A year ago, it looked like Florida jai-alai was dying. But the sport’s popularity is growing again, as a South Florida pari-mutuel is re-opening its fronton.
The Casino at Dania Beach announced it will be hosting The Dania Beach Invitational 2022-2023 Jai-Alai Tournament in December.
Aside from the underrated Florida horse racing industry, jai-alai is the only sport legal to wager on. Florida sports betting was briefly launched in November 2021. But a pari-mutuel facility filed suit over sports betting provisions in the 2021 Florida gaming compact.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the pari-mutuels, stating the model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. As a result, the Seminole Tribe closed its online sportsbook.
According to a report from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the tournament will feature more than 20 of the game’s best players. Moreover, some players are traveling to Florida from the Basque region of Spain, where the game was invented 300 years ago.
The resurgence of Florida jai-alai
Earlier this year, The Casino at Dania Beach announced it would be closing its jai-alai fronton.
But management soon changed their mind. Ownership refurbished the facility, which is now home to a 500-seat grandstand with standing areas.
Benny Bueno, the jai-alai operations manager and a former professional player, told the Sun-Sentinel he is bullish about the future of Florida jai-alai.
“The success of our Battle at the Palace Jai-Alai tournament last spring signals that there is enduring interest in jai-alai and we expect the upcoming winter invitational to be a major step in securing the sport’s eventual return.”
Dania Beach’s tournament schedule
The tournament starts on Dec. 1 with the kickoff of round-robin play. Staff scheduled nine games every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. Another nine games take place on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m.
The quarter-finals start on Jan. 5, and the semi-finals occur on Jan 19 and 20. The tournament will conclude with the finals on Jan. 26 and 27.
Those interested in wagering on the matches can do so only through in-person bets at the Casino at Dania Beach.
Did Magic City Casino jumpstart the sport’s recovery?
Last February, Magic City Casino in Miami announced it was launching a professional jai-alai league called Battle Court.
At the time of the announcement, the sport seemed to be on the brink of a total collapse. For the first time in roughly 100 years, there wasn’t a single active jai-alai fronton in Florida.
Magic City made strategic partnerships with distribution platforms to stream matches to 115 million homes in Spain. Additionally, they decided to stream matches on their own social media channels.
The league’s first season wrapped up in mid-April with the Cesta Cyclones winning the inaugural championship. More importantly, the engagement on social media proved that new fans were on the horizon.
Bettors came back, too
Furthermore, betting on the sport increased as well. This came even though Floridians couldn’t bet on Battle Court.
Jai-alai is usually played in a doubles format. But Battle Court featured one-on-one matchups.
It made the game more exciting. However, the change meant the game no longer followed pari-mutuel betting regulations.
Thanks to a partnership with Rush Street Gaming, Battle Court betting was available anywhere the BetRivers app is available. But Florida is not one of those jurisdictions.
Magic City COO Scott Savin told PlayFL in late April that despite the roadblock, Floridians began betting on it again. Savin said there was a 30% increase in jai-alai betting on traditional pari-mutuel-style matches.
Consequently, Savin decided to bring Battle Court back for a second season. The league started its second season about a month ago. The nine-week season will wrap up just before the start of the invitational tournament at the Dania Beach fronton.