As hardcore as some Southern states have traditionally been on gambling (such as South Carolina) or as stringent as law enforcement has become (as in Texas), Tennessee might overall be the single toughest state in the former Dixieland on betting.
For literally almost a century (from 1906 to 2003), even the most mundane forms of betting were banned in Tennessee. To this day, really the only widespread and socially-acceptable form of gambling in Tennessee is the state lottery which was founded about 40 years after most states’. In short, Tennessee might be considered one of the most stringent anti-betting states in the country, were it not for the allowance of betting on daily fantasy sports.
Betting in Tennessee
From its foundation in 1796 to its readmission to the Union in 1866 to today, Tennessee has consistently taken a restrictive stance on betting. The original law banning all wagering has been amended little, even in a revised state constitution of the 1870s. (See below for details.) And while the post-Civil War period saw a boom in Tennessee’s horse-racing industry, state lawmakers saw to it that betting on these races was made illegal in 1906.
In contrast to much of the rest of the U.S., which state by state tended to legalize pari-mutuel betting in the 1930s and state lotteries in the 70s, South Carolina gambling law remained unchanged throughout the 20th century. Only in 2003 was a state lottery introduced, with the first draw held in early ’04 – with charity and bingo betting only legalized in 2011!
Naturally, Tennessee was one of the states to illegalize daily fantasy football betting during the 2014 controversies regarding the legal status of Fan Duel and Draft Kings.
Football in Tennessee
For decades, Memphis and Nashville were considered secondary markets for professional sports, although many an alternate league was willing to give one or both a shot at hosting pro football. The somewhat awkwardly-named Memphis Southmen was just one of four franchises to play in both World Football League (WFL) seasons of 1974 and ’75, running up a cumulative win-loss record of 21-7.
The Memphis Showboats were an expansion franchise of the United States Football League (USFL) which went 18-18 in 1984-85 and fielded one of the greatest ever to play USFL ball, Reggie “The Minister of Defense” White. Finally, the awesome-yet-insane flirtation with (over-)expansion into the USA in the mid-90s won Memphis the Mad Dogs for 1995. Though Memphis proved not to be as huge a washout for CFL ball as did, likesay, Las Vegas, the 13,000+ average draw for the Mad Dogs was barely over half the Canada-based teams’ average.
Nevertheless, all these false starts (and a steadily growing population) convinced the NFL powers-that-be that Tennessee was ready for NFL football. In 1997, the Houston Oilers moved to the state, playing the first season in Memphis and Nashville thereafter. The rechristened Tennessee Titans of course famously came within one yard of winning the Super Bowl after just two seasons in the state, an event so amazing it made the reels of the Baby Boomers’ self-fellating flick Forrest Gump.
And even with the NFL firmly established in Nashville, Memphis would still get chances at hosting professional football – well, sort of. In 2001, the – you guessed it – godawfully named Memphis Maniax went a blah 5-5 in the very blah XFL.
Tennessee is also home to several college football teams of note including the Tennessee Volunteers, Memphis Tigers, Vanderbilt Commodores and Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The Volunteers claimed the national title in 1998 after going 13-0 behind halfback Travis Henry.
Finally, Tennessee is now the answer to a key college football trivia question, as in “Which state holds the record for having hosted the largest crowd at a football game?”: The Virginia Tech-Tennessee game played at NASCAR’s Bristol Motor Speedway was played in front of a completely bonkers *156,990* fans.
Betting on Football in Tennessee
Section 1 of Tennessee state statute 39-17-501 not only emphatically illegalizes betting, but oddly adds a bit of social commentary. Most of the wording goes back to the 19th century. This section reads in ar that “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…”
Tennessee football fans will have to make do betting-wise with daily fantasy football for awhile it seems, though if the NFL accepts betting, the issue will have to be addressed in the state.