Is Gaming Coming to Gatlinburg, Tennessee?

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in the state of Tennessee are popular tourist destinations year-round in the south. Travelers come to the region to enjoy family friendly fun, from the popular Dollywood theme park to the Gatlinburg Strip. What has become a popular spot among tourists for decades, might soon offer even more, if a tribal group that recently purchased a huge section of land decides to go with a casino and hotel resort on the property.

Huge Land Purchase

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians recently closed on a land purchase in Sevier County. The plot consists of 198 acres and is close to Gatlinburg. The asking price of the land came in at a whopping $13.5 million, but if that is how much was paid remains a mystery.

The business sector of the tribe are thinking about creating a resort on the property which would include several hotel spaces. According to PlayTennessee, also under consideration is a convention space and retail shopping areas. However, these plans may just be a precursor for something bigger.

In Tennessee, the state law only allows sports betting and lottery gaming. There are no land-based casinos or sportsbooks on offer. However, this could change. It was unusual for the state to approve sports betting without land-based venues and the tribe may be preparing for future gambling opportunities by snagging up this prime piece of real estate.

A Long Shot

For casino gaming to become a reality in Tennessee, the legislature of the state would have to approve a bill. The bill would then have to be signed by the governor and then be held under a voter referendum with the majority needed to pass. Governor Bill Lee did not sign the sports betting legislation, but let it pass into law. So, he might not be keen on putting pen to paper when it comes to casino gaming.

However, it would be smart for the state to allow casino gaming. Alabama only offers one tribal venue, no sports betting or lottery. Players from the state have crossed the border for many years to purchase lottery tickets and are taking advantage of sports betting as well.

Georgia also does not offer casino gaming yet, so Tennessee could benefit from travelers from neighboring states.

The Eastern Band of Cherokees do have the option to apply for an online sports betting license, but if they will do so is unclear. They will soon be offering betting services in North Carolina, so it only makes sense that they would offer the same services in another state.

For now, residents of Tennessee will have to wait and see what plans the tribe has for the land. With the acquisition only now just complete, official details should com in the near future. It will be interesting to see if any suggestions are made by the tribe to bring traditional casino gaming to the state.


Logan is based in Los Angeles and is an avid poker player having played in tournaments across the globe. He covers both poker & regulatory affairs.