Fantasy sports gambling would be legal in Tennessee under state Senate-passed bill

NASHVILLE - Fantasy sports gambling companies and their estimated 1 million Tennessee customers would be on solid legal ground under a bill approved by state senators on a 29-1 vote.

"There's some question right now," Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said after the Senate action. "It's been going on for several years. Estimates are a million people in Tennessee. It's like 55 million nationwide."

The bill is still moving through the House.

photo Tennessee state Sen. Jack Johnson
photo The counsel of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III on a possible lawsuit by the state legislature over refugees being placed in the state could be helpful.
photo State Sen. Bo Watson, foreground, speaks speaks as Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick listens during a meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January. Watson is sponsoring legislation affecting the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.

Johnson said he and other proponents have been working with state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, first establishing that fantasy sports gambling involves some skill and therefore isn't a lottery, which the Tennessee Constitution bans except for the state lottery.

While Slatery did not issue a formal legal opinion on fantasy sports, Johnson said, he and his attorneys did provide "guidance that they did not see fantasy sports as a lottery. That means the constitution's [issue] is OK.

"Then you have to deal with it in statute," Johnson said. "Some might argue it does" violate state anti-gambling laws. "Some might argue it doesn't."

So the bill would ensure it is legal. It also requires the Tennessee Secretary of State's office to set up guidelines for companies to register and charge fees to handle the process.

Johnson, who is Senate Commerce Committee chairman, also said he thinks registration would establish legal presence in Tennessee and require fantasy sports gambling companies to pay some corporate taxes to the state.

Also on Monday, a Senate vote was delayed on a bill that could eliminate Hamilton County's sewer authority on July 1, 2019, after state Comptroller Justin Wilson raised concerns the measure doesn't spell out exactly who would be responsible for repaying the agency's debts and in what proportion.

Sen. Bo Watson, the bill's sponsor, said in an interview Monday that Wilson wants the bill to specify the financial responsibilities for county government and the seven towns and cities now served by by the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.

The bill would "sunset" the authority, or end its legal existence as a state-authorized entity, in 2019. At the same time, the sewer authority owes $10 million in clean water loans loans to the state as well as an estimated $10 million in bonds issued jointly by WWTA and the county.

Watson said he and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, intend to work through the issues.

The senator also moved another WWTA issue that would allow the authority to require up-front deposits from its customers back to the Calendar Committee. He said Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, is still working on that measure's provisions.

The 22-year-old authority's finances have been in turmoil since investor-owned Tennessee American Water in 2012 quit including sewer charges on the company's water bills.

Earlier Monday, Senate Transportation Committee members quickly voted 8-0 for a "slow poke" bill that would require slow-moving motorists driving in the left lane on major highways to get out of the way or risk getting a $50 fine.

"Surprisingly enough it's a very popular bill," said Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. "Everybody's had the experience of someone driving in the left lane poking along with their blinker on, backing up traffic for ten miles. Now they'll have to move over."

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, has already cleared that chamber.

Contact Andy Sher at, 615-255-0550 or follow via twitter at AndySher1.