‘Glad We Got It Done’ — Sponsor Of Tennessee Sports Betting Bill Reflects On Regulations

The Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation on April 15 approved regulations for the state’s upcoming online/mobile sports betting industry. It took about nine months after the 2019 Sports Gaming Act went into effect last year to craft the regulatory structure for the market.

The timing is a bit awkward for the Volunteer State, as the sports world has come to a near standstill. However, the regulatory process is picking up steam and the plan is to have sportsbooks launched around the time that sports return in full force (most likely without fans).

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee was eyeing launch around the time of football season. So not much has changed in terms of a timeline. The TELC met remotely last week, and the agency is taking the necessary precautions to continue work amid social distancing.

The TELC recently updated its website to include applications for firms in the sports betting space. It’s expected to take about 90 days to move through the applications. With the regulations adopted and applications in the works, the TELC should issue licenses this summer.

TN Bets caught up with state Rep. Rick Staples from Knoxville, the policymaker who spearheaded the 2019 legislation, to get his reaction to the adoption of the regulations. Late last year, Staples had been hoping sports betting could be live this spring, but that timeline didn’t come to fruition. It ended up not mattering much, with March Madness being canceled this year.

TN Bets: Were you pleased to see the regulations finalized?

Rick Staples: Having sports betting in a position now where vendors can apply and we can possibly get started when sports start back, gives us a situation where we can have some income coming into the state, based off of those taxes. I’m really glad to see us in this position. Even though I’m elated and excited about [sports betting], my main concentration is thinking about the devastation we’re going to face economically and hopefully get some control on this pandemic. That’s where my concentration is now.

TNB: I know you were expecting the time period from when the statute was enacted last summer to launch was going to be shorter, but are you content overall with the process?

RS: Well, my whole inspiration for doing this for the state of Tennessee was that we lost a hall tax, which a lot of small cities, small counties are going to be hit hard from. Getting these rules voted on and passed, it is putting us on the right track so whenever sports get rolling, given that we’re looking at doing sports differently — most likely you won’t be able to go into the arenas or stadiums for a while — that means people can sit at home and take advantage of the platforms in order to place wagers and enjoy themselves.

TNB: One part of the regulations that generated a lot of attention from the gaming industry was the 90% fixed payout cap. Do you have any thoughts about that?

RS: That’s something the lieutenant governor was pushing, but room was left to adjust that [in the future]. That was a negotiating piece as long as it was OK with the industry and the advisory board. We’re just glad we got it done and we’re going to move on.

TNB: Chairwoman Susan Lanigan said that it would be revisited in a year, so it could eventually be removed. Do you think that was the best plan — to see how it goes and come back to it later on?

RS: I think that’s important. We’re going to be the first in the nation; we’re the only non-gaming state to have online sports betting. We’re going to make those adjustments and fix those things as we go.

TNB: The governor was pretty clear when he let the sports betting bill become law that he doesn’t want to see any additional gaming expansion in Tennessee, but do you see that potentially changing after the pandemic when the state may be looking at new ways to generate revenue? Could Tennessee be interested in other forms of online gaming such as poker?

RS: Well, if anything, I’d like to see Tennessee move on either medicinal or recreational marijuana. It’s a different stream of revenue and helps our farmers. We could regulate it kind of like we regulate alcohol. When I think about that, that’s where my mindset goes. I know some people would like to see casinos, but I just think about medicinal and recreational marijuana as the next stream of revenue.