Tennessee may be home to Elvis and country music but if you enjoy casino gambling you’re going to be hard-pressed to find any type of casino in the state. Tennessee had been one of only three states with no form of legalized gambling. That changed when the state legislature legalized the lottery in June of 2003, making the lottery the only form of legal gambling available in Tennessee. Up until that time, Tennessee law stated that gambling of any kind was “contrary to the public policy of this state and 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.”
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It’s not that there have been no efforts to bring casino gambling to the volunteer state. In the late nineties there was a push to bring horse racing to Memphis and one other city in the state. In fact, a gaming commission had been formed to regulate horse racing. However, a horse race track never materialized and the gaming commission disbanded. Even though there still is a law to allow the building of a race track in Tennessee, the company that had planned to build and operate the first race track in the state in more than 40 years put its plans on hold because of opposition and ensuing lawsuits.
While some in the state would love to see a casino built, the idea would face enormous opposition. One only has to look at the long road the lottery faced before the first game was finally played in January 2004. The idea of lottery gambling and its revenue benefits had been brought to Tennessee citizens for numerous years. Proponents of lottery gambling in Tennessee looked at it as a way to generate money to fund education. They touted the benefits that the state of Georgia has seen by tying its lottery to college scholarships. Opponents claimed that legalized lottery gambling would not help education but would take money away from people who can’t afford to gamble in the first place. While the battle ensued, proponents of lottery gambling were able to secure enough votes in the legislature to add the item to ballots as referendum items in the November 2002 election. That year, Tennessee voters were asked if they wanted lottery gambling to be legalized in the state. Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, the constitution was changed and the move to operate lottery gambling in the state began. There was a caveat, however. The new Tennessee Lottery Education Commission was given a goal. It needed to be able to bring in a total of at least $88 million to fund college scholarships by July 1 of 2003 in order for lottery gambling to continue in the state. The Commission had no problem reaching that goal.
In its first year of lottery sales, the Tennessee lottery sold nearly $900 million in tickets and raised more than $246 million for education. That means that the lottery reached its goal and helped nearly 37,000 students attend college in the Fall of 2004. Every student that qualified for a scholarship received a scholarship from the lottery gambling sales that year.
It wasn’t hard to see why. Tennesseans were enthusiastic about lottery gambling the first day the lottery was available. Lottery sales that first day topped $10 million and first week sales were more than $41 million – the strongest showing ever in U.S. lottery history. The state initially launched the lottery by offering players only four “instant” games. These scratch tickets included two games that cost $1 per ticket; one game that cost $2 per ticket and one game that cost $5 per ticket. Prizes for each ranged from a free ticket to a chance to win $1 million. Since those first four instant games, the Tennessee lottery has launched 43 other instant games. Plus, it added three computerized lottery games including Cash 3, Powerball and Lotto 5.
Cash 3 was the first computerized lottery game offered in the state. In this game, players choose three numbers. To win, the three numbers players pick must match the three numbers that are drawn from three machines each containing balls numbered from 0 to 9. Winning numbers are drawn daily by Lottery officials and are televised live. Ticket prices range from 50 cents to $1 with prizes ranging from $40 to 500.
Tennesseans were able to play their first Powerball game on April 19, 2004. Powerball is a lotto game offered in 26 states, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands. For just $1 per play, players can try their luck to win one of nine different prizes by selecting five numbers from 1 to 53, plus a sixth number from 1 to 42—the Powerball number. Players have a chance to win not only the multi-million dollar jackpot but prizes ranging from $3 to $100,000 as well. Powerball is the number one lottery gambling game in the U.S. and the state of Tennessee can now add the sales of this popular game to its education initiatives as well. Lottery officials confirm that 30 percent of the sales of Powerball in the state of Tennessee will be earmarked for the college scholarship fund. In its first day of play in the state, there were more than 51,000 Tennesseans who collected Powerball winnings, ranking the state 2nd in winnings for that day.
Because of the popularity of Powerball, Lottery officials launched Lotto 5 on August 29, 2004 as its newest addition to lottery gambling in the state. Lotto 5 is a pari-mutuel game, which means that prizes are based on sales and all winners share an equal portion of the winnings in each prize category. Players select five numbers from 1 to 39. If 3, 4 or 5 of those numbers are drawn in any order, the player wins. If there is no top-prize winner, the cash for that prize will be added to the top prize for the next drawing. Tickets for Lotto 5 cost $1 each.
Currently, more than 3500 retail outlets sell Tennessee lottery tickets and its various games and plans are to expand that number even more. The continued success of lottery gambling in the state ensures that more Tennessee students will have the opportunity to attend college than ever before because of the scholarships available from the revenues of lottery gambling.
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