Excitement, concerns over online sports betting coming to Tennessee

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Posted at 4:55 PM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 18:21:38-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Bringing sports betting to Tennessee is a big change to a state that has normally stayed away from expanding gambling.

After a narrow Senate vote this week, Governor Bill Lee is planning to make the online sports betting legislation into law without his signature. By allowing sports betting in Tennessee, it is projected to bring in an annual $50 million, according to sponsor Senator Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville.

Cal Spears, the CEO of, a Nashville-based daily fantasy sports subscription website, said he is excited. He was also surprised that the bill would be passed knowing it was a big tackle to even legalize daily fantasy sports in 2016.

The new changes will bring opportunities for his company to partner with major sportsbooks and make more money. The sportsbooks would be required to pay an annual license fee of $750,000.

"That's where we come in, we have our active and engaged audience and we can work with the sportsbooks to send them the bonus deal, special promotion or whatever it is," Spears said. "We send our traffic to the sportsbook and the sportsbook pays us in the process."

He is excited that fans from out-of-state where sports betting is not legalized will set their eyes on Tennessee.

"Instead of our guys leaving the state like what we've always done to gamble, it'll be the opposite," Spears added.

However, groups like the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Additional Services worry that it will fuel addiction to gambling.

The organization's REDLINE already receives anywhere from 10 to 20 calls of gambling addiction per month. An estimated 2.2 percent of Tennessee adults (113,110) are believed to manifest a gambling problem.

"We know it's going to affect the population of people who are at risk for gambling disorder," TAADAS Executive Director Mary-Linden Salter told NewsChannel 5.

The revenue is supposed to benefit college scholarships through the lottery, local infrastructure projects and gambling addiction treatment.

Salter said it is too early to determine where the small percentage meant for addiction services will go. With only one state-funded gambling treatment facility located in Memphis, she hopes the money will be used to expand services.

"We can focus on getting individual practitioners to have an endorsement in their license so they are certified to treat people with gambling disorders," she said.

She is pleased lawmakers considered the potential effects.