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'We're hearing more and more from adolescents' | Online sports betting grows three years after TN legalization

Legislation to make online sports betting legal in Tennessee passed in 2020, leading to millions of dollars in tax revenue.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee REDLINE is a resource available to help anyone struggling with addiction. They receive calls from people struggling with opioid addiction, alcohol addiction and other kinds of substance addictions.

More recently, they said they have received calls from people who have gambling addictions.

"Got a call from a gentleman who was saying that he had bet his house and the people were there to take his house," said Mary-Linden Salter, Executive Director of Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug and other Addiction Services (TAADAS).  "We're hearing more and more from adolescents who were saying that they were addicted to sports gambling."

The Tennessee REDLINE said most callers are men between 21 years old and 34 years old. However, they also said more recent calls are skewing younger.

Rick Staples (D - Knoxville) introduced legislation that made online sports betting legal in 2020.

"We looked at the South as a whole, as a hub for baseball, basketball, obviously football, the SEC — the biggest conference in the nation. So, we knew that we had an untapped market in Tennessee," said Staples.

Every month, the state brings in millions of dollars from sports betting-related tax revenue. So far in 2023, the state made around $49 million in tax revenue. In 2022, that number was around $69 million.

"Tennessee, prior to sports betting, was not necessarily a wealthy state. Well-managed fiscally, I believe, but we needed some stimulation with the income," said Staples.

Around 5% of tax revenue received from online sports betting goes towards funding gambling addiction prevention. That's around $2.45 million so far in 2023. The rest of the funds go towards developments like improved sidewalks, parks and roads.

"That mechanism is supposed to create a trigger for the counties and the cities to allow for infrastructure and road improvement — especially in our rural areas," said Staples.

Sports fans can't bet in person in Tennessee. They can only bet online. However, they can also travel to neighboring states like Kentucky to place bets in person.

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