Tennessee sportsbook’s fintech ties raise responsible gaming concerns


Tennessee sports bettors will soon have a fifth online option while one of its current licensees’ ties to a high-interest lending firm are raising responsible gaming concerns. 

This week, the Tennessee Education Lottery’s Sports Wagering Committee gave conditional approval to Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) to launch online betting (the only kind permitted in the state) under its BetAmerica brand. CDI, which recently announced plans to rebrand BetAmerica as TwinSpires, still needs to clear a few technical hurdles before launching in Tennessee.

CDI joins existing licensees BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel and local firm Action 24/7, with another three would-be licensees – William Hill, Wynn Resorts’ WynnBET and ZenSports – still waiting in the wings. It remains to be seen whether any of the latter trio will be able to launch in time for this year’s Super Bowl on February 7. 

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Lottery has issued a betting vendor registration to Advance Financial, a Nashville-based fintech firm that offers so-called ‘flex’ loans, which are effectively a line of credit with seriously high interest rates (279.5% APR) for borrowers with few other options. So, payday loans.

The Lottery’s three-person betting committee voted 2-0-1 – with the lone abstention coming from a member who does accounting work for Advance Financial – in favor of allowing bettors to make deposits to and withdrawals from their Action 24/7 accounts at Advance Financial’s 100+ retail outlets in Tennessee (for a $2 fee). 

The plot thickens when you learn that Tina Hodges is president of Action 24/7 and CEO of Advance Financial. There is no option for bettors to access any other Tennessee-licensed online sportsbooks directly through Advance Financial.  

SportsHandle quoted one of the board members noting that there was nothing stopping bettors from taking out an Advance Financial loan and then using an unaffiliated money services firm to send funds to a different online betting site. The Advance Financial scenario may have felt “a little off” from a responsible gaming perspective, but the board concluded there was nothing in the state’s regulations specifically preventing such a relationship.

There may not be any rule against it, but the optics of this situation are, uh, not good, particularly as Advance Financial locations feature promotional come-ons for Action 24/7. If people are desperate enough to require a high-interest loan, they may be equally desperate to risk that borrowed cash on a long shot bet, particularly when that betting option is staring them in the face.

Gambling regulators and financial institutions in many other markets are increasingly looking for ways to make it more difficult for bettors to wager on credit, not the other way around. The US may have a lengthy history of land-based gambling regulation but it’s still an infant when it comes to online gambling, and public relations teething pains of this type will likely prove painful.