Monthly Archives: March 2021

Newly approved sportsbook appears to be allowing banned bets

A screen grab of proposition bets on college basketball players on the William Hill sportsbook.

When Tennessee lawmakers were debating the state’s new sports betting bill in 2019, a late change to help ensure its passage was to eliminate the possibility of proposition bets on college players.

William Hill, one of the most recent sportsbooks approved to operate in the state by the Tennessee Lottery, doesn’t appear to have gotten the message. As of Monday evening, the gaming outfit was taking bets on how individual players would do in the NCAA tournament.

The Lottery’s oversight of the new gaming program has come under scrutiny after the body suspended the Tennessee Action 24/7 sportsbook due to fraudulent debit card activity on the its platform. A Nashville judge late last week threw out the suspension, ruling the Lottery hadn’t gone through the proper procedures. The sportsbook run by executives of short-term lender Advance Financial had self-reported the fraudulent deposits and withdrawals and its lawyers called a Lottery investigator’s claims about the scope of the problems to be vastly exaggerated.

A screen grab of proposition bets on college basketball players on the William Hill sportsbook.

Approved sportsbooks each pay an annual licensing fee of $750,000, but the Lottery has had trouble with keeping the sports betting oversight staffed . Danielle Boyd recently announced he was resigning as vice president of sports gaming after about nine months on the job. The Lottery’s first gaming director, Jennifer Roberts, left after a seven-month tenure in 2020.

UPDATE: A comment from Lottery spokesman David Smith:

There’s a process in place for violations, and we will follow that process. This matter is under review, however, prop bets on college players are not permitted. The operator has taken those down, and any wagers placed have been voided by the operator.”

Here are the projected amounts headed to TN cities and counties under the COVID relief program

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee’s cities and counties are projected to receive $2.27 billion under the latest federal COVID-19 relief package. On a conference call about the influx earlier this week, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) asked for a breakdown of exactly how much is headed to each local government.

There’s a big caveat: The rules for how the money can be spent aren’t entirely clear yet. So state officials are warning local governments to be careful about how they plan to spend the money.

And even then the answer for local allocations isn’t simple.

The Federal Funds Information Service has come up with projections for the totals that could be flowing soon. Estimates for the biggest cities is based on Housing and Urban Development data while smaller towns and cities’ are based on census estimates from 2019. County totals are filtered through adjusted Community Development Block Grant data.

While none of it is final, here’s how FFIS sees it breaking down for counties and cities:

CountyAmount
Anderson14,929,409
Bedford9,641,530
Benton3,134,132
Bledsoe2,921,570
Blount25,811,598
Bradley20,967,269
Campbell7,727,111
Cannon2,846,708
Carroll5,385,239
Carter10,936,687
Cheatham7,887,114
Chester3,354,647
Claiborne6,198,251
Clay1,476,882
Cocke6,982,754
Coffee10,961,706
Crockett2,759,821
Cumberland11,737,481
Davidson134,624,954
Decatur2,261,967
DeKalb3,973,909
Dickson10,462,882
Dyer7,206,759
Fayette7,977,492
Fentress3,592,422
Franklin8,185,982
Gibson9,529,043
Giles5,714,361
Grainger4,522,770
Greene13,395,507
Grundy2,604,084
Hamblen12,593,549
Hamilton71,333,321
Hancock1,283,908
Hardeman4,858,293
Hardin4,975,047
Hawkins11,013,295
Haywood3,356,004
Henderson5,453,119
Henry6,273,114
Hickman4,883,118
Houston1,590,533
Humphreys3,603,864
Jackson2,285,822
Jefferson10,568,970
Johnson3,449,873
Knox91,214,310
Lake1,360,710
Lauderdale4,971,363
Lawrence8,561,069
Lewis2,379,303
Lincoln6,665,074
Loudon10,486,156
Macon4,771,406
Madison19,003,393
Marion5,606,335
Marshall6,666,820
Maury18,693,665
McMinn10,433,015
McNairy4,983,193
Meigs2,409,170
Monroe9,027,116
Montgomery40,532,905
Moore1,258,308
Morgan4,150,980
Obion5,831,697
Overton4,313,505
Perry1,566,290
Pickett979,029
Polk3,264,463
Putnam15,563,024
Rhea6,432,535
Roane10,353,110
Robertson13,927,689
Rutherford64,444,630
Scott4,279,953
Sequatchie2,914,200
Sevier19,054,982
Shelby181,757,575
Smith3,909,326
Stewart2,659,940
Sullivan30,710,619
Sumner37,098,160
Tipton11,946,747
Trousdale2,188,462
Unicoi3,468,298
Union3,873,446
Van Buren1,138,838
Warren8,005,420
Washington25,091,485
Wayne3,233,626
Weakley6,463,760
White5,303,394
Williamson46,238,539
Wilson28,055,334
TOTAL1,324,476,243
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Permitless carry: How they voted

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House voted 64-29 to pass a bill eliminating training and background check requirements in order to carry a loaded handgun in public. The Senate previously approved its version on a 23-9 vote. The bill now heads for Gov. Bill Lee’s signature.

