Tennessee Casinos and Gambling

Tennessee is not on the short-list of US states that allow traditional casino gambling. Betting, in The Volunteer State, is limited to a state-wide lottery and a few other options, none of which resemble casino gambling in the least. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a less gambling-friendly state in America than Tennessee.

Tennessee borders Mississippi to the south, and that state’s plentiful casino gambling options, as well as more options further to the west in Missouri, account for the majority of Tennessee resident’s gambling. A study by a pro-gambling Tennessee lobbying group found that 10% of all Mississippi gambling income comes directly from Tennessee residents.

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Gambling Options in Tennessee

Tennessee’s harsh anti-gambling law doesn’t make many exceptions. Social gambling (private home or office games) are not allowed; neither are many charity events. Casino games are not happening anytime soon, neither are live or off-track racebooks or sportsbooks.

The biggest thing going in Tennessee gambling is the state lottery. Tennessee voters approved the state-wide lottery in 2002 – games opened for play in 2004. Current games include:

  • Cash 3 Drawn three times daily based on a series of three numbers between 0 and 9. Payouts tend to be between $5,000 and $20,000.
  • Cash 4 Drawn nineteen times a week, Cash 4 is just like Cash 3 but uses four numbers and has larger payouts. Payouts tend to be between $8,000 and $25,000.
  • Tennessee Cash Dawn on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday, Tennessee Cash is a Powerball-style game with a progressive top prize and a series of six numbers. Payouts top out at around $1,000,000.
  • Hot Lotto A multi-state game drawn on Wednesdays and Saturdays, using a series of six numbers and a progressive top prize that resets to $1,000,000.
  • Powerball Another multi-state game drawn on Wednesday and Saturday nights, Powerball was the original multi-state game, premiering in 1992, more than a decade before Tennessee would legalize lottery play. Jackpots start at $40,000,000.
  • Mega Millions Tennessee joined the largest multi-state lottery network in America in 2010 – Mega Millions is now available in 44 states, DC, and the US Virgin Islands. Jackpots start at $15,000,000, but the largest prize in history was $647,000,000.

A final option for fans of gambling who live in Tennessee – a limited list of charitable gambling options. Thanks to some exceptions in state law, charity raffles are legal. No bingo games, no Vegas Night promotions, no Poker Night charity events – raffles, and raffles only. The law even goes so far as to explicitly outlaw so-called “50/50” raffle events, since it’s unclear whether or not the host of those games are profiting from their operation.

Are Tennessee Casinos Legal?

Casinos are not legal in the state of Tennessee. State law is pretty clear on this issue. Let’s look at some specific examples of Tennessee laws that make casino gambling illegal:

  • By state law, a person is “gambling” when they wager anything of value against even the slightest element of chance, whether skill is involved or not. Here’s what the law says, verbatim, in section 39-17-501: “[Gambling 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.”
  • The state defines a “gambling device” in section 39-17-501 as “… anything designed for use in gambling, intended for use in gambling, or used for gambling.” That’s a very broad definition that could be used to treat a table used for playing a private game of cards the same as an illegal slot machine. The language also allows the authorities to confiscate any cash earned using these devices, which is a fairly suspicious financial boon for state lawmakers, right?
  • In section 39-17-502, we find language indicating that illegal gambling will result in a penalty of a misdemeanor. Interesting side note – the law says specifically that a person must “knowingly” be gambling illegally in order to be penalized.
  •  I’ve read a lot of state law on the subject of gambling, but I’ve never seen this clause before – a special penalty for the operation of “lotteries, chain letters and pyramid letters.” The penalty is dependent on the amount of money you make as part of the scheme. I’m as annoyed by chain letters as the next guy, so I applaud this law. Check it out in Tennessee code section 39-17-506.

More Facts about Tennessee Gaming Law

Amusement park games (the so-called Fuzzy Animals games legalized decades ago in other states) were only made explicitly legal in Tennessee in 1989. A single line now makes these games legal – “ It is lawful and not in violation of this part for a person, upon complying with the rules of public fairs, to enter and contend for any and all premiums as may be offered at such fairs.” This language is so loose, I’m surprised we haven’t seen pop-up poker and casino games at carnivals and fairs all over Tennessee. For now, it appears this law only covers small prizes, though the language isn’t specific on that subject.

Tennessee law provides an unusual defense against prosecution for illegal gambling: the state suggests that a good defense could be that “… a person reasonably and in good faith relied upon the representations of a gambling promoter that a gambling activity was lawful because it was an authorized annual event.” Though the state says this must be proven by “a preponderance of evidence,” it’s actually a pretty good defense. Just a little strange to find it in a state’ legal code.


The pro-gambling movement in Tennessee had a brief flirtation with success in 2015 with a bill that would have allowed limited electronic games, bingo, and card games in a few select casinos in the state, but that bill died in committee, and it doesn’t look like the state is all that worried about regulating gambling any time in the future.

The one bright spot in Tennessee gambling law is the fact that the state doesn’t yet explicitly outlaw gambling on the Internet. If you want to gamble and you live in Tennessee, you can drive to Mississippi or Missouri or find a US-friendly casino site that you trust and play all the games you love from the comfort of your office chair.