The World Jai-Alai League named former NFL Pro Bowler and Football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis to its board of directors. The move was made in hopes of increasing the profile of the sport.
Jai-alai is one of the two sports Floridians can bet on. Horse racing in Florida is the other.
Additionally, The WJAL’s professional league, Battle Court, is licensed for sports wagering in 12 states. The league gained access to those jurisdictions through its partnership with Rush Street Gaming. Battle Court betting is available on the BetRivers app.
However, Battle Court uses a team format. This format slightly differs from Florida’s already approved pari-mutuel jai-alai betting rules. As a result, Battle Court betting isn’t available in the Sunshine State.
WJAL hopes Lewis can further its revival efforts
At one time, professional jai-alai betting was one of Florida’s most prominent forms of entertainment. During the sport’s hay in the 1970s, it was arguably Florida’s most popular sport.
But as other professional sports leagues created franchises in the state and other gambling options arose, jai-alai’s popularity sharply declined. On the other hand, the pause of Florida sports betting gave Magic City Casino’s jai-alai leagues an opening to rejuvenate the sport.
Florida launched sports betting in 2021, but legal disputes have put that on hold. The future remains uncertain, but the only professional jai-alai league in the United States will attempt to increase its exposure with Lewis in town.
The former Magic City Jai-Alai, founded in 2018, underwent a recent rebranding to the World Jai-Alai League. The WJAL encompasses both Battle Court matches and those eligible for pari-mutuel betting. It will offer singles, doubles, and team competitions. As of 2022, Battle Court partnered with ESPN3 to have its matches streamed on the platform.
“[Ray] has great experience in a professional league atmosphere from his NFL days and we think he can advise and counsel from both a player perspective and from an ownership/executive perspective,” a league spokesperson told PlayFL. “Once he gains a greater familiarity with the intricacies of the game, his insights will be invaluable. He is also a great motivator and has an unequaled passion for what he does.”
According to the league, Lewis will serve as a spokesperson for WJAL and participate in league publicity events.
“I’m excited to join WJAL on the ground floor and help spread the word about this fast-growing sport,” Lewis said in the WJAL statement. “These are incredible athletes playing a uniquely challenging game.”
What is jai-alai?
Jai-alai is considered the fastest ball sport in the world. Players fling a ball from a basket-style racket against a wall several yards away. Individuals typically play matches in singles matches or by many players in doubles or team competitions. The ball can reach speeds up to 150 miles per hour.
The pace of play is quick and shares some characteristics with handball or racket ball. The sport was invented in Spain more than four centuries ago. Athletes began playing the sport in the U.S. for at least a century.
The WJAL five-team Battle Court league includes several former athletes from the University of Miami, which had the nation’s top jai-alai program for many years. Athletes also hail from France, Mexico, the Philippines, and Spain.
Battle Court is the creation of Magic City Casino COO Scott Savin. Savin launched the league’s first season about a year ago. It wrapped up its second season last December and started its third iteration last month after it added a fifth team.
Lewis played college football for the Hurricanes before embarking on a 17-year NFL career that saw him win two Super Bowls with the Baltimore Ravens. Lewis was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.