The measure is opposed by law enforcement groups, though sponsors noted they had heard from several officers and sheriff’s deputies that they supported the measure.

The House bill gained the support of 63 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston. Twenty-four Democrats voted against the measure, plus five Republicans voted against the bill: John Gillespie of Memphis, Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, Eddie Mannis of Knoxville, Mark White of Memphis, and Sam Whitson of Franklin. Five other GOP members were absent or abstained.

In the Senate, all six Democrats plus three Republicans voted against the bill: Sens. Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Brian Kelsey of Memphis, and Becky Massey of Knoxville.

(See the House rollcall after the jump.)

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Lee (quietly) gets COVID-19 vaccine

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend. But he didn’t let on about getting the Pfizer shot until pressed by Tennessean reporter Natalie Allison following an event at the state Capitol on Monday.

Unlike when the governor received a flu shot last fall, Lee did not publicize getting his first of two Pfizer vaccines at the Williamson County Agricultural Center on Saturday.

“We believe that it’s important that Tennesseans get a vaccine if they feel so inclined, but we’re encouraging them to do so because that’s how we’ll get most quickly to herd immunity,” the governor said.

UPDATED: What consistency? Seven who opposed Bible bill override vote for latest version

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When then-Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a 2016 bill to make the Bible the official state book, 15 Republicans who still remain in the chamber today voted against an override. On Monday night, seven of those representatives switched their positions to support the latest version that passed by just five votes more than the minimum needed to clear the chamber.

The GOP members who essentially voted to sustain Haslam’s veto five years ago while approving the renewed measure were Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland, Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Andrew Farmer of Sevierville, Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, John Ragan of Oak Ridge, Mark White of Memphis, and Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

While 55 members approved of the bill on Monday, 28 voted against. Another nine didn’t vote, including Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

The measure now heads to the Senate, where Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has spoken out in opposition.

Lee revives $250M mental health trust fund proposal for K-12 students

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is reviving a proposal to create $250 million trust fund to tackle mental health issues for K-12 students. Lee made a similar proposal last year, but it was abandoned amid uncertainty about the state’s budget picture amid the pandemic.

Here is the full release from the Lee adminstration:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee re-introduced the Mental Health Trust Fund in a renewed proposal to assist K-12 families who are facing significant mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19. This proposal allocates $250 million in available funds to create strong mental health services for school-aged students through a systemwide, evidence-based approach.

“The mental health of all Tennessee students is essential to their safety, education and success beyond the classroom,” said Gov. Lee. “While my administration proposed these critical mental health supports last year, we now have the available funding and a greater need than ever before to ensure our students have access to mental health resources. I thank the members of the General Assembly for their partnership in this important effort.”

“We know the earlier we can intervene, the better outcomes are for children and families,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW. “The services that will be funded by this investment will allow us to increase the services available from community mental health providers and schools, preventing children from entering mental health crisis situations and ending up in an emergency room.”

Services supported by the Mental Health Trust Fund would include: 

– Direct clinical services in schools

– Mental health awareness and promotion

– Suicide prevention and postvention strategies

– Trauma-informed programs and practices

– Violence and bullying prevention

– Project Basic, which includes mental health supports

There is a significant need for strong K-12 mental health supports:

– Nationally, one in five children has a mental health diagnosis in any given year

– Over 60% of children who receive mental health services do so through their school

– Youth mental health has worsened in the last decade: From 2014 to 2019, the prevalence of Major Depressive Episode (MDE) in Tennessee youth ages 12-17 increased from 9.1%

– The approximate prevalence of any mental illness in the past year among Tennessee youth is about 300,000

– In January 2021, Tennessee ranked 28th in overall mental health and 34th overall in youth mental health 

– School closures during COVID-19 limited students’ access to mental health services and caused a pause in critical mental health reporting

The Lee administration has taken strong action to address mental health:

