Real Money Online Gambling in Tennessee

Tennessee has traditionally been among the quietest states in the country when it comes to gambling, and their having any sort of state approved gambling is a new phenomenon. Still though, after going your entire history with none, just having a lottery now is a pretty big leap, and at least has opened up the door for more perhaps.

Tennessee was not one of the states that people expected would go for online gambling anytime soon, but the future is now for Tennessee as they get ready to join the minority of states that offer their people the opportunity to bet on sports online with the full support of the government. People in Tennessee have been doing this for years, off the grid, but it’s always a bonus when you get these things on the grid and make depositing and withdrawing more accessible.

The appetite for gambling overall in Tennessee may be muted compared to a lot of states, but it is still there, and online gambling is coming to better satisfy it. We’ll take a look at how things are shaping up in this state and what the future may hold, as well as what opportunities currently exist for gambling in this state.

History of Gambling in Tennessee

Tennessee Online Casinos and SlotsTennessee is not exactly a hotbed for gambling these days, and its gambling history, at least legal gambling history, is pretty sparse as well. Tennessee had regular horse races throughout the 19th century, you just couldn’t bet on them. In 1905, the state warmed up to the idea of allowing pari-mutuel betting, although the idea didn’t even get off the ground and the project was abandoned just a year later.

It wasn’t until 1987 that Tennessee tried again to finally make pari-mutuel betting legal, and this time the law was passed. There was only one problem though, and it is that Tennessee never did get any pari-mutuel horse racing tracks built, so although it is legal to offer this, no one has stepped up to take advantage of this 1987 law, to this day.

It wasn’t until 2004 that Tennessee offered legal and regulated gambling for the first time, the Tennessee Lottery. You can get a pretty good idea of a state’s appetite for gambling by looking at how long it took them to get a lottery, and Tennessee is well behind just about every other state in this regard.

In 2010, the state got their second form of legal gambling, limited forms of charitable gambling that require 100% of the proceeds to go to charity. The fact that they waited that long to legalize charitable gambling speaks even more loudly to just how reluctant Tennessee has been towards gambling, where some states have had this form of gambling legal for centuries.

It might therefore come as a surprise that Tennessee passed a bill in 2019 to legalize online sports betting, although it wasn’t mentioned in the bill that sports betting has never been against the law in Tennessee, although state officials may not even be aware of what the limitations of their law actually are.

In any case, regulated real money online sports betting is on the way in Tennessee, as the final details get hammered out. Perhaps Tennessee is a lot more open to sports betting but come down four square against just about every other form, and they are completely skipping the land-based version of this since there are no locations in the state that offer any sort of gambling, requiring them to take this rather avant-garde approach to it, as states far more liberal toward gambling are still wrestling with the idea.

Tennessee Gambling Laws

Tennessee defines the crime of gambling as risking anything of value where the outcome of the bet depends in any way upon chance. Examples are provided, such as slot machines and roulette wheels, and includes any bet that is contingent upon “chance.”

Often times, laws on gambling do not provide much clarity on whether a certain game, especially poker, is to be understood under the law as a game of chance or not, whereby the law may prohibit betting on games of chance but do not set out whether the outcome of bets purely depend on chance, like bets on slots, roulette, and craps would be, or whether their depending partly on skill, like blackjack does, or substantially upon skill, as is the case with poker, would fit their definition.

This distinction comes down to whether the meaning of a game of chance in the law includes whether the entire outcome must be dependent upon chance, or if not, what degree of the role that chance plays would be substantial enough to qualify. This has led to some interesting debates in the courts, but Tennessee law successfully sidesteps this issue by clearly defining that gambling as they define it involves any bet which depends upon chance in any way, which clearly would include playing poker.

This law is generally understood to be a blanket prohibition on gambling, and it is, although the rub here is that it prohibits gambling as defined by Tennessee law, which is not the same definition that is used generally. Anything that clearly does not fit their definition simply is not included, even though we may normally refer to it as “gambling” in everyday communication.

We might, for instance, consider betting on the outcome of an election, and then wonder whether this would constitute gambling in Tennessee. This is not a bet that is clearly not dependent upon chance, and while we may loosely use the term lucky to describe the winner, the outcome is not dependent upon luck at all, with people voting according to who they think should win, and they don’t flip coins or deal cards to help decide.

