It’s been more than a year since Tennessee lawmakers approved sports betting and Gov. Bill Lee let the bill become law without his signature. And the question that keeps popping up is when will the first bet be placed in the Volunteer State?
In honor of Alex Trebek’s new book, “The Answer Is:” not Sept. 1. That date has been bandied about, but an industry expert says the Tennessee Education Lottery won’t be ready. Why? No operators have been approved for sports betting in the state, and according to the TEL, once an operator applies for a license, the board of directors has up to 90 days to approve or deny an application. As of July 22, no operators were listed as approved on the TEL website, and the TEL does not provide a public list of applicants.
At a June meeting of the Sports Wagering Advisory Council, there was discussion about three “experienced operators” who have started the application process. The council and TEL did not reveal the names of the operators, but the term “experienced operators” would indicate they could be referring to national companies like BetMGM, BetRivers, DraftKings, FanDuel or PointsBet. Since then, the TEL shared with Sports Handle it has four “incomplete applications,” meaning that even if one application were completed today, the 90-day approval window would close on or about Oct. 21, well beyond the start of football season. The NFL is scheduled to kick off on Sunday, Sept. 13.
4 vendors, but no operators approved
Over the last eight months, the TEL has approved sports betting regulations, approved four vendors, and gone through an administrative shakeup. All of that after a slow start following legalization — it took state lawmakers several months to begin appointing members to the Sports Advisory Council, and the proposed regulations weren’t rolled out until November.
Me awake every night wondering why Tennessee legalized sports betting and I still don’t have access to the sports books here pic.twitter.com/aRY5g5xrcV
— Taylor Canevari (@TACanevari) January 24, 2020
Earlier this month, the TEL approved four vendors, but it has yet to approve a single operator to offer sports betting. According to the TEL, there is no deadline for when applications from potential operators or vendors must be received.
A lack of continuity at the top has likely made the path from legal to live more difficult. The former associate director at UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation, Jennifer Roberts, was hired last November to be the director of sports betting, but she left the TEL in late June. At about the same time, former West Virginia Lottery counsel and William Hill Director of Government Relations Danielle Boyd was hired as the vice president of sports gaming operations.
Challenges of going live with no gaming history
On balance, Tennessee might not be considered the most attractive market in the U.S.by operators — the $750,000 application fee is on the high end, the state will collect a 20% tax on adjusted gross income, and the TEL opted to impose a payout cap of 90% on wagers, meaning odds will be worse in Tennessee than they might be in other states.
Looks like the Tennessee sports betting scene is gonna be about as nationally relevant as their football program
— Matt Lindeman (@lindetrain) April 15, 2020
Tennessee so far is the only state to approve mobile-only sports betting, and it is among the U.S. jurisdictions that are trying to go live with sports betting without having an existing gaming infrastructure. The most recent to do so is the District of Columbia, which launched its lottery-run GamBetDC app in May. Other mobile apps — which will only be available in specific locations — and retail sportsbooks in D.C. are not yet available.
Virginia is hurtling toward an early 2021 launch for sports betting, as lawmakers there mandated that rules be approved by Sept. 15.
The next TEL Sports Advisory Council meeting is set for Aug. 18 at noon local time.