Could Tennessee be the next state to legalize casinos? It might seem as likely as a roulette ball landing on a specific number. That said, a joint resolution filed last month in the Tennessee General Assembly by Rep. Jason Powell brings the state one small step closer to that possibility.
Powell’s resolution would legalize casino gaming in the state. Tennessee primary education would be the beneficiary of the tax money should Powell’s resolution defy the odds and work its way up the legislative ladder.
Despite the recent launch of online sports betting in the Volunteer State, there appears little momentum at present for Tennessee lawmakers to begin pushing for casinos.
Resolution provides an avenue to begin casino discussion
Rep. Powell filed HJR0093 last month, and the resolution was immediately referred to the State Government Committee. Two weeks later on Feb. 24 it was sent to the Departments and Agencies Subcommittee, with no action since.
The two-page resolution proposes to amend the state’s constitution. The amendment would replace current language describing the operation of the state lottery, adding language authorizing “casino gaming to be operated within this state.”
The resolution also adds “that all state revenues derived from casino gaming,” aside from administrative expenses, “shall be allocated to K-12 education projects and programs.”
The Assembly would determine which projects and programs would receive the funding.
The Tennessee Education Lottery (TEL) similarly provides funding for education in the state. Most recently the TEL has advertised having raised $5.7 billion for education since the lottery’s debut in 2004.
However, most of that money goes toward scholarships and grants for higher ed, and not toward K-12 funding.
The TEL oversees sports betting, currently the only other legal form of gambling in the state, in addition to the lottery.
Will Tennessee look to keep up with the neighbors?
While there is no significant push for casino gambling in Tennessee yet, there might be some “peer pressure” in effect. Tennessee shares borders with four different states that either currently have casinos or will be introducing them in the near future.
Two Harrah’s Cherokee casinos operate in western North Carolina not far from the Tennessee border.
To the west, Arkansas has multiple casinos, and to the south, there are more than two dozen casinos in Mississippi.
Tennesseans in the northeastern part of the state see that Virginia has begun construction on its first casinos. These include a new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino just over the state line in Bristol, VA.
The slots-like historical horse racing machines allowed in Kentucky can also be a draw for some in the northern part of Tennessee.
Fast start for sports betting could help
A relatively promising start for sports betting in Tennessee could provide some encouragement for casino progress. The state’s four online sportsbooks started strong after launching in November 2020, and numbers have increased every month since.
After taking $131.4 million in wagers in November and $180.9 million in December, TN sportsbooks realized a sports betting handle of $211.3 million in January.
Revenue for the sportsbooks increased to $21.8 million in January. That was up from the $13-14 million of each of the first two months.
Such a start might help provide a favorable context for discussions of casino gambling in the state. Even so, it would seem casinos coming to Tennessee would be a longshot, at least for now.