Tennessee Gambling Guide
Tennessee is one of the toughest states on gambling, both in terms of laws and options.
They have no commercial casinos, tribal casinos, or racinos in the state. The Volunteer State doesn't even allow social gaming, and isn't afraid to bust home poker games.
As you might've guessed, Tennessee doesn't have legal online gambling either. But their state is flooded with a wide range of offshore gaming sites.
Let's discuss why this is the case as we cover their gambling laws.
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Online Gambling and Tennessee Law
Tennessee doesn't address internet gambling in its criminal code. This puts the Volunteer State in a grey area that's served by many different offshore operators.
But this doesn't mean that iGaming is legal in the state, either. Let's get to the heart of the matter by looking at Tennessee's gambling laws.
Is Online Gambling Legal in Tennessee?
No, but it's not explicitly illegal either.
Tennessee includes no mentions of "online," "internet," or "computer" in their criminal code.
But they do have broad definitions of what constitutes illegal gambling. Therefore, it's illegal to offer iGaming to Tennessee residents.
Code 39-17-504 discusses Aggravated Gambling Promotion with the following points:
(a) "A person commits an offense who knowingly invests in, finances, owns, controls, supervises, manages or participates in a gambling enterprise."
(b) "For purposes of this section, "gambling enterprise" means two (2) or more persons regularly engaged in gambling promotion as defined in § 39-17-503."
The penalty for violating this law is a Class E felony.
Statue 39-17-504 makes it clear that they don't allow unapproved gambling businesses in their state. Given that Tennessee has never approved iGaming sites, these companies are violating the law.
But the Volunteer State has never gone after online gambling sites, which is why offshore businesses still serve their state.
Can I Get Arrested for Gambling Online in Tennessee?
It's very unlikely. But you should still be aware of the laws.
The Tennessee Constitution discusses unapproved gambling in code 39-17-501 (1):
"... means risking anything of value for a 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."
The only exceptions to this law include the following:
- Business transactions.
- Approved charity gaming.
- State lottery.
- Daily fantasy sports.
Online sports-betting, poker, and casino games aren't exempt from illegal gambling. This means that it's technically illegal to gamble online in Tennessee.
But the chances of you being arrested for this crime are nearly zero percent.
Like almost every other state, Tennessee has never arrested someone for internet gambling. If they haven't done so in the 2-plus decades of iGaming's existence, they probably won't do so any time soon.
Even if you were busted for unlawful gaming, the penalty is a low-grade misdemeanor punishable by a $50 fine.
Are Offshore Gaming Sites Safe?
The answer depends upon the site.
We can't offer a definitive yes, because offshore gaming sites aren't based in America. Therefore, they don't adhere to American laws or licensing requirements.
This means that an offshore site could technically fold up overnight without repaying players' deposit money.
Obviously, this is the nightmare scenario. But the good news is that most iGaming sites are reputable operations that value repeat business.
Chances are good that you'll be depositing with a solid site. However, you should pay careful attention to the next question that we address.
How Do I Choose the Best Offshore Gaming Sites?
The number one thing you should do is read several reviews on a prospective iGaming site. Reviews cover several important aspects in one place.
If you really want an in-depth opinion, you should also visit the site directly. Below are some important points you need to address through your visit and/or reading reviews:
- Welcome Bonus & Promotions
- Bonus Terms & Condition
- Game Variety
- Banking Options
If an offshore gaming site has been in business for a while, there's a good chance that they serve customers well and process withdrawals in a timely manner.
Many reviews will discuss an offshore gaming company's reputation, including whether or not they have any serious complaints.
Everybody loves earning free cash when playing online casino and poker games. This makes welcome bonuses and promotions key to earning money on the side.
Bonuses are always better when they offer light wagering requirements. The industry norm for online casino bonuses is wagering 20x the bonus + deposit amount before a cash out.
Games/lines are the key reason why people visit online casinos, poker sites, and sportsbooks. Make sure that any site you choose has a nice variety.
