In many ways, Tennessee is the state with the most Southern ethos in the US. It’s the home of country music, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, and home to its own style of barbecue. Fittingly, with regard to gambling, Tennessee embodies the ingrained conservatism of the region. Tennessee has no casinos of any sort inside its borders.
One of the only legal options Tennesseans have for in-state gambling is the state lottery. Tennessee passed a referendum in November 2002 to legalize this kind of limited gambling. After roughly a year-and-a-half of organization, the first tickets went on sale Jan. 20, 2004. That first day yielded $10.4 million dollars in sales. Since its inception, the lottery has generated over $15.8 billion in sales. Of this, $4 billion has been funneled into the Tennessee educational system, and an additional $1 billion more has gone into commissions for lottery retailers, which serves as a reinvestment of funds into Tennessee’s economy.
DFS and sports betting in Tennessee
Another option for gambling is due to Tennessee’s legalization of daily fantasy sports betting in 2016. In doing so, Tennessee became the third state to conclude that DFS is legal in Tennessee and exempt from its gambling laws. The legalization occurred over the objections of State Attorney General Herbert Slatery. This made it an unusual move, because state governments are rarely at odds with their own law enforcement officials. So, Tennesseans are able to access sites like FanDuel or DraftKings in peace.
A few years later, on May 24, 2019, Tennessee legalized sports betting, but with one big caveat. As Tennessee does not have any land-based casinos, the bill approves online sports betting only–and it’s the first state to have this kind of law. Whenever the first bets are ready to roll, bettors won’t be able to place them at any kind of land-based or retail sportsbook.
Otherwise, pickings are pretty slim in the Volunteer State. There actually was a law on the books for almost 30 years that allowed horse racing venues to be built in the state. Unfortunately, the combination of financial trouble and legal hassles (despite the law, individual counties maintained a modicum of control over their own territories with regard to gambling) prevented any company from actually breaking ground on a track in Tennessee. The law itself was finally repealed in 2015.
Finally, a law to legalize casino gambling in Tennessee was proposed in February 2017 by State Rep. Larry Miller, a Democrat representing the Memphis area. It took less than a month for the bill to die in committee. So, at this time, no further legalization is likely in Tennessee.
Recent Tennessee legal gambling news
Online gambling in Tennessee
Tennessee has some of the broadest laws regarding gambling in the US. The language of its law banning gambling extends to “risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance, not including lawful business transactions.” This is striking because the language is so broad, it has to include an exception for the risk inherent in normal business activities.
As such, even though there is no specific prohibition against online gambling in Tennessee, the overall prohibition could easily be applied to online activities. Given the specified penalties for gambling in the state (which details fines, jail time, confiscation of any associated equipment, and confiscation of any monies used to gamble), players of online gambling games like video poker and online slots could potentially find police in their homes and have their computers and online bankrolls removed from their possession permanently. As for online, the attention of the police continues to be focused on live poker and other gambling right now.
Fantasy sports in Tennessee
The only exception (as mentioned above) is daily fantasy sports betting. The Fantasy Sports Act of 2016 provides a framework for the licensure of operators within Tennessee. As such, residents can engage in this very limited form of gaming without fear of prosecution. Below are some of the options for DFS in Tennessee – please note that FanDuel and DraftKings are by far the industry leaders and most reliable sites.
|FanDuel||New York, New York, USA||NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, PGA (beta)|
|DraftKings||Boston, Massachusetts, USA||NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, PGA, NASCAR, MMA, eSports|
|DraftDay||Chicago, Illinois, USA||NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, NCAA football|
|FantasyDraft||Charlotte, North Carolina, USA||NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA|
|StarsDraft||Austin, Texas, USA||NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA|
Social casino options
Tennessee residents are able to play any of the standard social casino options available across the country. Double Down Casino, Slotomania, Big Fish, and Zynga are all playable options through Facebook or mobile devices.
However, people in Tennessee need to be very careful about the games they are playing because of the breadth of Tennessee’s law. Any kind of giveaway, promotion, or compensation acquired via one of these (or other sites, like MyVegas) might put players in violation of the law. So far, there are no reports of people having legal troubles because of their involvement in social casino play, but please exercise caution if you are playing social casino games in Tennessee.
State casino operator history
Tennessee’s lack of in-state casinos is problematic for residents who would like to play their favorite games of chance. However, there are some options in neighboring states that can help soothe these feelings. The most notable option is the collection of casinos just across the border from Memphis in Tunica, Mississippi.
Tunica is one of Mississippi’s two major gambling centers (the other being Biloxi). It is home to eight casinos as sizable and luxurious as any found in Las Vegas.
Harrah’s, Hollywood, Sam’s Town, and Gold Strike all have Tunica locations with every table game one would imagine in casinos of this size. For Memphis residents, these casinos are a mere 43 miles away. They are the best option for Tennesseans in the southwestern part of the state.
Otherwise, Tennesseans have few other options. Residents in the northwestern part of the state can try the Lady Luck Casino Caruthersville in Missouri, which is a small riverboat on the Mississippi River.
Nashville residents can make a just-over-two-hour drive northwest to the Harrah’s Metropolis in Illinois. Finally, Tennesseans in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state can most easily access the two Harrah’s Cherokee properties in North Carolina.
|Casino||Location||Nearest TN City|
Resorts Casino Tunica
Sam’s Town Casino Resort
Gold Strike Casino Resort
Tunica Roadhouse Casino & Hotel
Fitz Casino & Hotel
|Tunica, MS||Memphis (43 miles)|
|Lady Luck Casino Caruthersville||Caruthersville, MO||Memphis (95 miles)|
|Harrah’s Metropolis||Metropolis, IL||Clarksville (109 miles)
Nashville (150 miles)
|Kentucky Downs (racetrack)||Franklin, KY||Nashville (40 miles)|
|Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort||Cherokee, NC||Knoxville (71 miles)|
|Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel||Murphy, NC||Chattanooga (95 miles)|
State legal environment
|Permitted/Offered?||Notes & Restrictions|
|Online Gambling||No||Gambling law is so broadly worded that online gambling would likely be prosecutable|
|Lottery||Yes||State and multi-state drawings available|
|Charitable or House-Based Gambling||Yes||Bingo and raffles|
|Minimum Gambling Age||18 for lottery and charitable gambling|