This article was written by David Norris.
Tennessee is not among the small handful of states across America that can claim to be a casino or gambling hub. Indeed, we’ve noted in a piece titled ‘5 Reasons Why Expats Should Live in Nashville’ that Music City attracts visitors and residents despite not being a casino haven like Nevada (or a tech hub like California). And yet, the lack of casino activity in Nashville and in Tennessee more broadly may not be as permanent as many have long assumed. Specifically, we may be moving toward the introduction of legal online casinos in the Volunteer State.
The main reason that we can say this is that Tennessee has recently legalized online sports betting — which can be a sort of stepping-stone toward broader online casino play. Per Nashville’s News Channel 5, four companies were approved to start operating online sportsbooks toward the end of 2020. Those companies — Fanduel, DraftKing, BetMGM, and Tennessee Action 24/7 — will look to achieve success similar to what we’ve seen in a handful of other states that have legalized online betting in recent years. And early indications are that it’s going well.
As for whether this will prove to be a stepping-stone toward casino activity in Tennessee, it’s worth noting that there has already been legislation proposed that would in fact pave the way for casino gaming. Specifically, House Joint Resolution 93 has been proposed already this year (by Representative David Powell of the state’s 53rd congressional district). The resolution would legalize casino gaming, with the caveat that state revenue derived from that gaming be put toward K-12 education costs. Whether or not this resolution will go anywhere is as yet unknown, and it may be an uphill battle given that the governor is known to be against casino gaming. Nevertheless, the combination of sports betting success and a sound plan for state revenue is compelling.
It is also worth mentioning that to some extent Tennessee residents already have access to certain kinds of online casino resources and activity. In the resource category, there is nothing preventing residents from accessing materials that inform them about the state of the gaming industry and even give them the knowledge and tools they need to succeed in it. The news and guides regularly posted on Poker.org demonstrate just how broad this sort of resource can be without being a direct channel to gaming. Through this platform, as an example, Tennessee residents can effectively engage with the online gaming world despite not being able to participate directly in it. That said, there is also some access to actual gaming activity. While online casino sites are not permitted in the state, it is known that many choose to play at offshore sites. (Legal issues rarely if ever arise from this, though we want to stress that it is at best a legal grey area.)
That Tennessee residents already have a certain degree of access to the world of online casinos only enhances the potential for the industry. It implies that there are already many interested individuals who would quickly give business to legalized online gaming sites in the state. Even if this weren’t the case though, data from other states shows quite clearly that online casinos generate revenue. Even amidst pandemic struggles, a recent article by The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out that as land-based casinos in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New Jersey lost hundreds of millions of dollars, online gambling “skyrocketed.” That’s quite a compelling case for potential state earnings (particularly if those earnings are going toward education!).
On top of all of this, there’s also even some potential for tourism! While Nashville does fairly well in this department already, there’s legitimate potential for smaller towns around Tennessee’s borders to benefit from online casinos. We’ve seen this happen in other states, and most notably New Jersey, as people cross state lines specifically to be able to enjoy some gambling activity for a few hours. These “tourists” patronizing in-state hotels, motels, bars, and restaurants only compounds the financial benefit of legalized online casinos.
It will still take time for these arguments to win out if they do so at all. But with the early success of betting and the compelling reasoning behind online casinos, it’s conceivable that we may soon see legal poker, slots and games of all kinds coming to Tennessee.