Gambling in Tennessee has a short history.
But within that short history, it has already made differences in education, pumping millions of dollars into scholarships and after-school programs, state records show.
Ticket sales continue to jump annually, even locally. Over the past five years, ticket sales in Sullivan County have grown by $8 million and by $3.7 million in Hawkins County.
Ticket sales such as that have led to an increase of more than $100 million in education funding by the Tennessee Lottery over the past five years, along with an increase of about $3.7 million in after-school care funding.
The Tennessee Lottery has been game changing.
As the Hard Rock Casino opens in Bristol, Virginia, Tennessee’s experience has shown that gambling can be lucrative and transformative for state and local economies.
The newest form of gambling in Tennessee has been the advent of sports betting.
The Tennessee General Assembly approved allowing sports betting just three years ago, but state records show it is already becoming a money machine.
In 2020, during the first two months sports betting was legal, the state collected $5.5 million in privilege tax. The second year saw $40.6 million collected, and as of May this year, the state has collected $22.8 million.
History of the lottery, sports betting
The first ticket for the Tennessee Lottery was sold on Jan. 20, 2003, and $10.8 million in ticket sales was generated on that day alone, according to the Tennessee Lottery.
The push toward the state lottery started in 2000 when the Tennessee General Assembly approved allowing a statewide referendum.
By 2002, the referendum passed with 58% of voters favoring a lottery.
The referendum allowed the state to change its constitution, permitting lottery sales to progress as long as the money went toward college scholarship funding, K-12 capital projects or after-school programs.
By 2004, the Tennessee Lottery joined in its first multistate game: Powerball.
During its first year, the lottery generated $836.4 million in ticket sales.
It has since grown past $1 billion, according to Tennessee Lottery figures.
Then in 2005, the state lottery saw its first Powerball winner, with a South Pittsburg woman collecting more than $25 million in winnings.
Sports betting, however, has been a relatively new venture.
Across the United States, sports betting was illegal from 1992 to 2018. But in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal legislation and sports betting once again became legalized.
This led Tennessee to pass legislation allowing online sports betting within the state, but not in-person. The first sports bets began being taken in November 2020.
The Tennessee Sports Wagering Act also places stipulations on what the revenue can be used for within the state.
The act states that 80% of the privilege tax revenue collected goes to the Lottery for Education Account, 15% goes to the general fund for infrastructure projects for local governments and 5% of the money goes to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for responsible gambling initiatives.
Hitting the jackpot
Tennessee’s HOPE Scholarship is one of the mechanisms of Tennessee Lottery and sports betting revenue that is funding students going to college.
Tennessee students who graduate from an eligible high school are able to take advantage of the program.
The potential HOPE recipient must have scored at least a 21 on the ACT and have an overall grade point average of 3.0 and attend an eligible Tennessee college.
The student can receive up to $2,250 a semester when taking a full-time workload for the first two years and then during the junior and senior years can receive up to $2,850 a semester at a four-year institution.
Those going to two-year colleges can receive $1,600 a semester.
But college students aren’t the only jackpot winners.
Stores selling lottery tickets earn commissions as well.
State records show that in 2017, more than $104 million in commissions was paid out to retailers. By 2021, that number grew to $136.4 million.
Retailers in Sullivan and Hawkins counties earned $2.3 million and $806,000 respectively in 2021. In 2017, the numbers were $1.75 million and $559,000.
The likelihood of casino gambling is still far in the future for Tennessee.
Casinos are illegal within the state and the state constitution prohibits them.
Speculation recently started when the Eastern Band of the Cherokee bought property in Kodak within Sevier County, just miles away from Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
Nation leaders, though, have said at this point they plan to build a multi-use development, mostly made of retail properties with no eye on building a casino.
Now, though, people can cross the border into Virginia to get in some game time and gambling at the new Hard Rock Casino, the parent company of which is owned by the Seminole tribe in Florida.
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