Greeson: Houston Astros, Tennessee betting bigwigs only folks in sports benefiting from coronavirus craze

Jay Greeson

The sports news amid the coronavirus craze is either bad or non-existent.

There are two exceptions: two groups of folks who, while not happy about a global pandemic, might be relieved to yield the headlines about the global pandemic and its effects across the entire sports world.

First is the Houston Astros, the baseball team that had become a national punching bag for stealing signs with high-tech methods on their way to the 2017 World Series title.

The Cheaters went from a daily story line to an afterthought because of coronavirus, and if/when baseball does finally return, the importance of the Astros compared to the seriousness of coronavirus will make that franchise a side story.

The other group includes those charged with getting sports betting up and running in the state of Tennessee - yeah, the bouncing band of bureaucrats who were charged almost a year ago with getting sports betting up and running.

The law was passed and put into effect in May 2019. But the summer came and went.

Worse yet, football season came and went. There were political power players calling for the state's online-only system to be ready for the NFL playoffs, which is a sports-betting bonanza.

Nope, the playoffs arrived and departed. Then the Super Bowl - the single event with the most wagers every year - sped by like a Patrick Mahomes spiral.

Last month, back when coronavirus was not yet a national concern, the gambling folks reconvened and offered high hopes for Tennessee sports betting to be available for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Well, there will be no NCAA tournament this year, the March Madness toppled by a COVID-19 seed.

Progress has been made in development of the gambling rules, thankfully. The potentially disastrous idea of an 85 percent hold - meaning that the house would keep 85 percent of even winning bets - has been identified as a death sentence for any gambling endeavor.

In fact, in meetings last week before coronavirus consumed all of our consciousness, the state appeared poised to turn control of the process over to the Sports Wagering Advisory Council, which would relegate the Tennessee Lottery folks to an advisory role.

That makes a lot of sense considering it's been more bluster than betting under the 10 months of lottery leadership.

Also, there are discussions about raising the dreadful 85 percent hold to a 95 percent hold, which is above industry standard, but it also very likely could be needed because of the feet dragging of the state leaders.

Consider what the, at best, unproductive and, at worst, wasted 10 months have cost the state in terms of gambling.

In that time, North Carolina has passed legalized sports betting. Georgia's current assembly is looking at passing something similar, as are legislators in Alabama and Mississippi. And Kentucky is already up and running. So any advantages Tennessee would have had for being quicker than bordering states to the online market have been wasted.

Then there's the simple fiscal loss of missed chances.

Considering the coronavirus suspension of sports will last well into May - the CDC has asked for events with crowds over 50 to be avoided for the next eight weeks - the state will miss a full calendar year since the state legalized sports wagering.

According to Daniel Wallach, one of the nation's top legal sports wagering attorneys, football season alone would have netted Tennessee more than $50 million in added revenue.

And with the physical and fiscal threats of our current coronavirus state of affairs, I'm willing to bet an extra $50 million would be especially welcome these days, don't you think?

Contact Jay Greeson at and follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp.

photo Jay Greeson