Lawmakers push to make sports betting legal in TN

TENNESSEE (WMC) - A Memphis lawmaker is behind a new push to make sports betting legal in the state of Tennessee.

The push comes 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states could pass legislation to open sports gambling halls.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis) is behind the proposal to legalize sports betting in Tennessee.

It's in the very early stages, and it may be a tough sell in a state that doesn't even allow riverboat casinos.

"Right now, I plan to move forward with legislation to allow sports betting in Tennessee," Kelsey said. "Tennesseans are already participating in sports betting, some of them illegal. It's definitely going to go across state lines and this revenue should stay in the Shelby County area."

Monday gaming officials in Mississippi announced casinos there could have sports book areas open and running by July.

Kelsey said he isn't sure what the setup might be for Tennessee--namely where the betting would be allowed--but he does want revenue to fund K-12 schools.

"It certainly could look like a number of screens available, and also allowing for the betting while folks are watching the games or it could be something totally different," Kelsey said.

He said at this point aides believe it would take a vote by both the House and Senate to approve the bill. He does not believe a constitutional amendment will be required.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said Tuesday it's possible the proposed bill will encounter resistance.

"There will be a good bit of push-back," Norris said. "We are the buckle of the Bible Belt here. There are people who have philosophical as well as religious and economic thoughts against it."

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said it's too early to tell what sorts of revenues legal sports betting could bring to Memphis, but he thinks the state's historical stance on gambling puts the city behind the curve.

"I don't know about sports betting in particular, but without having a casino here and all that business going down to Tunica, I think the state of Tennessee has missed out. If you limit it to sports gambling, I don't know how much money is involved in that. I'm very interested in Senator Kelsey's proposal," Strickland said.

Kelsey's bill isn't likely to come up in Nashville until lawmakers reconvene in January 2019.

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