Tennessee is not a gambling state. There are no casinos, racetracks, or off-track betting facilities inside state lines. So, you can imagine how shocking it was when sports betting became legal in the Volunteer State in 2019. Although it took another year to launch, the new law represented a startling change of direction for a legislature staunchly opposed to gambling expansion.
What was even more interesting was the fact that Tennessee’s launch marked another first for the US gambling industry. Tennessee was the first state to welcome online-only betting. Since there are no gambling locations within its borders, legislators in Nashville elected to keep the entire industry online.
So, in light of Tennessee’s membership into the somewhat-exclusive club of legal gambling states, you will find a complete guide to sports betting and other gambling in the Volunteer State below. Although there are not many options to report beyond sports betting and sweepstakes online casinos, you can never tell when the wheels will begin turning again. In the meantime, you can stay up to date on everything happening in the great state of Tennessee.
Play online casino games in Tennessee
Is online gambling legal in Tennessee?
Yes, there is online gambling in Tennessee. Specifically, you can bet on sports, bet on horseracing, and play daily fantasy sports (DFS). However, these three avenues are basically the limit in terms of online gambling. Legal Tennessee online casinos, poker, and even lottery games are unavailable. As it happens, almost every type of gambling is strictly prohibited by Tenn. Code § 39-17-501.
One other avenue for online gaming, however, is the use of sweepstakes sites. Although the games that you can play on these sites are mostly identical to those found on online casino sites, the unique business model that sweepstakes sites use keeps them in the good graces of the law. In fact, because of the restrictions placed upon sweepstakes sites, you are able to play for real money prizes without spending a dime.
Are online casinos legal in Tennessee?
No. Online casinos are not legal in the state of Tennessee. Tennessee defines gambling as “risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance, or any games of chance associated with casinos, including, but not limited to, slot machines, roulette wheels and the like.” This definition sets up the prohibitions on gambling that follow shortly afterward in the Tennessee Code.
However, possible outlets for online casino fans in Tennessee are the aforementioned sweepstakes sites. There are several sweepstakes casinos that use a unique dual-currency system in order to remain in compliance with sweepstakes law, and you can win big on these sites at absolutely no charge to you. Top sweepstakes casino sites in Tennessee include:
All three casino sites have numerous slot titles that you can play. You can also find a smattering of table games onsite. Consult the terms and conditions of each site for more information about how to play for free.
Can you play online poker in Tennessee?
No. Tennessee does not offer legal and licensed poker sites. If you do happen to come across a site that purports to be legal in Tennessee, do not believe it. The site you’ve found is based outside of the US and comes with a host of legal and practical concerns – we cover this issue in greater detail below.
The only online poker-like option you have available is sweepstakes poker. The best opportunity in this regard is Global Poker. Global Poker is owned and operated by the same company that runs Chumba and Luckyland, and all three use the same types of currency. Global offers cash games, tournaments, sit-n-go’s, jackpot sit-n-go’s, and fast fold poker options. There are a variety of blind levels and buy-ins available. You can play no-limit Texas hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, or Crazy Pineapple onsite, although hold’em is obviously the easiest game to find.
Otherwise, it is not a good idea to try and play online poker in Tennessee. Officials in the Volunteer State seem pretty serious about not allowing Tennesseans to wager their hard-earned money on games of chance.
Can you play slots online in Tennessee?
For the most part, no. No online casinos are licensed, registered, or permitted to operate inside the state lines of Tennessee. Thus, no slot games are available at true online casino sites.
However, online sweepstakes casinos like Chumba, Luckyland, and Funzpoints each offer several slot titles that can be played for real prizes. As a condition of their business models, each site will give you money to play for free. This money is redeemable for actual cash.
The slot titles on these sites are quite well-rendered and will mostly replicate games to the point that you will be perfectly satisfied playing them. However, make sure to check back with us periodically regarding the legal outlook for sites in Tennessee.
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.
Does Tennessee have legal online sportsbooks?
Yes. Tennessee is home to legal online sportsbooks. Online sports betting became legal in 2019 thanks to HB0001, which permitted online sports betting licensing to proceed. The bill, which passed into law after Gov. Bill Lee declined to sign it, only allowed for retail sportsbooks after a petition and election process in each jurisdiction. In other words, though it would theoretically be legal to set up retail sportsbooks in Tennessee, it would take quite a bit more work to get them off the ground.
