An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of Tennessee
Tennessee is not a gambling-friendly State, and outlaws almost every form of gambling except for a lottery and very limited charity bingo and raffle games. For most residents, the best gambling opportunities lie across State borders. Each year millions of Tennessee residents visit the casinos and poker rooms of neighboring States such as Mississippi. This article gives you an overview of the gambling laws in the State of Tennessee.
First up below you’ll find a history of gambling in Tennessee, this is short and gives a fast-paced overview of the current situation. After that I have gone through each of the common forms of gambling, highlighting their current legal status. Next you will find excerpts from the statutes themselves, along with a timeline of legal events. Finally, there is a summary and look towards the future at the bottom of this page.
The fastest way to describe the gambling history in this State is to say that they started as an anti-gambling State, and nothing much has changed since!
This does not give credit for a flourishing horse racing scene at the end of the 1800’s, a blanket ban on betting (even pari-mutuel pools) finally killed this off in 1906.
It would be almost 100 years of underground gambling and casino trips across State borders before the first carve-out under Tennessee law.
In 2003 a lottery was made legal in a referendum, with the first draw taking place in 2004. This is named an ‘education’ lottery, to highlight the cause it supports. As you might expect in a State with so few other options, this is extremely popular.
It took flooding in 2010 before the next carve-out was created – for charity bingo and lottery events. These are limited and licensed, and strictly for good causes.
There is some poker history in Tennessee, though not involving playing of games. Chris Moneymaker, who started the poker boom after winning the World Series Main Event in 2003 after winning an online satellite, is a resident here. Poker is seen as illegal under Tennessee law, which was backed up by the attorney general in 2005 in a statement covering poker tournaments. There is little chance that this State will regulate online poker, even if this proves to be a success in other States.
Casino Gaming: No, there are no casinos in this State, either state or tribal owned. To enjoy casinos many residents cross over State borders, particularly to Mississippi.
Online Casinos: No, this is considered to be covered by the broad legislation which focuses on an ‘element of chance’.
Live Poker: No, there are no poker rooms and social games are not carved out under Tennessee law. A recent statement from the State Attorney General declared poker tournaments to contravene the existing statutes.
Online Poker: No, it is thought extremely unlikely that online poker games will be regulated in this State.
Sports Betting: No, there are no racetracks and not even pari-mutuel betting is permitted here.
Lottery Betting: Yes, this State has an ‘education lottery’ which includes both draws and scratch-off cards.
Bingo Games: Yes, limited charity bingo and raffle games are permitted under strict license.
The statutes which underpin the hugely restrictive regime in TN are outlined here. There are two major factors in play. First of all, the ‘any element of chance’ wording – which rules out poker and any other game involving both skill and chance outcomes. Second, promoting or hosting gambling will get you in a lot of trouble in Tennessee, this is also shown below.
Here is the part about promotion:
(1) Intends to derive or derives an economic benefit other than personal winnings from the gambling; or
(2) Participates in the gambling and has, other than by virtue of skill or luck, a lesser risk of losing or greater chance of winning than one (1) or more of the other participants.” (From 39-17-504)
Below is a timeline of some legal events in the Gambling history of Tennessee:
1906: Betting on horse races outlawed, killing off the previously successful racing industry.
2003: Education Lottery goes live, as implied in the name, profits from this go towards educational development uses.
2005: Attorney General gives an opinion that poker tournaments are covered under the current laws, even when nobody is taking a profit from hosting the games.
2010: Charity bingo and raffles allowed. This followed flooding in many areas, and was thought of as a quick way to raise funds. Licensees are strictly regulated and the prize amounts small.
Tennessee is one of the dry States as far as gambling opportunities go, and the government appears to be happy with the situation. You’ll find law enforcement keen to bust illegal games here and the only real options lie in adjacent States or via longer trips to Vegas or Atlantic City.
There is little hope that Tennessee would join any group of States regulating online poker based on the current political climate.
Summary Of Statutes
Attorney General Opinion On Texas Holdem