– Behavioral Health Safety Net for Children: Essential mental health supports for uninsured children age 3-17 beginning September 2020

School Based Behavioral Health Liaison (SBBHL) Expansion:Expanded proven program to all 95 counties

TN Suicide Prevention Network: Expanded regional directors to increase coverage and boosted training in suicide prevention

– Youth and Young adult Mental Health Awareness and Promotion:Funding granted to three separate programs that reached more than 11,000 individuals

Tennessee in line to receive $8.56B from latest federal relief package

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee is projected to receive $8.56 billion in the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funding, according to Gov. Bill Lee’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group. That includes $4 billion to the state, $2.26 billion to local governments, and $2.3 billion to local school districts.

The state share includes $3.82 billion for the state fiscal recovery fund and $216 million for state coronavirus capital projects.

The local fiscal recovery fund includes $941 million for cities and $1.33 billion for counties.

“These funds represent an historic opportunity to make investments in your communities,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower said in a meeting of the financial group.

Tennessee-wide fundraisers get underway for gubernatorial candidate … in Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump spokeswoman, is in Tennessee this weekend to drum up campaign cash for her gubernatorial bid in Arkansas. Sanders has events scheduled in Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville on Sunday and Monday.

Sanders’ father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, won Tennessee’s presidential primary in 2008. Huckabee carried 34% of the vote, compared with 32% for John McCain and 24% for Mitt Romney. Huckabee’s campaign adviser that year was Chip Saltsman, who is also consulting on Sanders’ gubernatorial bid.

Saltsman ran Randy Boyd’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Tennessee in 2018. He has also worked as a political consultant for U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga) and David Kustoff (R-Memphis).

Current Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is term limited.

Read the ruling unfreezing betting on the Action 24/7 sportsbook

Nashville Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal on Friday lifted the state Lottery’s suspension of sportsbook Action 24/7 due to fraudulent activity on its platform.

“We applaud the Court’s decision and look forward to working with state officials to ensure public safety and trust in our regulatory system while maintaining an environment for businesses to thrive in Tennessee,” Action 24/7 president Tina Hodges said in a statement. “Thank you to our loyal players and friends across the state for your confidence, support and encouragement. We’ll be Back in Action soon!”

The ruling sends the case back for further hearings before the Lottery.

“We will continue to work with Action 247 to implement appropriate minimum internal control standards that protect the public interest and minimize risk to the integrity of sports gaming in Tennessee,” Lottery spokesman David Smith said in a statement.

Here is the order for Chancellor Moskal:

ORDER ON TEMPORARY INJUNCTION

This matter came before the Court for hearing on March 24, 2021, by videoconference, on Plaintiff Tennessee Action 24/7, LLC’s (“Action 24/7”) Emergency Motion for Temporary Injunction, seeking reinstatement of Plaintiffs sports gaming operator’s license temporarily suspended by Defendants Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation and members of its Board of Directors and President and CEO, in their official capacities (collectively, “TEL”). Participating in the hearing were Attorney E. Steele Clayton IV, Sarah B. Miller, and Nicholas J. Goldin, representing Action 24/7, and Assistant Attorney General Lindsay H. Sisco, Deputy Attorney General Justin Urban, and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Shirley, representing Defendants. Also attending were Tina Hodges, Action 24/7’s President, and Andrew Jack, Action 24/7’s Chief Operating Officer.

Action 24/7 filed a Verified Complaint, with exhibits, against Defendants on March 22, 2021, seeking judicial review of Defendants’ action indefinitely suspending Plaintiffs sports gaming operator’s license under Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-51-328. Plaintiff contemporaneously filed an Emergency Motion for Temporary Injunction supported by a Memorandum of Law. The Court entered an Order setting the Motion for a temporary injunction hearing on March 24, 2021 at 2:00 p.m./central, pursuant to Rule 65.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and Davidson County Local Rules of Practice § 19.03. See March 22, 2021 Order. Defendants filed a response in opposition to the Motion, with exhibits, on March 24, 2021.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

The Court makes the following preliminary findings of fact for purposes of the pending request for a temporary injunction, only, based upon the Court’s record at this early stage of the proceedings.

