Only one Republican running to be Tennessee’s next governor is open to the idea of allowing sports betting.
The question came up during a GOP debate in Hendersonville on Wednesday night. A recent federal court ruling paves the way for states to legalize gambling on college and professional games.
At the debate televised by WKRN, House Speaker Beth Harwell said she would not veto a bill if the state legislature voted to allow betting and it was deemed constitutional. She based her position on her initial feelings about the state lottery.
“I was not particularly for the lottery myself,” she said. “But I will have to quickly add that it is one of the ways that we have funded one of the most successful programs that we have seen in our state, which is funding higher education for a lot of people that would not have been able to go.”
Harwell was referring to the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs, which are funded by the lottery endowment.
But Congressman Diane Black pointed out that many of the people benefiting from the college financial aid are not from low-income families that
buy a disproportionate share of lottery tickets.
“I don’t know that we need one more opportunity for people to give money to betting when they should be feeding their families and taking care of the necessities of life,” she said. “I would not want to see this occur here in our state.”
Former economic development commissioner Randy Boyd, who owns a minor league baseball team, said he didn’t want to see sports corrupted by gambling. And businessman Bill Lee said he didn’t think the authors of the state constitution would have wanted sports betting, since the document
had to be amended in 2002 to even allow a lottery, adding that gambling is not “consistent with the values of this state.”
During the debate, candidates were also asked pointedly about controversial policy moves by the Trump Administration on matters related to immigration and tariffs. Even those who found ways to lightly criticize did so without defying the president, who remains popular in the state.