Casino @ Dania Beach Jettisons Jai Alai, America’s Most Endangered Sport

Posted on: September 16, 2021, 05:13h. 

Last updated on: September 17, 2021, 09:06h.

One of just four remaining professional jai alai frontons in the US announced Wednesday it will close. The Casino @ Dania beach in Miami has hosted jai alai games for 69 years. But it won’t make 70.

jai alai
Jai alai, pictured, has a reputation as one of the world’s fastest and most dangerous sports. But its days could be numbered in the US. (Image: WBUR)

On November 28, players will hurl their final balls at the front wall before permanently packing up their cestas, the long, curved baskets they wield when catching and throwing.

According to The Sun-Sentinel, owner Dania Entertainment is negotiating a buyout of the remaining four months of its 26 professional players’ contracts, which were due to expire in May 2022.

High-Speed Gambling Game

Jai alai’s origins lie in Spain’s Basque country. But beyond that region, it’s little-known outside of the US, Latin America, and the Philippines. The sport is like racquetball but incorporates high-speed acrobatic catches and throws.

It was once hugely popular with gamblers in Florida and parts of the northeast, such as Connecticut and Rhode Island.

In its heyday in the 1970s, Dania Beach could regularly attract crowds of 7,000 to 10,000. But the game’s popularity has dwindled significantly as more varied opportunities to gamble became available.

Jai alai has become extinct in the northeast over the past decade. But the game was kept alive in Florida by a law that, until recently, required the state’s pari-mutuel venues to offer a quota of either jai alai, live horse racing, or dog racing as a condition of their legal right to host more lucrative gambling games.

But these events are expensive to stage, and their fall out of fashion means they are often subsidized by a venue’s other gaming operations.

Existential Threat

An agreement negotiated between the Florida legislature and the Seminole tribal casino operator earlier this year allowed pari-mutuels to “decouple” their main gaming operations from these less-profitable attractions.

Meanwhile, greyhound racing was phased out at the end of last year after Florida residents voted to ban the sport in a public referendum.

So, could jai alai be going to the dogs, too?

With Dania Beach out of the picture, that leaves just three professional jai alai frontons in the United States, all in Florida: Magic City Casino, Casino Miami, and Calder Casino in Miami Gardens.

All have wrapped up their most recent seasons, and Inigo Gorostola, VP of the International Jai Alai Players-Association, told the Sun-Sentinel there’s no guarantee they will continue to offer live games now that they are no longer obligated to do so by law.