The same thing would be true if we placed a bet on an arm-wrestling match, where the stronger person will win, where the element of chance is simply absent. Betting on any contest, such as a sporting event, which is either based upon skill or outcomes that are decided in a way that does not involve some sort of randomization effect is not gambling at all in Tennessee, and you cannot be rightfully charged with gambling if you did not engage in gambling as defined by the law.

While Tennessee law does provide exceptions to gambling, such as those acts of gambling approved by the state, an act must first fit be included in the definition before it requires an exclusion. You can’t play slot machines in Tennessee, for instance, unless they make a law that authorizes it, but you don’t need an exclusion to bet on sporting events because it’s not deemed a crime in the first place and there is no act that requires exclusion.

Unlike with some states, there are no exemptions for gambling in private or what is referred to as social gambling, gambling that is not banked, where the players duke it out without a third party benefiting from running the game, as the chance element in any game would render it illegal unless specifically allowed by law.

Tennessee hasn’t updated their general prohibitions against gambling for a while, which speaks of the potential for the state to authorize a state lottery and tells us that if and when this happens, it will be excluded. The law still reads this way in spite of the Tennessee Lottery being created in 2003.

Pari-mutuel wagering isn’t mentioned at all, although a bill was passed in 1987 authorizing it. It is not that these authorizations are subject to any dispute, but we would think that the state would be interested in updating their gambling law at least occasionally to reflect the current state of affairs. Their gambling law looks like an unkempt yard where weeds have been growing for decades.

Tennessee law also permits charitable gaming, actual exclusions to their gambling law, as these charitable organizations do offer games that are contingent upon chance in the way that the law prohibits. The state has approved daily fantasy sports betting, which is purely a game of skill and does not even require an exception, nor does the online sports betting regulation that they are now considering, although they do need state authorization to start regulating it.

This is a good example of why it does pay to look at the law, where even the state itself can’t always be trusted to, and none of this requires any skill in legal analysis, where understanding plain language is more than sufficient to understand the limits of this particular law. People can get confused though, reading more into laws than is actually there, which is always a mistake.

Land-Based Gambling in Tennessee

Land-based gambling in Tennessee is limited to playing the Tennessee lottery and gambling at one of their charitable gambling events. There are 6 states that do not even have a lottery yet, although one of them is Nevada who are taking no chances as far as this cutting into their casino profits. Utah is the only state that has absolutely no legal gambling, and Tennessee’s very sparse offerings to date make them look pretty daring in comparison.

We might think that the lack of legal gambling in Tennessee has to do with the reluctance of state governments over the years, but while that may be true, there’s only so much governments can do to try to stifle gambling if it opposes the will of the people. The demand for gambling in Tennessee is definitely on the low side, and the state has been happy to let people bet on horses for instance, but the demand for this has yet to climb to the point where it would be worthwhile for anyone to build a track to do this at.

Tennessee has never had legal horse race betting, and while this is the case as well in some other states, Tennessee is the only state that doesn’t have it but has had no problem allowing it. Pari-mutual betting has been legal in Tennessee since 1987, with the first wager yet to be made.

Tennessee also offers charitable gambling now, although playing church bingo is pretty tame compared to the sort of gambling that is available elsewhere. It did take Tennessee until 2010 to finally relent to even allow just this, and social gambling is still completely against the law. This does not mean that this sort of thing does not go on anyway, but it still is a crime.

As odd as it might seem that Tennessee has chosen the online realm to roll out their new sports gambling that they approved in 2019, the state does not have any land-based gambling venues and clearly do not want them, even in the face of it being on the leading edge with real money online betting. The fact the state has agreed to this does show that they see sports betting as a more acceptable form than betting on games of chance, enough that they have seemed to even forget to leave out sports betting in their gambling laws.

Sports don’t generally come with an element of chance, but in an interesting opinion, the state attorney general shared his belief that fishing contests fell under the definition of gambling under state law, although in the case of this type of contest, there is indeed luck involved in determining how many fish someone catches, due to the fact that catching fish is like poker, a combination of luck and skill. This shows just how opposed Tennessee is to land-based gambling though.

