Internationally known as the fastest ball sport in the world, Jai Alai combines elements of racquetball and tennis to create a game where the ball can travel at speeds of 150 mph. Its popularity peaked during the 1960s and 1970s.
Three decades later, Magic City Casino is seeking to restore the glory of jai alai with a move to streaming video programming on ESPN+ and the possible launch of a multi-city jai alai league.
They signed a deal in August 2022 with ESPN for video streaming.
Jai Alai has a colorful history, interwoven with sports gambling in the state. Florida allows licensed locations to operate slot machines or have poker tables if they also participate in pari-mutuel gambling such as horse racing or jai alai. .
In its heyday, frontons in Florida were packed with thousands of spectators. The Miami fronton also served as a popular concert venue before South Florida had major sports arenas and concert halls like the Adrienne Arsht Center and Broward Center.
Jimi Hendrix performed more than once in the Miami Jai Alai Fronton. Other acts included Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Allman Brothers Band. Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith.
Miami historian Seth Bramson remembers evenings out at Miami Jai Alai during its glory days.
Back then, going to jai alai was an event, Bramson said.
“I would take my [my wife], and we’d have dinner and we’d enjoy it,’’ he said.
Scott Savin, COO of Magic City Casino, wants to bring the bright lights and party atmosphere of that golden era.
Magic City Casino is the last fronton hosting the sport professionally. But expansion is over the horizon. Currently, multiple states and countries allow online gambling of the sport. “We’re in 10 states in the United States, we’re in Mexico. And next year, we hope to expand to Europe and Asia”, said Savin.
In addition to expanding gambling operations, Savin wants to create a jai alai league across the United States. “We would base four teams out of Miami, four out of Las Vegas and the teams play for the championship in Miami,” Savin said.
Savin believes interest jai alai can grow quickly, competing with other niche sports such as lacrosse and pickleball.
“We have influencers on Instagram, influencers on TikTok, also influencers that we’re actually bringing to the facility, whatever it’s gonna take to give this the exposure and the attention,” said Savin. “We have 140,000 Tik Tok followers, six, seven months ago, we had zero. Instagram, we just broke 20,000, which is a big deal for us.”
Magic City Casino live streams its games on Tik Tok which can generate up to 100,000 viewers, he said.
“The Tik Tok audience, obviously, is a younger audience. So there’s something about the game that people in their 20s and 30s and 40s seem to really like even though they don’t really know what it is”, said Savin.
The fronton is located inside a casino just south of State Road 112, also known as the Airport Expressway, just east of Miami International Airport.
Savin is undeterred, making Magic City Casino a place to come before your big Friday night plans. They even serve $5 beer. The label? Jai Alai, brewed by Florida brewery Cigar City.