Eyeing football start, Tennessee tweaking sports bet rules

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Officials overseeing the roll-out of Tennessee’s online-only sports betting program offered changes Tuesday to proposed rules over concerns about how to cap payouts, restrict certain types of bets and regulate advertising, as they mull the possibility of the first bets being placed during the upcoming football season.

An advisory council for the program and representatives of the Tennessee Lottery hashed out details Tuesday for the law that passed last spring on thin margins. Republican Gov. Bill Lee allowed sport betting to become law without his signature.

The rules still need the lottery board’s approval at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting. Then the lottery would begin taking applications for companies looking to run online sportsbooks in the state, among other entities seeking licenses to get involved at various levels.

“If we really want to be up and running and have people able to bet for the football season we have coming, it’s already pushing it,” said Susan Lanigan, board chairwoman for the Tennessee Lottery, which regulates sports betting in the state.

The college football season kicks off Aug. 29, while the National Football League begins official play on Sept. 10.

Professional sports leagues, players’ unions, major gambling companies and others weighed in with suggestions to change the lottery’s rules during a public comment period from late November until early January.

Legislative leaders last month also raised concerns about how the rules were shaping up, spurring a delay in the lottery’s vote on proposed rules. Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton is also pushing a bill that would flip responsibility to require the sports betting advisory council, which has appointees from legislative leaders and the governor, to carry out the law with the help of the lottery and its board.

Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with sports betting officials Wednesday.

The biggest point of interest at Tuesday’s sports betting meeting involved a proposed cap of annual payouts to bettors. An initial proposal set a cap of 85% annually, drawing criticisms from the likes of Caesars, which called it “far below the industry standard and could place Tennessee operators at a competitive disadvantage.”

Sports betting officials are looking to bump that cap up to 95% on average annually on a rolling, three-year basis. Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Hargrove said including a cap would ensure a guaranteed amount of profit that is taxable for the state. She also said it would protect an equal playing field for sportsbook operators by ensuring large companies don’t run at a deficit in the short term to secure a big share of the market.

Jennifer Roberts, the lottery’s new sports betting program director, recommended having no cap so the state can be “fully competitive with the illegal market.” But Roberts said that if there is a cap, it should be 95%.

“They’re always going to exist,” Roberts said of the illegal sports betting market. “But we can at least try to get some to transition over to the legal, regulated market.”

Other changes to the proposed rules include: no more requirement that a tie on one leg of a parlay bet results in an overall loss; creation of guidelines for advertising instead of requiring ads to be submitted to the lottery 30 days in advance for review; reductions of some licensing fees; and eliminating a ban on bets on “an occurrence determinable by one person or one play,” which the PGA Tour and others worried could altogether prohibit bets on golf and other individual sports.