Florida Casino Aims To Rejuvenate Jai-Alai Betting With New League

Written By Steve Schult on February 16, 2022 - Last Updated on May 27, 2022
Florida jai-alai betting

Despite Florida’s last remaining jai-alai fronton closing at the end of 2021, a Miami casino partnered with a sports betting company to make jai-alai betting popular again.

Magic City Casino announced Tuesday that it was launching a new jai-alai league in conjunction with SeventySix Capital Sports Advisory. The new league will be called “Battle Court.”

Furthermore, it also announced an exclusive deal with Rush Street Interactive to allow for online or mobile betting on Battle Court in seven other states.

Rush Street owns the BetRivers sportsbook app. In addition to being the only place to wager online on the matches, the app will also stream the action.

Since Florida sports betting is still amid a legal battle, residents of the state won’t be able to access the app. However, those in the Miami area can wager in-person at Magic City Casino, where the matches will take place.

What is jai-alai?

Any Floridian reading this can likely skip this section. On the other hand, those from outside the state need to know what they are betting on.

The sport is similar in fashion to racquetball, except much faster. One team throws a ball against a wall. The other team has to catch it and throw it off the wall again before the ball bounces twice or goes out of bounds.

Players on the court, which is known as a fronton, will wear large, curved baskets on their hand to catch and throw the ball off the wall. It is considered one of the fastest sports in the world, as the ball typically travels around 150 miles per hour.

The first team to score six points wins the set. The first team to win two sets wins the match.

The game is usually played by teams of two. Battle Court will be played in a one-on-one format. Anybody betting on the match could wager on who wins the match or set, or even who scores the next point.

The declining popularity of jai-alai betting

The sport came to the U.S. in 1924 from the Basque region of Spain. Florida lawmakers legalized jai-alai betting in 1936, which helped spark its popularity in the state.

The sport peaked in the 1970’s. But as more traditional professional sports came to the Sunshine State in the following decade, its popularity began to decline.

Las Vegas-style casino gaming came to Florida in the 1990’s, which gave Floridians more gambling options. As a result, bettors wagered less on jai-alai.

When the state underwent its first real gaming expansion with the addition of casinos, there was a law that forced pari-mutuels to keep its jai-alai matches. However, last year, lawmakers eliminated that provision and most of the facilities stopped spreading jai-alai.

Last December, The Casino at Dania Beach closed the state’s final jai-alai fronton. But the state was only without jai-alai for a couple of months before Magic City Casino brought it back.

Magic City Casino hopes jai-alai will piggyback on sports betting

According to the press release, Battle Court’s founders are hoping to “capitalize on the rapid growth of sports betting.”

Sports wagering is legal in 32 states, as well as Washington, D.C. New York, one of the most recent markets to launch an online betting market, accepted nearly $2 billion in wagers in the first month of action.

Sports betting was briefly legal in Florida before the legal battle around the state’s new gaming compact started. The legal issues forced the Seminoles’ online sportsbook to shutter.

State of Florida sports betting

In April 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed to a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

The deal would create a “hub-and-spoke” model for its sports betting market. As a result of the structure, the tribe would function as the centerpiece of the entire industry.

The Seminoles would functionally have a monopoly on Florida’s sports betting operation. The state granted the tribe exclusivity for all online and mobile wagering.

Additionally, if any pari-mutuel facility opened a brick-and-mortar sportsbook, it would do so as a partnered vendor of the Seminole Tribe. The tribe would get 40% of any sports betting revenue from those facilities and would pay the state tax. The pari-mutuel sportsbook would keep the remaining 60% tax-free.

In return, the state would receive at least $2.5 billion in new tax revenue from just the tribe.

The ownership group of Magic City Casino and Bonita Springs Poker Room filed state and federal lawsuits over the deal. They argued it violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The IGRA states that all betting must take place on Indian land. Magic City Casino claimed that since online betting was state-wide, this had to be a violation. The tribe argued that since the servers were on tribal land, they were in accordance with federal standards.

A judge dismissed the state-level lawsuit, and the Seminoles launched the Hard Rock sportsbook at the start of November 2021. However, a federal judge ruled in favor of Magic City’s ownership group. Subsequently, the Seminoles closed its online sportsbook at the start of December.

It leaves the status of Florida sports betting in limbo. However, betting on jai-alai is a pari-mutuel activity and was already legal under previous statutes.

Photo by Shutterstock / Ricardo Hernandez
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Steve Schult

As Managing Editor of PlayFL, Steve will stay on top of all things related to the Florida gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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