As of November 1, 2020, Tennessee residents are allowed to place online sports wagers under the recently enacted Tennessee Sports Gaming Act (the “Act”). Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-51- 301, et seq. Action 24/7 is licensed by the State of Tennessee ·as an online sports wagering business under the Act. The Act authorizes the Tennessee Education Lottery Board of Directors (the “TEL Board”) to enforce and supervise compliance with the provisions of the Act. Id.,§ 4-51-306. The Act au-thorizes the TEL Board to control the licensing of sports wagering operators in Tennessee. Id., § 4-51-317, -326. The Act also authorizes the TEL Board to promulgate rules in accordance with the Act. Id., § 4-51-306. Further, the TEL Board is authorized to “investigate and conduct a hearing with respect to a licensee” that has violated the Act, in accordance with rules adopted by the TEL Board. Id.,§ 4-51-326(a). Upon finding a violation of the Act or rule, the TEL Board may suspend, revoke or refuse to renew a license for violations.of any provision of the Act or rules
promulgated by the Board. Id., 4-51-326(b).

The Board promulgated rules and regulations under the Act, referred to as “Chapter 15 – Sports Gaming Rules, Regulations and Standards” (“Rules”). The Rules recognize a “Sports Wagering Committee” of the TEL Board. The Rules, in tum, authorize the Sports Wagering Committee to suspend, revoke, or not renew a license for any of the reasons set forth under the Act or the Rules, upon recommendation by the CEO. Rule 15.2.3.A. The Rules grant the Sports Wagering Committee the discretion to revoke, suspend or not renew a license when it determines it is “in the best interests of the TEL, its Board, or the public policy or welfare of the State of Tennessee,” after notice and a right to a hearing in accordance with the Act and the Rules. Rule 15.2.3.B. The Rules additionally authorize the Sports Wagering Committee, or its designee, to suspend a license upon “exigent circumstances without prior notice pending any prosecution, hearing or investigation.” Rule 15.2.3.B. The Rules do not describe or provide for the size or composition of the Sports Wagering Committee, and do not specifically define what constitutes “exigent circumstances.”

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Lee’s appointments to wildlife board questioned

Bill Lee speaks at a unity press conference in Nashville on Aug. 4, 2018 after winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s nominations of his former campaign manager and a businessman who was once cited for a hunting violation to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission are raising questions in the General Assembly, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Lee wants to appoint Chris Devaney, a former state GOP chairman who ran his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, and Stan Butt, the husband of former state Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), to the wildlife panel.

Devaney, a Texas native, obtained his first Tennessee hunting and fishing permit in 2017. Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), a major player in the legislature’s sportsmen’s caucus, expressed some unease about the Devaney nomination.

“I live in Southeast Tennessee, and the last two commissioners we’ve had from our area, David Watson and Tony Sanders, are huge outdoorsmen, people that I’ve seen outdoors, people that I’ve seen on social media who go hunting and fishing and participate in outdoor activities,” Bell told the Times Free Press. “It is somewhat concerning to me that we now have a person who’s been appointed to be on the commission whom I’ve never seen at an event.”

Bell hastened to add he considers Devaney a friend that he “may make a fantastic commissioner.” Fellow Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga said he was a “little disappointed that [Devaney] would even let himself be considered for this.”

“His expertise is in a lot of other areas besides hunting and fishing and wildlife,” Gardenhire told the paper.

Devaney said he’s a lifelong hunter and the grandson of late George Wells, a Texas apparel manufacturer who helped pioneer camouflage hunting clothing. He showed the paper a copy of a Texas-issued hunter education certificate earned in the eighth grade, along with a current Texas hunting license and one issued in 2014 in Alabama.

Butt and his three adult sons were cited by wildlife officers in 2008 for hunting during bow season “while in possession [of] a firearm or accompanied by person in violation of a firearm.” He later paid a $50 civil fine and $195 in court costs.

Butt, who was also an active Lee supporter during the 2018 campaign, chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

“We weren’t hunting with a bow,” Butt said in an interview. “We were hunting on a 5,000-acre lease. And in our ignorance we were hunting hogs on this lease, hogs were legal at the time. We didn’t know that bow season [for deer] had opened that weekend. And we weren’t hunting deer, we were hunting hogs.”

Butt called the incided “unfortunate” and “one of them things, that’s what I told them, I said, ‘Hey, I can certainly understand how people get caught in those situations because I’ve been there.'”

Bell said Butt “has a good resume as being an outdoorsman and somebody who’s participated. Somebody who’s had, as I understand, one wildlife infraction in his background. But again, that’s the governor’s choice.”

Bell said if Lee wants to shake up the commission, Butt could be a good choice because “I know he can be a little aggressive, and again I was on the same side as him on a couple of issues. But he can be a little aggressive, which that may be the governor’s intention. If it is, I understand.”