennessee the first state in U.S. to allow sports betting without establishing a retail sportsbook. The bill also includes a 20 percent tax on sports betting revenue.

Stand-alone mobile betting has been approved in Washington, D.C. with an exception of walk-up kiosks at a few arenas including Capitol One Arena, which is home to the Washington Wizards and Capitals.

While in committee, the bill had several changes including an amendment that prohibits prop bets on college sports – not just on in-state schools.

The bill also won’t allow certain officials and students at Vanderbilt and the University of Tennesee to bet.

“It is an effort on those institutions to protect information, protect their athletes, protect the families of the athletes as this goes forward,” state Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) told the committee while considering the amendment.

Those who run sports-betting operations and others with “influence” over a game’s outcome from betting also are prohibited from betting.

Another change ensures allocation of $2.5 million a year for gambling addiction programs.

Late last month, it didn’t appear the bill was going anywhere as committee members shoved it to the back of the calendar after several amendments were rejected. Lawmakers worked diligently with state officials and college representatives to makes changes to move the bill along.

It now moves to the House Government Operations Committee. Hearings have yet to be scheduled and it still faces many hurdles, including a non-binding Senate vote which rejected the bill.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who has said previously said he opposes sports betting, may not be on board, though it has been reported that Lee’s staff has been working with lawmakers to alter the bill.

Several lawmakers, too, are unimpressed, according to media reports in the Tennessean.

Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, one of two representatives in the room when the legislature voted to establish an education lottery, said he saw "night and day differences" in the sports betting bill and the lottery program.

"If we don’t do this, I don’t see this as a loss of a tremendous amount of money," Hawk said in the Tennessean. "I see this as a cost to society."

Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) has moral issues with the legislation pointing out that having to earmark money for addiction treatment shows the bill is not worth pursuing, according to the Associated Press.

Those supporting the bill say Tennessee is losing revenue to neighboring states as residents are crossing borders to make bets or wagering illegally in-state.

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