For literally almost a century (from 1906 to 2003), even the most mundane forms of gambling 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 is certainly one of the United States’ top five anti-gambling states, along with Alaska, Hawaii, Utah and Virginia.
Population: 6.61 million (2017 est.)
Area: 42,181 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): n/a
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 0
• Three presidents – Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James Polk – have come from Tennessee: but none were born in the state.
• Elvis Presley still “earns” about $55 million annually; more than half is derived from revenues made at Graceland in Memphis.
• In Tennessee, it is illegal to share your Netflix password.
• As of 2014, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has passed the Grand Canyon as the U.S.’s most popular national park.
From its foundation in 1796 to its readmission to the Union in 1866 to today, Tennessee has consistently taken a restrictive stance on gambling. The original law banning all games of chance 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!
As for poker, well … despite producing one of the most famous and influential poker players of all-time (read on if you haven’t guessed his identity already), the game is considered to be 100% illegal in online or standard table formats in Tennessee.
Yeah, right. Since Tennessee has no state- or federaly-recognized Native American tribes, no one in Tennessee can take advantage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IRGA), allowing for casino and/or bingo gaming on reservation land.
Folks in Tennessee wanting to gamble usually head to someplace like the Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort (about 250 miles east of Nashville) across the border in North Carolina or any number of casinos in Tunica, Mississippi (about 40 miles south of Memphis).
Casino gambling age restrictions are not at all relevant in Tennessee, with no casinos and all…
In the 21st century, one name in poker stands above all others: Chris Moneymaker. It’s not that Moneymaker is among the world’s top players (or these days, even in the top 300 or so), but like no other individual, this former accountant changed the face of poker forever with his miracle final-table win at the 2003 World Series of Poker.
In a story that’s now the stuff of legend, Moneymaker (even the *name*, man) was a humble University of Tennessee graduate eking out a living in Memphis when he discovered the movie Rounders and, soon thereafter, the not-yet illegalized internet poker. Wagering $39 on a satellite tournament, Moneymaker proceeded to win two straight tourneys and thus be awarded free entry to the WSOP in Las Vegas. Just to make the story even more appealing to the everyday joe, Moneymaker couldn’t even afford plane fare to and hotel in Las Vegas and thus had to depend on his father and a friend for a loan.
The rest is the proverbial history: That $39 became $2.5 million and launched the dreams of millions who believed that with a little work and some luck, they too could realize the poker player’s dream.
Of course, Moneymaker’s win merely meant more cracking down on gambling in Tennessee: In 2005, the state’s attorney general reiterated the prevailing legal standing on gambling and reiterated that Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments were also illegal.
Section 1 of Tennessee state statute 39-17-501 not only emphatically illegalizes gambling, 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…”
Interestingly enough, daily fantasy sports betting *is* allowed in Tennessee, however.
If you’re on the pro-gambling side of things, the future of gambling in Tennessee sure ain’t bright. We simply cannot envision any state legislator proposing a bill that could well end his/her political career in some parts of the state. Additionally, with no Native American tribes residing in the Tennessee, certainly no parties will be interesting in suing for the right to open casino gambling, poker rooms or even a bingo hall.
Ah well, at least Tennessee borders eight (mostly gambling-friendly) states, eh…?