When Tennessee legalized sports betting in 2019, it came as a bit of a shock to folks in the gambling industry. After all, Tennessee had long been a hostile place for games of chance – even bingo isn’t permitted. However, it’s possible that the seeds for sports betting’s debut in the Volunteer State had already been planted long before HB0001 passed into law in April 2019. Three years prior, Tennessee became the third state to regulate daily fantasy sports (DFS) officially.
DFS has always been a bit of a quandary for lawmakers. It seems to have qualities of both gambling and a game of skill. So, it was no surprise that the Tennessee attorney general weighed in on the matter in April 2016. Attorney General Herbert Slatery stated unequivocally that under Tennessee law, DFS was considered gambling and was, thus, illegal.
The surprise came only a few weeks later. Gov. Bill Haslam affixed his signature on HB2015 and deftly overruled the AG’s opinion. DFS became a fully-legal option in July 2016.
Who regulates online gambling in Tennessee?
The Tennessee Education Lottery is responsible for overseeing online gambling in Tennessee. So, for the limited gambling present in the Volunteer State, lottery officials are the regulators. Whether that fact would continue to be true for online casinos and poker – if they were to come to Tennessee – is hard to know. As a general rule, though, states prefer to keep all regulation under the same roof, so the TEL would have to be the odds-on favorite to manage any additional online gambling that comes to Tennessee in the future.
What is the legal gambling age in Tennessee?
You must be 21 in order to play on Tennessee’s online sportsbooks. However, you can play Tennessee lottery games, charitable raffles, or bet on horse races online at age 18.
Will Tennessee regulate online casinos in the future?
If you asked this question prior to 2018, the answer would have been decidedly bleak. Tennessee was one of the staunchest anti-gambling states in the country, and any kind of expansion seemed unthinkable. However, with online sports betting becoming legal at the state level after the fall of PASPA, all bets were off (no pun intended).
So, it’s hard to predict what sorts of online gambling exist in Tennessee’s future. There are several gambling-related bills under consideration in the Tennessee General Assembly, including Rep. Jason Powell’s HJR0093, which would legalize casino gambling to pay for K-12 education in the state.
Other bills on the Assembly roster include measures to allow for bingo games, pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, and the ownership of antique gambling machines. None of these measures are in an advanced state of the process, however, and it’s hard to tell if they will make it past committee votes, let alone a general vote.
However, online betting is definitely turning some heads in Nashville, despite some early hiccups. So, don’t count the Volunteer State out of anything based upon most of its historical feelings about gambling.
Legal online gambling vs. offshore sites
Now, if you do any amount of web searching for Tennessee online gambling sites, you might be a bit confused about our statements that there are no online sites in the state. After all, several of them pop up with very little difficulty, and they seem to be professional and legitimate sites.
Well, the short answer they are not specifically legitimate. The sites that you are finding are based outside of the US and are not regulated by any US-based government organization.
The lack of regulation should give you pause. These sites are not bound by legal, ethical, or business practices required by US regulators. Although they may abide decently, they are not bound to do so.
They are also not subject to any kind of sanction or restriction that a regulator might put onto them. Although many foreign sites advertise independent regulatory bodies, it is difficult to tell if these authorities have any actual enforcement power over the sites themselves. In fact, it’s even possible that the regulators have obvious or profound conflicts of interest with performing their nominal duties.
Finally, the sites’ presence outside the US means that you do not have the same options available for legal remedies if something should go wrong. In other words, if a site decides to keep your money and/or kick you off the site, there’s probably not going to be much to do about it. So, even though it’s a frustrating thing for Tennesseans, you really shouldn’t take the chance on sites based offshore.
Types of legal gambling in Tennessee
Tennessee features one of the more restrictive environments for legal gambling in the US. Although not quite to the level of a Hawaii or Utah, the Tennessee General Assembly has not been traditionally sympathetic to gambling as an institution. Even with the relatively recent addition of online sports betting, the gambling options in the Volunteer State remain limited. Here are the types of legal gambling that you can pursue in Tennessee:
|Gambling Type||Permitted||Notes & Restrictions|
|Land-Based Gambling||No||Tennessee does not allow casino gambling and has no land-based casinos.|
|Online Gambling||Yes||Sports betting, horse betting, and DFS|
|Off-Track Betting||No||No off-track betting or simulcast racing|
|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 and 21 for sports betting|
That’s pretty much it. Bingo, a staple in other gambling-hostile states, is not even permitted. There are no retail gambling locations outside of the state lottery and the odd charitable raffle. There are no horsetracks or off-track betting locations with pari-mutuel or simulcast betting options. Needless to say, there aren’t any casinos.
