At Least One Tennessee Representative In Favor Of Sports Betting

At Least One Tennessee Representative In Favor Of Sports BettingIt’s no secret that Tennessee is one of the least gambling-friendly states in the nation, but after the Supreme Court ruling, there is one state legislator that believes sports betting could benefit the local economy.

Shortly after the Court announced a 6-3 vote in favor of allowing states to determine if they want to legalize sports betting, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) took to his Twitter to voice his opinion.

"Tennessee should look into allowing this," tweeted Kelsey.

If you are unaware of just how strict Tennessee is when it comes to gambling, you can look at the Tennessee Code. §39-17-501(1) states that gambling “is contrary to the public policy of this state and means risking anything of value for a profit… or any games of chance associated with casinos”, and is considered a Class C misdemeanor.

The state has no casinos to play table games or slots, nor are there horse race tracks that allow pari-mutuel wagering. The only types of gaming permitted in TN are the state lottery and fantasy sports, the latter of which was legalized in 2016.

Legislators have made several attempts throughout the years to pass gambling expansion laws or propose constitutional amendments, but none have come to fruition thus far. Take Rep. Larry J. Miller (D-Memphis) who last year proposed HJR0109 , a resolution that would have amended Article XI, Section 5 of the Tennessee Constitution to permit games of chance that are commonly associated with casinos.

Though it will undoubtedly be an uphill battle, Kelsey still wants to push for legal sports betting in Tennessee. He followed up his initial tweet praising the Court decision by stating that he intends to “introduce legislation to allow sports betting in TN with the tax proceeds to go to K-12 education.”

As mentioned in Kelsey’s tweet, a constitutional amendment may not be necessary, though the state could go this route. Looking into the Tennessee Constitutionhttp://www.capitol.tn.gov/about/docs/tn-constitution.pdf , it says that state can only authorize lotteries that benefit education initiatives in the state.

The document does go on to say that “Article XI, Section 5… does not authorize games of chance associated with casinos”- hence why Rep. Miller sought an amendment - but on the same token, it does not expressly mention gambling or ban games of chance.

While Miller viewed casino gambling as a violation of the constitution, Kelsey is of the opposite opinion and that will impact how he writes his proposed legislation. If gambling is found to be unconstitutional, an amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly and a voter referendum.

If gambling is not in violation of the constitution, lawmakers would only need to change the existing law that prohibits the activity.

The legislature will not reconvene until 2019, at which point Kelsey will have researched the issue further and will be able to determine the appropriate way to introduce sports betting legislation in Tennessee.

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