If you want to enjoy real-money gaming, you need to be able to deposit. This is why you should ensure that any prospective gaming site has a deposit option you can use.
Breaking down what exactly is or isn't legal in Tennessee. Gambling Venues in Tennessee
Where to gamble in the state of Tennessee. The History of Gaming Laws in Tennessee
A brief history of Tennessee laws regarding gambling. Tennessee Gambling FAQs
A list of questions asked about gambling in Tennessee Additional Information
Still have questions? Check out these links. The Furture of Gambling in Tennessee
What does the future of gambling look like in Tennessee?
More Gambling Laws in Tennessee
One thing that the Volunteer State isn't volunteering to do any time soon is legalize casinos. They have no commercial or tribal casinos, and there aren't immediate plans to change this, either.
Tennessee gamblers who want to enjoy casinos must cross state lines.
Tunica, Mississippi, is a popular gambling destination for Tennesseans, because it's 30 miles from Memphis. Over 30% of those who are visiting Tunica casinos come from Tennessee.
Robinsonville, Mississippi, is another casino town that attracts Volunteer State residents. Harrah's Cherokee Casino in North Carolina is popular among gamblers from Western Tennessee.
Lawmakers will have to consider casino gaming at some point. After all, Tennessee is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue to bordering states.
In addition to keeping tax dollars in state, Tennessee would benefit from creating more jobs and boosting local businesses with increased tourism.
Charitable Gambling: Legal
Up until 2010, charity gaming was one of several forms of outlawed gambling in the state.
But this changed when several Tennessee cities were stricken with flooding. The eastern part of the state also suffered multiple tornadoes that destroyed towns during the same year.
Looking for ways to help repair the flooding and tornado damage, the State Legislature voted to legalize charitable gambling.
The Tennessee Charitable Gaming Implementation Law lets licensed charities run one gambling event every year. Eligible games include cakewalks, cake wheels, and raffles.
In most states, a government agency reviews and approves charity gambling applications. But Tennessee is unique in that their General Assembly authorizes charities by a two thirds vote.
The Volunteer State places tough restrictions on where charitable groups can hold gambling functions. They also have a strange law where the same location can only host two gaming functions per month.
Despite these restrictions, charitable gambling has been very successful in helping raise funds for the state. This is in large part due to the lack of available gambling options.
Daily Fantasy Sports: Legal
One of the strangest things regarding Tennessee's gaming market is how quickly they embraced daily fantasy sports (DFS).
The State Legislature passed a DFS bill in April, then Governor Bill Haslam signed it into effect on April 28. This made Tennessee the third state to legalize daily fantasy, preceded only by Indiana and Virginia.
The common theme throughout this discussion is that Tennessee has a tough view on gambling. But they totally broke character in pushing for regulated DFS before most other states.
Making things even more improbable is that Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said that he believes DFS is illegal. This makes the Volunteer State the first to legalize the activity when their attorney general advised otherwise.
Legalized in 2002, the Tennessee Lottery became the state's first legal form of gambling since pari-mutuel betting.
The lottery officially launched in 2003, and has become one of the most successful per capita lotteries in the US. The state has 6.6 million residents, and they sell $1.5 billion in annual lottery tickets.
Available games from the Tennessee Lottery include: Cash 3, Cash 4, Cash For Life, Hot Lotto Sizzler, Mega Millions, Powerball, Tennessee Cash, and scratch offs.
Just like casinos, the poker landscape is also barren in Tennessee. If you want to play live poker, then you'll need to cross state lines.
Going back to code 39-17-501 (1), Tennessee's definition of gambling doesn't make any exceptions for skill games. This means that people aren't even supposed to hold home-based poker games.
Considering Tennessee's stance on poker, it's strange to think that 2003 WSOP Main Event champion Chris Moneymaker hails from Nashville.
Moneymaker won a $10,000 seat to the 2013 Main Event through a $39 online satellite. The then-accountant battled through an 839 player field to win the tournament and $2.5 million.
