Tennessee is very prohibitive with regard to gambling. A few years ago, the only legal options were the state lottery and charitable gambling in the form of bingo and raffles, but in 2016, local lawmakers legalized paid DFS contests. The Volunteer State doesn’t house any casinos. The last attempt at legalizing this form of gambling was made in February 2017 by Rep. Larry Miller and was shut down within less than a month in a House committee. Local regulations permitted horse race betting for almost three decades, but the opposition from individual counties prevented potential investors from actually building a racetrack. The relevant law was eventually repealed in 2015.
Participating in internet gambling on offshore sites is prosecutable in Tennessee due to the broad nature of the definition of gambling, which constitutes “risking anything of value for a profit whose return is to any degree contingent on chance, not including lawful business transactions.” Engaging in unlawful gambling is a Class C misdemeanor, which means that the offending player could spend up to 30 days in jail and face a fine of up to $500.
At the moment, the odds of Tennessee expanding its online gambling market are virtually non-existent. Judging by the history of the Tennessee Lottery, even if local lawmakers decided to authorize the construction of a brick-and-mortar casino, it would probably take them years to pass any meaningful iGaming legislation.
Gambling in Tennessee is covered by Tennessee Code Section 4-36-101 et seq. and 39-17-501 et seq. The minimum gambling age is 18.
28-3-106. Recovery of gambling losses.
Actions to recover money or goods lost at any kind of gambling or betting, and paid or delivered:
(1) If brought by the loser, shall be commenced within ninety (90) days next after such payment or delivery;
(2) If brought for the use of the spouse, child or children, or next of kin, within twelve (12) months from the expiration of the ninety (90) days;
(3) If by a creditor of the loser, within twenty-four (24) months from the end of the ninety (90) days.
39-17-501. Part definitions.
As used in this part, unless the context otherwise requires:
(1) Gambling is contrary to the public policy of this state and 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. For the purposes of this chapter gambling does not include:
(A) A lawful business transaction;
(B) Annual events operated for the benefit of nonprofit organizations that are authorized pursuant to a two-thirds (2/3) approval of the general assembly, so long as such events are not prohibited by the state constitution;
(C) A state lottery of the type in operation in Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia in 2000 and authorized by amendment to the Constitution of Tennessee, if the lottery is approved by the general assembly; or
(D) A fantasy sports contest as defined in § 47-18-1602 and conducted in accordance with the Fantasy Sports Act, compiled in title 47, chapter 18, part 16.
(2) “Gambling bet” means anything of value risked in gambling;
(3) “Gambling device or record” means anything designed for use in gambling, intended for use in gambling, or used for gambling;
(4) “Lawful business transaction,” as used in subdivision (1), includes any futures or commodities trading;
(5) “Lottery” means the selling of anything of value for chances on a prize or stake; and
(6) “Profit” means anything of value in addition to the gambling bet.
39-17-502. Gambling – Defenses. –
(a) A person commits an offense who knowingly engages in gambling.
(b) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section, which must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, that a person reasonably and in good faith relied upon the representations of a gambling promoter that a gambling activity was lawful because it was an authorized annual event pursuant to title 3, chapter 17. It is not an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that a person engaged in a gambling activity that was not an authorized type of lottery game pursuant to title 3, chapter 17.
(c) The offense of gambling is a Class C misdemeanor.
39-17-503. Gambling promotion.
(a) A person commits an offense who knowingly induces or aids another to engage in gambling, and:
(1) Intends to derive or derives an economic benefit other than personal winnings from the gambling; or
(2) Participates in the gambling and has, other than by virtue of skill or luck, a lesser risk of losing or greater chance of winning than one (1) or more of the other participants.
(b) The offense of gambling promotion is a Class B misdemeanor.
39-17-504. Aggravated gambling promotion.
(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.
(c) The offense of aggravated gambling promotion is a Class E felony.
39-17-505. Possession of gambling device or record – Forfeiture. –
(a) (1) A person commits an offense who knowingly owns, manufactures, possesses, buys, sells, rents, leases, stores, repairs, transports, prints, or makes any gambling device or record.
(2) It is not an offense for a person to own or possess in this state a lottery ticket originating from a state in which a lottery is lawful, if the ticket is not owned or possessed for the purpose of resale.
(3) It is not an offense for a person to knowingly own, manufacture, possess, buy, sell, rent, lease, store, repair, transport, print or make any gambling device or record if the device or record is owned, manufactured, possessed, bought, sold, rented, leased, stored, repaired, transported, printed or made pursuant to the provisions of title 4, chapter 51, part 1 and title 39, chapter 17, part 6.
(4) It is not an offense for a person to knowingly own, manufacture, possess, buy, sell, rent, lease, store, repair, transport, print or make any gambling device or record if the device or record is for the purpose of conducting an annual event pursuant to the provisions of title 3, chapter 17, and part 6 of this chapter.
