Tennessee Sports Wagering Advisory Council Names Executive Director

Tennessee’s Sports Wagering Advisory Council, which is set to take over as the state’s regulator in 2022, has named Mary Beth Thomas as its executive director.

Thomas, who has been serving as counsel in the Secretary of State’s Office, was unanimously voted in by the advisory council last Thursday. Thomas comes to the position with experience in gaming, as the Secretary of State’s Office regulates daily fantasy sports and charitable gaming.

She was selected for the new post by the advisory council  over two other candidates: Scott Sloan, who is Tennessee Higher Education Commission chief of staff and general counsel, and Rhode Island Lottery Director of Sports Betting and Casino Compliance Roger Guillemette.

Thomas is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, where she got a bachelor’s degree in finance in 2000 and a law degree in 2003. Prior to joining state government, Thomas worked at the law firm of Waller, Lansden, Dortsch, and Davis in Nashville for seven years.


New draft rules would keep 10% payout cap

Thomas will guide a new agency tasked with regulating sports betting in the first U.S. state to legalize digital wagering only. Under the initial law, the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation was the regulator and the SWAC was essentially a consultant. But last spring, lawmakers flipped the script, making the SWAC the regulator.

Since then, nine members have been named to the council, which has been scrambling to create rules, hire staff, find office space, and complete all of the other administrative tasks associated with creating a new state agency. The plan is for the SWAC to take over regulatory duties in January.

The SWAC approved draft sports betting rules earlier this year, and one thing that won’t change is the state’s mandated 10% payout cap. The rule means that operators must have a hold of 10%, which is significantly higher than the national average of about 7%. Some operators have not met the hold requirement, and lottery officials had been grappling with how best to enforce the $25,000 penalty associated with failure to meet the requirement.

In the SWAC’s draft rules, revenue reporting would change from annually to quarterly, meaning the council could not only keep a better eye on average hold, but could also impose the penalty once a quarter, rather than annually. The law indicates a $25,000 fine, but left it up to the regulator to determine how often that would be imposed.

The public-comment period on the draft rules closes Tuesday. When approved, the new rules will replace the existing sports betting rules put into place by the TELC, which currently regulates sports betting.