It is possible that time may further wither Tennessee’s reluctance toward gambling, but land-based gambling is not even in their dreams yet, and therefore the virtual absence of it in this state is likely to persist for some time.

Tennessee Online Casinos & Slots Gambling

There is no doubt that Tennessee law bans betting on any game of chance, where chance plays any role in the outcome, which means casino games and poker. It would therefore be illegal to play real money online casino games or real money online poker, just as it would be if you bet on these games at a land-based venue, including your own home.

If it is against the law to do these things period, this includes both public and private settings, and means that you are violating the law if you place any wager on an event contingent upon chance while located within state borders. Placing bets of this nature online while located in Tennessee would also be breaking the law.

This is never a matter of a state needing to explicitly include online gambling as a prohibited form, as laws are usually written to be inclusive and especially those that target the act of gambling itself and not just focus so much on providing a list of which gambling games are prohibited. If you can’t bet on a casino game or at poker, if you do it online, you are still betting on a casino game or at poker.

There are some state laws against gambling that are completely comprehensive, outlawing all forms of wagering period based upon an event not completely known yet, for instance. Tennessee’s is a little less ambitious but does encompass two of the three major forms of betting, casino and poker.

They have gone ahead and approved legal and regulated online sports betting though, and Tennessee gamblers will soon have the ability to place their bets at Tennessee regulated sites instead of at sites regulated offshore.

This does not mean that sports bettors in Tennessee will be limited to these state regulated real money sports betting sites, and they may prefer another site with better odds for instance. There hasn’t been any sanctions against online sports betting though and the selection that sports bettors will have will come down to whether these offshore sites will choose to continue to accept players from Tennessee, as this may end up drying up the offshore market too much.

As far as online casino and poker goes, the opportunity continues to exist among those who are willing to ignore the law and gamble online at these games anyway. Many comply with all laws out of a matter of principle, and others may ask themselves whether a law is just or not and also consider the potential consequences of their choosing to oppose it on ethical grounds.

The concept of the Constitution requiring that we are not to be deprived of liberty without due process is a substantive matter that looks to a law’s justification in depriving people of liberty. Popular vote alone is not sufficient, as these rights serve to protect us from our freedoms being taken away without just cause, and imposing the preferences of the majority upon the minority does not count, and is actually the mechanism that constitutional rights and freedoms protect us against.

While our judicial system has relied on this protection to strike down many laws, they haven’t done much with anti-gambling laws yet, although their recent decision to strike down a sports betting law is at least a start, and is the reason why Tennessee has jumped in along with many other states.

While we wait, some have chosen to exercise their constitutional rights in defiance of these laws. When you put this together with the fact that there is no way to enforce laws against online gambling, the combination of feeling justified with no real risk involved is one that many players find appealing.

Should that be the case, there’s nothing really stopping Tennessee gamblers from playing real money online casino games and real money online poker along with sports gambling if they choose. We can provide some great advice on where to go for those who are up for it.

Future of Gambling in Tennessee

In a state which has been so historically opposed to gambling, seeing Tennessee jump in with both feet into the online sports betting scene was certainly a surprise. It very well may be that they see sports betting as far more acceptable than betting on games of chance, and they already allow daily fantasy sports contests, although this is by no means gambling in the way we normally think of it but does allow players to put money on their skill in building fantasy teams.

There may therefore be a significant divide between sports betting and other gambling, perhaps even fishing contests, and it could be quite a while before state lawmakers warm up enough to the sort of gambling their laws actually prohibit. It is a very good sign that Tennessee seems to have no qualms against online wagering, as some states allow it on land but not by the internet, and gambling virtually always starts out on land and then graduates to the internet as states get more comfortable with it.

If one day Tennessee decides that they want to offer poker or casino games, they may actually do it online well before they may even consider allowing companies to build land-based casinos. This is a good thing though, as the reach of land-based gambling venues is limited, where the reach of online gambling extends to anyone with the internet.

That’s not going to be happening anytime soon, and we need to celebrate whatever wins come our way, in spite of how much more there is to do. People will soon be able to enjoy the excitement of betting on sports, which makes watching sports much more engaging. You don’t even have to personally like either of the teams to have a ball when you have a financial stake in one of them.

