Florida Jai-Alai Fronton Keeps Sport Alive

Magic City Casino (l.) in Miami could be the last professional jai-alai fronton in the nation. However, younger players, streaming services and online betting are breathing new life into the sport.

Florida Jai-Alai Fronton Keeps Sport Alive

Magic City Casino in Miami could become the last venue in the U.S. to offer professional jai-alai, the fastest ball sport in the world. Magic City Casino Chief Operating Officer Scott Savin said, “This is it, you know? If this fails, there will be no professional jai-alai in the United States so it’s sort of an all hands on deck.”

Savin added, “We have an incredibly dedicated roster of players,” like former Canes and National Football League player Tanard Davis, who turned to jai-alai to earn a living even though he’s not sure it will survive. Davis said, “We control the destiny of where jai-alai goes. If you ask anybody, ‘Would you want to be the last survivor on a sport where it has so much tradition?’ Yes.”

Younger players also are becoming more interested in playing jai-alai professionally, including second-generation player Chris Bueno. He said, “I think we’re adapting very well in the fact that now we have outlets that are putting us into these smart TVs and into other apps. Now we have eyes on us that weren’t watching us before.”

The sport, which started in the U.S. in the 1920s, gained a huge following in Florida and several other states in the ‘70s and ‘80s, after parimutuel betting was allowed on it.

Interest in jai-alai has faded but Savin said the sport may survive thanks to online betting and new streaming services. “We’re out to 105 million homes right now which is up from less than a million last year. LaLigaSportsTV in Spain, with 1.9 million subscribers, shows all our games. We put a video up on TikTok, in the first six weeks it had 10 million hits. Our goal is to get it in front of literally millions more people than have seen it over the last 20 years.”

Ever the optimist, Savin said, “We’re going to keep playing the game. We have a small niche following that seems to be building every day and we’re going national, we’re going international.”

Besides Magic City Casino, professional jai-alai is offered at frontons in Mexico, France and Spain.