The only other outlet is the aforementioned sweepstakes sites. Thanks to their careful business model, they should be able to stay in compliance with Tennessee law for the foreseeable future and offer you some casino-like options. Otherwise, you’re going to have to visit Mississippi to the south, North Carolina to the east, or West Virginia to the northeast to play your favorite games.
Are there land-based casinos in Tennessee?
No, there are no casinos located in Tennessee of any kind. Obviously, Tennessee law’s prohibition on commercial casinos is pretty straightforward. However, Tennessee is also not home to any federally-recognized Native American tribes or their reservations. As such, there is not even an opportunity for tribes to negotiate compacts with the state in order to offer casinos. At present, there are not many reasons to hope for land-based casinos to come to Tennessee, but the introduction of sports betting may signal that the wind is blowing a different direction.
Tribal casinos in Tennessee
Tennessee does not recognize the tribal claims of any groups in Tennessee. Neither does the federal government. So, there are no tribal reservation lands in the Volunteer State and very sparse representations of any Native tribes there at all.
Unfortunately, this lack of recognition also translates to a poor outlook for tribal casinos in Tennessee. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) grants tribes the ability to host casino properties on their lands, but they have to be federally-recognized tribes and negotiate compacts with the state to do so. No Tennessee tribe meets these requirements, so there are no tribal casinos in Tennessee. It does not seem likely that there will be any time soon, either
Playing casino games in neighboring states
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.
Tennessee Poker Laws
Tennessee and poker do not go together at all. Tennessee’s stringent anti-gambling code extends to all forms of poker, including home poker games. There are several reports that Tennessee law enforcement has no problem with citing or arresting those who participate in poker games, regardless of their circumstances, too.
So, do not play any type of poker game in Tennessee. The only possible exception would be sweepstakes poker, but given the breadth of Tennessee’s legal definition for gambling, it might be a bit sketchy. The best thing to do would be to visit a location like Tunica or save up for a trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
History of gambling in Tennessee
Tennessee’s history with gambling is both long and not terribly varied. As was the case in other states, horsebreeding and horseracing were incredibly popular in the 1800s. In fact, the first horsetrack opened in Tennessee all the way back in 1804 in Gallatin. Within 30 years, there were 10 operating tracks in the state and twice as many jockey clubs. It’s no accident that a type of horse, the Tennessee walker, is named after the Volunteer State.
However, after roughly a century of service, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to ban gambling entirely in the early 1900s. Although horseracing was initially spared the hammer, the reprieve only lasted until 1906. Gambling in Tennessee has never been the same, and it’s not like there were scads of casinos and cardrooms scattered across the state in the first place. Nevertheless, here is a short history of all the big moments in Tennessee’s history with gambling:
- 1804 – The first legal gambling event takes place with a horse race in Gallatin. Horseracing explodes in popularity and reaches a zenith with nearly a dozen tracks and nearly two dozen jockey clubs in the state.
- 1906 – Legislators vote to ban betting on horseracing. The ban completes the extinguishing of legal gambling in Tennessee that began at the turn of the 20th century. Tennessee becomes one of the least gambling-friendly states in the country.
- 2010 – Tennessee finally allows a tiny ray of sunshine to break through the clouds with the Tennessee Nonprofit Gaming Law. This law allows charitable organizations to hold raffles legally in the state, provided they comply with licensing and regulatory mandates. Bingo, a common charitable game in other states, specifically remains prohibited by law.
- 2016 – Tennessee becomes the third state in the US to legalize daily fantasy sports outright. Gov. Bill Haslam signs the bill into law just weeks after the state attorney general affirmed that DFS was, in fact, illegal under state law. The move is stunning because it not only represents a clear reversal of an attorney general’s opinion, but also because it places Tennessee at the forefront of a type of gambling legalization for the first time.
- 2019 – Tennessee joins the ranks of states with legal sports betting after HB0001 becomes law. The bill passes both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly but does not receive Gov. Bill Lee’s signature before becoming the law of the land. Tennessee becomes the first state to offer sports betting in an online-only format. The first sportsbooks open their virtual doors in 2020..