Detroit City FC: Why Don’t Michigan Sportsbooks Offer Betting On NISA Matches?

Posted By Derek Helling on April 28, 2021 - Last Updated on April 26, 2021

If you visit any legal Michigan sportsbook, you’re sure to find hundreds of soccer events to wager on. However, one absence you might notice is the National Independent Soccer Association — and if you’re plugged into the scene in the state, you know that means Detroit City FC.

The reason why is somewhat curious.

Depending on how you interpret MI law and sports betting regulations, events in that league and involving the club could be permissible for licensed operators. In searching for the reason for their absence, it appears it’s all about a difference of opinion.

A catch-22 for wagering on Detroit City FC

The rules in Michigan regarding permissible events leave some room for interpretation.

“Wagers are only permitted to be placed on the ‘premier’ leagues for respective sports and not subordinate developmental leagues. For example, MLB wagers are permissible, MiLB wagers are not permissible; NBA wagers are permissible, NBA G-League wagers are not permissible; NHL wagers are permissible, AHL wagers are not permissible.”

The tricky part about that, however, is that the NISA isn’t exactly a “feeder league.” The club has no affiliation with any club in Major League Soccer, the top-tier men’s league in North America. Although some players from the NISA do leave it to sign with MLS clubs, that isn’t the stated path. Sportsbooks in other jurisdictions such as Illinois do take action on NISA events, for example.

In fact, the term “independent” is in the league’s name. So although it certainly does not have top-tier status, it isn’t really a developmental league. Thus, it might be eligible for wagering.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board, for what it’s worth, seems to have an open mind on the subject.

Mary Kay Bean, the MGCB’s communications specialist, had the following to say on the issue:

“The MGCB accepts requests from operators and platform providers for new leagues and wagers. We then review each request to determine whether it can be granted under the Lawful Sports Betting Act and associated rules.”

That seems to suggest the board is simply waiting for a licensee to pose the question. However, licensees seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop before they will do that, though.

Operators seem to have made up their minds

PlayMichigan reached out to several Michigan online and retail sportsbook companies about whether they have ever requested approval from the board for offering NISA betting or plan to do so. The responses were unanimous in their pessimism.

“The National Independent Soccer Association is not approved for wagering in Michigan. This is a better question for the regulators; we offer whatever we can.”

“Unfortunately, the National Independent Soccer Association is not approved in the state of Michigan. While I am unable to confirm if we have asked for such markets to receive approval, we operate within boundaries set forth by regulators in each state.”

This might make sense for outside observers — it’s “just” lower-level soccer, after all. But Detroit City FC enjoys a strong following in Metro Detroit of fans who might not be reachable for sports wagering operators through other traditional sports.

Detroit MLS team would be up for wagers on Day 1

So it seems that the board is waiting on a request that might never come, while the operators are waiting on more favorable regulator language that also might not materialize. For that reason, the most realistic option might be for Michigan soccer fans to wait for MLS to come to town.

That’s been a possibility in the past. Late in 2019, Detroit was among the serious contenders for MLS expansion. After Sacramento backed out of the league recently, Detroit’s bid could resurface.

But Detroit City FC fans wanting to wager on their favorite club at legal MI sportsbooks might be out of luck this season.

Detroit getting an MLS club would obviously mean more promotion and visibility for soccer in Michigan. Availability at MI sportsbooks would be part of that.

Until something changes, though, betting on Detroit City FC seems relegated to things that slip through the cracks.

Detroit City FC opens home slate May 1 (UPDATE THIS WITH LEGENDS CUP RESULT)

Detroit City FC is coming off the momentum of two consecutive tournament-style NISA titles. The squad won the NISA Fall Championship in early October and just this past Sunday captured the NISA Legends Cup spring tournament with a 3-0 blanking of Chattanooga FC. 

Detroit City FC opens their home season May 1 against the Maryland Bobcats. The game can be seen on TV20 in the Detroit area and on CW channels throughout the state.

The club plays home matches at historic Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck.

The Michigan Stars, who play in Macomb County’s Washington Township, are also members of the NISA.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago, IL. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law. Recently, he has written about the expanded gambling industry in Michigan, including online sports betting, online casinos, and the cornerstone land-based casino market.

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