Moneymaker's victory started a large marketing campaign that showed that anybody can win big in poker. And this was one of several factors that contributed to the Poker Boom in the mid 2000s.
Apparently, the State Legislature isn't impressed by the story, because they've yet to make any serious efforts towards legalizing live or internet poker.
Tennessee has live pari-mutuel betting and simulcast wagering.
One two counties allow live pari-mutuel wagering, but they don't have a racetrack. This means that simulcast betting is the only way to bet on horse racing.
Social Gambling: Illegal
The Volunteer State doesn't make an exception for social gambling; therefore, it's illegal. Tennessee enforces these laws, too, especially when there are other illegal activities surrounding a gambling function.
One example involves a 2012 poker game in Chattanooga, where 39 players were cited for illegal gambling and possession of an illegal gambling device (chips/cards).
Two people were also arrested for hosting the game. Police seized cash, marijuana, and prescription pills during the bust.
As the 39 cited players show, it's not lawful to play in home poker games. But chances are that your social gambling function won't be busted if it meets these standards:
- No host taking rake (poker) or imposing a house edge.
- No host selling food and alcohol for a profit.
- No illegal drugs or guns on the property.
- No high stakes.
- No people bragging about the game to outsiders.
We're not saying that your home game will be 100% safe if you follow these conditions. But chances are that police won't be raiding a low stakes poker game that's purely for fun.
Gambling Venues in Tennessee
As covered before, Tennessee doesn't offer a single poker room or casino. This makes the Volunteer State one of the worst places for a serious gambler to live.
If you want to play live casino games and/or poker, you'll have to cross state lines. Here are a few casinos that are near Tennessee's borders.
Harrah's Cherokee Casino
777 Casino Dr,
Cherokee, NC 28719
Hollywood Casino &Hotel
1150 Casino Strip Resort Blvd,
Robinsonville, MS 38664
Resorts Casino Tunica Resorts
1100 Casino Strip Resort Blvd,
Robinsonville, MS 38664
Sam's Town Hotel & Gambling Hall
1477 Casino Strip Resort Blvd,
Robinsonville, MS 38664
History of Gambling in Tennessee
The Volunteer State's recorded gambling history begins in 1804, when the first racetrack in the state opened. Horse racing proved to be very popular, with 10 tracks springing up by the late 1830s.
After the turn of the twentieth century, the State Assembly banned all forms of gambling, which crippled the racing industry for years.
Tennessee's early gambling history shows that they've never been friendly towards the activity. In fact, they only allowed charity gaming in 2010 as part of efforts to help flood victims.
We're surprised that lawmakers were so quick to legalize fantasy sports, doing so in April 2016. Unfortunately, they haven't made any legislative efforts towards regulating other forms of online gambling.
Horseracing begins at Tennessee's Gallatin.
State General Assembly passes anti-gambling law.
Voters approve state lottery by a wide margin.
State Legislature approves limited charity gambling to help with flood relief.
State legalizes daily fantasy sports.
Tennessee's horseracing popularity produces 10 racetracks.
Government closes hundreds of illegal bingo halls.
Accountant and Tennessee native Chris Moneymaker wins in 2003.
Tennessee Lottery breaks record with $1.48 billion in ticket sales.
Tennessee only has three forms of legal gaming:
The lottery is the only one of these options that's offered in full capacity.
Charitable gaming only includes cakewalks, cake wheels, and raffles. And the pari-mutuel betting boils down to two counties without a track and simulcast wagering.
Considering this, it's no wonder why Tennessee hasn't regulated online gambling yet.
This is one of the staunchest states when it comes to gaming. And if it weren't for heavy flooding and tornadoes in 2010, Tennessee wouldn't even have charitable gambling.
Besides their anti gambling stance, the Volunteer State hasn't legalized iGaming because they don't have commercial casinos. So far, no state that doesn't also have a commercial casino industry has regulated online gambling .
One more holdup is that none of Tennessee's neighbors have legalized internet gambling.
