Oct 7, 2021 - Sports

Inside Tennessee's sports betting slump

Illustration of a stack of hundred dollar bills underneath a football field.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Sports betting in Tennessee dipped to a low point in August, but the return of football season is sparking optimism that things will pick up in the coming months.

Why it matters: Since legalizing sports gambling in November 2020, Tennessee has generated nearly $28.9 million in gambling tax revenue, according to updated data released last week by the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation.

  • But August was the worst month for the state since legal betting took effect. Just $2 million in tax was generated on $144.5 million total wagers.

The big picture: Analysts say August is likely the calm before the storm with the NFL and college football in full swing in September.

  • "After an up and down summer, it would've been encouraging to see some growth in handle ahead of what is a crucial period in the industry," Nicole Russo, analyst for PlayTenn.com, wrote in an August report. "No sport motivates bettors like football, though."
  • According to the PlayTenn.com analysis, 60.2% of the money legally wagered in 2020 was placed during the September through December fall football season.
  • The biggest money month for sports betting in Tennessee so far has been January, during the thick of the NFL playoffs, when bettors wagered $211.3 million and generated $4.3 million in tax revenue.

By the numbers: The Tennessee Education Lottery receives 80% of sports gambling tax revenue, used to fund scholarships and grants for students.

  • Local governments receive 15% for roads and other infrastructure projects.
  • The remaining 5% goes to state-funded gambling addiction programs overseen by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. More information and support are available on the state's mental health website.

What they're saying: "This is the most important time for the industry, but we still don’t know for certain how bettors in Tennessee will engage over a full football season," Eric Ramsey, analyst for the PlayUSA.com Network, wrote in an August report.

Graph of money wagered on sports in Tennessee.
Data: Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

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