Soaring Lottery Jackpots Take Some Focus Off Sports Betting In Tennessee

Five years ago, a couple in Tennessee won $528 million playing the lottery. The jackpots are soaring in early 2021. Could it happen again?
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Tennessee is a state that historically is unfriendly to gambling, with few options for people in the state. Sports betting and the lottery are exceptions for the casino-less jurisdiction.

The state kicked off sports wagering on Nov. 1, confined to mobile devices and computers. While sports betting is the hot game in town right now, not just in Tennessee but across the country in states that have legalized it, the Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots are starting to swell and could soon reach historic levels. Technically, they are historic already. It may soon make sense to save some of your sports betting bucks for a lottery ticket (or tickets) despite the absurd odds of winning the grand prize.

Tuesday’s Mega Millions drawing didn’t produce a grand-prize winner, meaning the jackpot for the next drawing on Friday night is expected to be a whopping $750 million. That would make it the fifth largest ever in U.S. lottery history. Not to be outdone, Powerball’s estimated jackpot for its Wednesday drawing is $550 million, just outside the top 10 of all-time.

Lotteries in 50% of states seeing growth

Unfortunately for folks in Tennessee, tickets cannot be bought over the internet. You have to do it in person. Still, a ticket-buying frenzy could sweep the state if the jackpots keep growing. Two jackpots, one in 2016 and one in 2018, passed the $1.5-billion mark. The $1.58-billion Powerball drawing in 2016 was split by three winning tickets, one of which was sold in the Volunteer State. Earlier that year, a winning ticket for a $420.9 million Powerball jackpot was sold in Tennessee. Tennesseans have had some luck.

“This is an exciting way to welcome in the new year,” Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebeca Paul Hargrove said about the soaring jackpots. “Both games have been on a roll since September, and ticket sales for both are growing, which is good news for the education programs we fund. As always, we remind players to have fun and play responsibly. It only takes one ticket to win.”

According to Hargrove, whose quasi-public agency regulates sports betting, Tennessee is among the roughly 50% of states that have seen lottery sales grow despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of that could be due to its location. Tennessee is to the north of Alabama, a state without a lottery.

Some Alabamans reportedly are making the trip north to grab a multi-state lottery ticket in Tennessee. Some people — in Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia — are doing the same for sports wagering.

Credit: Robert Gregory Griffeth / Shutterstock.com

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