Although a bill that would allow betting through sports-books in Tennessee advanced in the state House Departments and Agencies subcommittee last week, other measures to liberalize gambling were headed off, two of them via pressure from Governor Bill Lee, according to a Memphis legislator.
As a direct response by an alleged intervention by Lee, two bills that were to be heard in a House committee on Wednesday, both sponsored by state Representative Larry Miller, were delayed, and one, HB 130, proposing a Constitutional Amendment to allow the legislature to authorize casinos, was taken off notice.
The other Miller measure, HJR 142, which would authorize the state comptroller to conduct a study of the financial impact on Tennessee of legalized gambling in adjacent states, was “rolled” a week, and is scheduled to be taken up at the subcommittee’s meeting this coming Wednesday.
Asked about the two bills, Miller said essentially that he'd been warned off by a liaison person from Lee's office, who visited him last Tuesday on the governor's behalf, "flagged" the Constitutional Amendment (which is to say, warned him off); Miller says that he intends to bring the Constitutional Amendment bill back, but only after some serious organizing of support.
Miller says his decision to delay HJR 142, calling for the impact study, was also related to the word he’d received from the governor’s emissary.
“It just seemed to me that this was not a good moment to be asking for a decision on measures involving gambling. I’m going to try to build up some more momentum,” said Miller, who indicated that he intends to bring back a version of HJR 130 at some point and to go ahead, as indicated, with consideration next week of the financial-impact measure.
Apropos Miller’s foreboding about timing, Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) got a turndown on Wednesday in the Department and Agencies subcommittee on another bill for a Constitutional amendment to allow bingo games for charity (HJR 102).That measure was turned down on voice vote after Griffey received an admonition from subcommittee chairman Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) that legal bingo had a “tragic history” in Tennessee and that a former Secretary of State [Gentry Crowell] had committed suicide [in 1959] at a time when his office was under investigation for corruption in relation to regulation of bingo games.
Sanderson identified the scandal as being “Tennessee Waltz,” but that FBI sting came later. The one in 1959 was designated “Operation Rocky Top.”
Griffey asked for a roll-call vote on the subcommittee, but Sanderson ruled that his gavel had already come down and that the matter could not be renewed.
There was no indication that Griffey’s experience was in any way related to gubernatorial intervention, but it did perhaps underscore the climate for such bills right now and Miller’s reluctance to put his bills up for grabs.
A spokesperson for the governor was unable to confirm that Governor Lee had intervened with Miller concerning either of his measures.
Meanwhile, HB 1, the aforementioned sports betting measure allowing sports-books and online sports betting received a tentative okay in the Departments and Agencies subcommittee and was passed along to the full State Committee. The bill would allow local-option voting on the creation of sports books and would allocate some proceeds to vo-tech education.