Ever since Delaware and New Jersey regulated iGaming, they've sparked conversations in neighboring Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Tennessee doesn't have this because they border several Deep South states that don't care about iGaming either.
Commercial casinos are the first thing that needs to happen. But the problem is that Tennessee seems miles away from ever legalizing casinos.
Earlier, we discussed how the Volunteer State will inevitably look at casino gambling to keep tax dollars in state. But we're surprised that they haven't already begun examining the issue.
Tennessee hasn't had a single serious legislative effort towards legalizing brick-and-mortar casinos.
Once this happens, it may take several years for a bill to pass. If legislation passes, then it'll take a few more years for casinos to be built.
Looking at everything, Tennessee is at least 8 to 10 years away from seriously considering online gambling.
Tennessee doesn't allow internet gaming sites - they merely tolerate them.
Few states have taken legal action against offshore gaming companies because this is a big task.
Most offshore sites are located thousands of miles away in destinations like Antigua, Costa Rica, Curacao, and Panama. This makes it harder to prosecute operators than if they were located within the US.
The only states we've seen take serious action against offshore gaming sites include Kentucky, Maryland, and New York.
Out of these, New York had the only successful case (United States v. Scheinberg), because it was backed by the US Department of Justice.
Tennessee doesn't care enough about offshore operators to risk a difficult and unsuccessful case.
This is an old question that we received a couple times during the height of the Poker Boom.
As covered before, Tennessee's criminal code makes it illegal to place unauthorized bets. Considering that only charitable, lottery, and pari-mutuel betting are legal, this makes most gambling illegal in Tennessee.
Chris Moneymaker essentially broke the law when he was playing online poker satellites. Then, after winning the 2003 WSOP Main Event, he became one of the most famous gamblers in modern history.
If Tennessee wanted to make a high profile example out of somebody, they could've cited Moneymaker. But we believe that there are three reasons why this didn't happen:
- Tennessee has never arrested anybody for internet gambling.
- The state largely ignores iGaming - including both operators and players.
- Arresting Moneymaker would send a bad message about personal freedoms.
Above all, we haven't seen a single state bust somebody for playing online poker. And it appears that Tennessee didn't want to set this trend with Moneymaker.
You're not legally allowed, but we highly doubt that you'll be cited.
Code 39-17-505 (2)(c) states the following:
"Possession of a gambling device or record is a Class B misdemeanor."
In the busted poker game we discussed before, players were cited for both illegal gambling and possessing an illegal gambling device.
If chips and cards are viewed as illegal devices, Tennessee would view smartphones the same way.
But again, the key is that the Volunteer State has never arrested anybody for internet gambling. And we don't see them arresting you for playing casino and poker games on your smartphone, either.
This page features the State Attorney General's office answering FAQs on Tennessee home poker games, and other home gambling functions.
This law website features many of Tennessee's gambling laws, laid out in easy-to-read fashion.
In accordance with the Tennessee Nonprofit Gaming Law, the Secretary of State's office runs the charitable gaming division. Here you'll find FAQs, forms, and other information on charity gambling.
The Future & Your Views
Tennessee doesn't have a favorable view of gambling, and this doesn't look to change any time soon.
The only form of gaming that the Volunteer State has embraced is the lottery. And $1.5 billion in ticket sales show that Tennesseans have a thirst for gambling.
But with no casinos, poker rooms, racetracks, or social gambling, the state has very few options for their residents. The lack of casinos is especially damning because this impacts legal iGaming.
This leaves Tennessee with the following barriers towards online gambling:
- No casinos.
- No politicians seeking casinos.
- No neighboring states with legal internet gambling.
- Anti-gambling attitude.
This isn't to say that Tennessee will never regulate iGaming. After all, they did show a progressive attitude towards legalizing daily fantasy sports.
But on the other hand, they've taken no serious legislative steps with legal internet gambling.
The only good news is that the Volunteer State hasn't taken action against offshore operators or players. That means you can enjoy iGaming sites until the State Legislature finally begins serious discussions on the matter.