NASHVILLE — The odds are increasing that Tennessee's new sports gambling program won't be up and going until late fall.
Only four people have so far been appointed to the nine-person sports wagering advisory council, which is tasked with making recommendations to the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation and its governing board on implementing the online wagering program.
Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican who opposed the bill but allowed it to become law without his signature, told reporters earlier this week he has yet to begin interviewing prospects to fill his three alloted slots to the advisory panel.
Former Republican House Speaker Glen Casada made two of three appointments on his way out the door earlier this month. Casada left his third appointment to be made by his presumed successor, Republican Cameron Sexton, who is expected to be elected speaker Aug. 23 in a special legislative session.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker who has made two of his three appointments, told reporters Thursday, "I believe that the general feeling was it would probably take effect in the fall, but I think it might be longer than that. It seems to be moving fairly slowly."
The lieutenant governor said while he hopes to name his final appointee soon, giving the council a legal quorum with five members, he doesn't believe the panel should proceed before all nine members are aboard.
"I think it probably would be prudent to wait 'til everybody's appointed," McNally said.
McNally opposed this year's online sports gambling bill, just as he did the original lottery proposal. But the lieutenant governor said he does now think the lottery's "proceeds are used in a very good manner. It still appears to be more of a tax on poor people. But it does benefit a lot of people in the state. And the proceeds [of sports gambling] going to the same type funding mechanism as the lottery, I think that's good."
Lottery proceeds have poured more than $5 billion into college scholarships and related programs over the years.
Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, who along with Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, sponsored the sports betting legislation, said he doesn't believe anyone is "slow walking or dragging their feet" in getting the program in place.
"I don't see this process getting dragged out at all. I see it as a function of bureaucracy," Dickerson said. "I would love to see this in place in time for SEC football." But he noted that, while some might wish that state government were "nimble like a jet ski, it's not."
McNally also said he doesn't think Lee is slow-walking his appointments.
"No," he said. "I think people are taking their time to make sure the people they appoint are the best in Tennessee they can find."
The council has a key role to play in the state's experiment in online sports wagering. It is tasked by the statute with advising the lottery board on "best practices with respect to sports wagering" and providing administrative and technical assistance to the lottery corporation on sports wagering.
Under the new law, officials appointing members to the council "shall strive to ensure" the appointees have experience in "the sports industry, accounting, and law enforcement."
Casada, who was forced to resign after a political blowup over his exchanging sexually explicit texts with a top aide which was soon turbo-charged by other controversies, did what some critics feared and made some appointments just before he formally resigned on Aug. 2.
Earlier this week, Lee said the names of a number of prospective appointees have been provided to him but "we haven't chosen anyone yet to have them vetted. So no, we haven't made any progress on that selection yet."
Asked why the holdup, Lee said, "there are a lot of appointments to make and we have a lot of names, so we just want to make sure that that process is good and that we understand everyone who's interested and who we think are the very best selections for that committee."
He said he expects to act "probably in the next several weeks, I have names. It's right there before us to make some decisions."
Prospective appointees must undergo a criminal background check by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Lee said he will make appointments "before they have to be made." The language of the new law doesn't appear to set any deadline.
Casada appointed John Valliant Jr., a Knoxville attorney who also has an accounting degree, to a three-year term. He also named Tom Lee — a Nashville attorney and former television news reporter who as a state-level lobbyist has clients including the city of Chattanooga — to a four-year term.
McNally has appointed two people to the council: former FBI agent Brian Fazenbaker to a three-year term and Chief Deputy District Attorney General Samuel Lee, in Knox County, to a four-year term.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
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