(5) It shall not be an offense for a manufacturer of gambling devices to knowingly own, manufacture, assemble, design, possess, buy, sell, rent, lease, store, repair, transport, print or make any gambling device or record solely intended for gambling outside of this state and in compliance with the laws of the United States. The requirement that the manufacturing, selling or leasing of gambling devices be intended solely for gambling outside of the state shall not restrict uses of the gambling devices by the manufacturer that are ancillary or accessorial to the manufacturing, selling or leasing process or business, including, but not limited to, using the gambling devices for research and development, employee training, compliance program initiatives, testing and quality assurance processes, showroom display, leasing or purchasing or selling of gambling devices or parts or equipment, storage or warehousing of gambling devices or parts or equipment, maintenance or refurbishing of gambling devices or parts or equipment, and safekeeping of gambling devices or parts or equipment for future litigation. Also considered ancillary or accessorial to the manufacturing, selling or leasing process or business shall be the use or operation of computers, computer servers, and similar electronic devices, hardware and software, and all gambling records, data or information owned, maintained or stored thereupon, or produced, generated, created, printed, transported or transmitted therefrom, whether paper, electronic or otherwise, in conjunction with legal gambling and in compliance with the laws of the United States. Ancillary or accessorial uses shall not include use of the gambling devices or records that would allow persons physically present in the state of Tennessee to place gambling bets. This subdivision (a)(5) shall not apply unless the manufacturer meets or exceeds federal government requirements pursuant to 15 U.S.C. Section 1171 et seq., and any regulations promulgated pursuant to 15 U.S.C. Section 1171 et seq., and provides the secretary of state with a copy of the request for registration pursuant to 15 U.S.C. Section 1173, together with copies of each gambling license or permit issued by any regulatory authority, including but not limited to any state, country, federally recognized tribe or United States territory, and pays a ten thousand dollar ($ 10,000) fee prior to January 1st of that year. Additionally, the manufacturer shall provide the secretary of state with proof of annual registration under 15 U.S.C. Section 1173 with the office of the United States Attorney General within thirty (30) days of the receipt thereof.
(b) (1) Any gambling device or record is contraband and shall be subject to seizure, confiscation and forfeiture in accordance with the forfeiture provisions, codified in chapter 11, part 7 of this title.
(2) After a gambling device or record has been forfeited to the state pursuant to chapter 11, part 7 of this title, the court hearing the criminal charges resulting in the forfeiture shall order the destruction of the device or record. If the district attorney general or law enforcement agency does not believe that a gambling device or record should be destroyed in a particular case, the district attorney general shall petition the court for an alternate disposition of the record or device. If the court finds that the proposed alternate disposition reasonably ensures that the device will not be used in an unlawful manner in this state, the court may grant the petition and order the disposition of the device or record in accordance with the petition.
(c) Possession of a gambling device or record is a Class B misdemeanor.
39-17-506. Lotteries, chain letters and pyramid clubs.
(a) A person commits an offense who knowingly makes or aids in the making of any lottery. For the purposes of this section, “makes or aids in the making of any lottery” does not include:
(1) Ownership or possession in this state of a lottery ticket originating from another state in which a lottery is lawful, if the ticket is not owned or possessed for the purpose of resale; provided, however, that nothing in this subdivision (a)(1) shall be construed as preventing the sale of lottery tickets or shares under the authority of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation; or the sale of tickets, shares, chances or similar records for an annual event pursuant to the provisions of title 3, chapter 17, and part 6 of this chapter;
(2) The Tennessee Education Lottery operated pursuant to title 4, chapter 51, part 1; or
(3) An annual event operated pursuant to title 3, chapter 17, and part 6 of this chapter.
(b) For the purposes of this section, “makes or aids in the making of any lottery” includes the organization of, membership in, or solicitation of persons for membership in any chain letter club, pyramid club, or other group organized under any plan whereby anything of value to be given by a member of the club or group is to be given to any other member of the club or group, which plan includes any provision for the increase in membership through a chain process of new members securing other new members and thereby advancing themselves in the group to a position where the members in turn receive things of value from other members.
(c) An offense under this section is:
(1) A Class C misdemeanor if the aggregate amount of money involved in the lottery, chain letter, or pyramid club is fifty dollars ($50.00) or less;
(2) A Class B misdemeanor if the aggregate amount of money involved in the lottery, chain letter, or pyramid club is more than fifty dollars ($50.00) but less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250);
(3) A Class A misdemeanor if the aggregate amount of money involved in the lottery, chain letter, or pyramid club is two hundred fifty dollars ($250) or more but less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000); or
(4) A Class E felony if the amount of money involved in the lottery, chain letter, or pyramid club is ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or more.
39-17-507. Customer referral rebates unlawful.
(a) With respect to a consumer sale, consumer credit sale or consumer lease, the seller or lessor may not give or offer to give a rebate or discount or otherwise pay or offer to pay value to a buyer or lessee as an inducement for a sale or lease in consideration of the buyer or lessee referring or giving to the seller or lessor the names of prospective customers or lessees, or otherwise aiding the seller or lessor in making a sale or lease to another person, if the earning of the rebate, discount, commission or other value is contingent upon the occurrence of an event subsequent to the time the buyer or lessee agrees to buy or lease.
(b) If a buyer or lessee is induced by a violation of this section to enter into a consumer sale, consumer credit sale or consumer lease, then such transaction is hereby declared to be a lottery and the agreement is unenforceable by the seller or lessor, and the buyer or lessee, at the buyer’s or lessee’s option, may rescind the agreement or retain the goods delivered and the benefits of any services performed, without any obligation to pay for them.
(c) Any person offering to sell or lease goods or services in violation of this section commits a Class C misdemeanor.
39-17-508. Premiums at fairs.
It is lawful and not in violation of this part for a person, upon complying with the rules of public fairs, to enter and contend for any and all such premiums as may be offered at such fairs.
The general assembly, by enacting this part, intends to preempt any other regulation of the area covered by this part. No governmental subdivision or agency may enact or enforce a law that regulates or makes any conduct in the area covered by this part an offense, a violation, or the subject of a criminal or civil penalty or sanction of any kind.
The voters of Tennessee have amended the State’s Constitution to permit a state lottery.