Gambling Laws and the Online Poker Debate in Tennessee

Last updated: May 18, 2020 – Online poker still isn’t legal in Tennessee, but the state did recently legalize sports betting. The bill, HB 0001 passed in May 2019 and became law later that year. Tennessee has historically been conservative when it comes to gambling and are one of a dozen states that don’t even have tribal casinos. The new sports betting regulations were put in place by the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation in April 2020.

Interestingly enough, the law doesn’t establish any brick-and-mortar casinos. It’s exclusively online. That makes Tennessee the first state to approve online-only sports betting. The state is still ironing out the fine points and sports betting isn’t expected to launch until later this year. Since Tennessee is a pilot program for online only sports betting, it could eventually move to accepting online poker later down the line.

Nashville Tennessee poker

Nashville Tennessee (Photo by Brandon Jean on Unsplash)

Online Poker and Gambling Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee is pretty strict when it comes to gambling. For example, most states either have tribal casinos and/or horse tracks, but Tennessee has neither. Tennessee is also home to former Senator BIll Frist, who was one of the key figures behind the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

While the UIGEA helped push online poker out of the United States, Tennessee laws are a bit different. Section 37-17-501(1) of Tennessee Code Annotated defines “gambling” as:

“Risking anything of value for profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance, or any games of chance associated with casinos, including but not limited to, slot machines, roulette wheels and the like.”

This law differs from other states in that it explicitly names several table games. On top of that, it qualifies chance. Most states only use the word “chance,” but Tennessee says “any degree contingent on chance. This is a broad sweeping term that could include a bunch of games. While poker has been ruled as a game of skill at the federal level, no one would argue that there’s an element of chance in the game.

Can I Play Poker on PokerStars in Tennessee?

No, and it will probably be some time before you’re able to. Back in the day, players from Tennessee and every other state could freely play on PokerStars. But Black Friday, partially brought on by Tennessee Senator Bill Frist’s push for the UIGEA, saw the popular site leave the country.

PokerStars faced large fines, but it slowly started to make its way back to the United States. But there’s still no plans for PokerStars to show up in Tennessee. There are a few alternatives if you’re looking for a site to play on though. Poker sites like Ignition Poker and Americas Cardroom still accept players from all 50 states, including Tennessee. We’ve reviewed these rooms in detail as well as several others. Check out our reviews below to find a site that works for you:

Bovada.lv

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Ignition

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BetOnline

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SportsBetting.ag

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America's Cardroom

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Min Deposit $25

Rating: 4.1/5

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Black Chip Poker

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Min Deposit $25

Rating: 4.0/5

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Intertops

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Min Deposit $25

Rating: 3.8/5

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Legal Forms of Gambling in Tennessee

As we said before, Tennessee is pretty strict when it comes to gambling. There aren’t a lot of legal forms of gambling. While sports betting is still in the works, the only forms of legal gambling in Tennessee are charitable gaming and the state lottery.

State Lottery

The Tennessee Constitution originally outlawed lotteries. That’s how strict the state was. But the constitution was amended to allow for the state-run lottery. Now the lottery is run by the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation.

Tennessee offers a number of different lottery games like the PokerBall, Mega MIllions and Keno. The lottery has proven to be a good source of income for the state. It contributed $386.7 million to lottery-funded education programs in 2017. THat brings the total up to $4.2 billion.

Charitable Gaming

The Tennessee Charitable Gaming Implementation Law lets 501(c)(3) organizations run an annual game of chance. All organizations must be approved by two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. Approved types of games include:

  • Raffles and Reverse Raffles
  • Cakewalks and Cake-wheels

Unapproved games include:

  • Bingo
  • Pull-Tabs
  • Punch-Boards
  • Video Lottery Games
  • Casino Games such as Slot Machines and Roulette

Tennessee laws are even strict for charitable gambling. For example, charities can only host one event per year. A 501c3 must be active for at least five years to qualify, and only two organizations can have an event at the same location in a given month. In 2014 charitable gaming in Tennessee grossed $8.3 million.

Specific State-by-State Laws
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