For those who do not want to wait for real money online casino and real money online poker, there are plenty of good sites out there that will welcome you with open arms, which we would be happy to show you.

Tennessee Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
  • Why doesn’t Tennessee have pari-mutuel wagering?

    Tennessee got its first gambling bill in 1987 when the state made pari-mutuel horse race betting legal, but there were no takers, and to this day the state does not have a pari-mutuel racetrack that operates. This not only tells us how reluctant the state is towards allowing gambling, taking this long to finally allow it, it also speaks loudly to how little interest there is in gambling in the state, where it gets approved but it still doesn’t get built.

  • Why has Tennessee been so backward when it comes to gambling?

    Tennessee is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and the Bible and gambling don’t mix so well, at least openly, even though gambling is said to even go on in secret in the Vatican. The lack of religious diversity in Tennessee has allowed voters to vote together to express common personal preferences on gambling, where they disapprove of it and this leads to laws against their beliefs. This goes against the principles that our country was founded on, but has persisted unchallenged for the most part.

  • What does current Tennessee law say about gambling?

    All wagering in the state of Tennessee on games that are based upon chance in whole or in part is considered to be “gambling” under the state’s legal definition and is a crime. They leave out betting on contests that do not include elements of randomness or chance, including sports betting and even betting on elections. Making something illegal and catching you breaking the law are not the same thing though and if we disagree with a law, we need to next look at the chance of being convicted of the lawbreaking.

  • How did Tennessee decide that fishing contests were illegal in their state?

    When a state goes after people entering a fee to fish against each other in a contest, you know that their opposition to gambling is particularly strong. The attorney general of Tennessee did deem fishing contests were illegal, and may actually be right but did not seem to understand why. We would have to demonstrate that fishing involves an element of chance for it to be gambling under Tennessee law, and an argument could be made for this, but betting on contests that do not involve chance like sporting events where players compete directly is outside the scope of this law.

  • How is it that betting on sports would not be betting on games of chance?

    The easiest way to understand why sports betting is against the law is to imagine betting on an arm-wrestling match. One of the participants will be stronger than the other and win on that basis, and if you decide to arm wrestle someone, luck or chance plays no role. They don’t play a role in sports in general, the ones people bet on at least, where the team that performs better wins. Even betting on elections is outside this law as there’s no luck involved in counting votes.

  • What forms of real money gambling are legal in Tennessee today?

    Aside from betting on sports and other contests not dependent upon luck in any way, Tennessee has both a state lottery and allows for limited charitable gambling. Fantasy sports contests are also approved by the government even though this isn’t really gambling and there’s no law against this sort of thing anyway. Online sports betting is just around the corner where this has never been illegal but the state will be licensing some online sites soon.

  • Does it make sense for Tennessee to allow sports betting but not other forms of gambling?

    Tennessee allowing for online gambling might strike us as being very out of character, having such backward views toward it in general but somehow seeing their way to go all in with online sports betting. This is not so strange when we consider that the demand for sports betting in Tennessee is so much higher than the demand for other forms of gambling. Tennessee gambling laws have always been based upon popularity, sports are popular in this state, and thus we now have a law allowing people to bet on them.

  • When might Tennessee get their first real money casinos?

    Some legislators tried to get a bill started to allow casinos in Tennessee back in 2017, but it died quickly. Tennessee seems happy enough to stand by and do nothing while their residents travel to casinos in adjoining states and see this money leave the state and make other states wealthier. Betting on games of chance still faces fierce opposition in the state, and there are no real prospects of this changing anytime soon.

  • Do Tennessee gamblers have to travel to another state to play casino games and poker?

    Those who prefer an in-person land-based gambling experience can visit nearby states to get their fix, but many choose to gamble right from their home at real money online casinos licensed outside of Tennessee. While this would be standing against Tennessee’s laws, many see them as unjust violations of personal liberty, and there isn’t any real way to get caught, so the two together are seen as persuasive by some.

  • What real money online gambling sites accept players from Tennessee?

    At one time, all real money gambling sites used to take players from Tennessee, but a lot of sites dropped out of the market a few years back. This left a combination of sites, some great, and some not so great, and it is even more important these days to ensure you get expert advice like what we provide to be directed toward the right places. There’s some great gambling out there provided that you know where to look for it.

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