Michigan Sports Gambling Missing Out On Rush To Obscure Sports

Written By Matt Schoch on April 14, 2020

When Michigan sports gambling was legalized in December 2019, the plan for implementation seemed sound at the time.

Regulators and legislators wanted to get retail brick-and-mortar sportsbooks up first, placing a premium on getting facilities open as March Madness is traditionally a boon for sports betting.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a canceled NCAA Tournament and also questions – in hindsight – about whether more emphasis should have been placed on mobile sports betting, online poker and online casinos instead.

While there is no indication they could have been up and running by March anyways, some American sports bettors are unlocking some unusual options across the globe to scratch their gambling itch while stuck at home.

“My mom used to joke about it when I was in high school, ‘They’ll bet on anything, like the weather,’” said ESPN’s Doug Kezirian on Tuesday speaking with host Mina Kimes on the ESPN Daily podcast.

“That’s actually where we’re at right now.”

Obscure sports filling gambling void

On FanDuel Sportsbook on Tuesday morning, the options for betting included Russian and Ukrainian table tennis, soccer in Belarus and Nicaragua, basketball in Taiwan and an online darts league.

“That’s been a savior of content for some of our partners,” said Dave McDowell, a Michigan native and CEO of FSB, a sports betting platform in London.

Nicaragua has been a hotbed of sports during this time, also hosting boxing, a marathon and baseball during the pandemic, according to the New York Times.

In New Jersey, the Division of Gaming Enforcement recently approved a few more obscure sports to the betting docket, which could find their way to sportsbooks soon: darts, handball (Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine), lawn bowling, snooker, volleyball (Turkey and Russia).

“It has certainly been interesting, it has challenged us,” Kezirian said. “With the beauty of the internet, we’re all finding a way to kind of move forward. But obviously, it’s a very different sort of tone on everything.”

Could esports, virtual sports betting come to Michigan?

With the real sports world shutting down, many bettors could jump to the world of esports.

New Jersey took bets on an esports event in November, as League of Legends gamers competed.

Virtual sports betting essentially, video games where computer software plays out sporting events, races or contests — is already off and running in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through its lottery.

During a webinar last week through iGaming Business, state Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Oshtemo Township), who spearheaded the legislative efforts to legalize Michigan sports gambling, said esports could be on the table someday.

“This has been something that we’ve directed towards the regulators and perhaps something they’ll look at,” Iden said. “Once you get into this whole realm of esports, it’s sort of overwhelming.

“I don’t think that we’re quite ready here in Michigan.”

Could Michigan expedite mobile sports betting?

Iden hopes online betting can move along quickly, however, he expresses caution.

“It is imperative that we methodically try to do this as quickly as possible in the hopes that we have some semblance of sports return here in the fall,” Iden said. “You could potentially do risk getting it wrong and doing more harm in the long run.”

However, Michigan Gaming Control Board spokesperson Mary Kay Bean said to USPoker.com this week that the early 2021 projection remains.

Allen Kerridge, the interim CEO of Kewadin Casinos in the Upper Peninsula, said the revamped efforts to get online gambling going is also for the public good.

“A lot of it probably based on the fact that we’re dealing with a crisis right now as a nation,” Kerridge said. “Anything that we can do to provide any assistance with our communities, we’re going to try to do.”

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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