Dania Jai-alai has not shut down for good. And the hotel has not started construction on where the court exists now.
An announcement will be coming soon that Dania jai-alai is coming back, but not to expect a full-roster, full year-round action.
What will be announced is hush hush, but there could be about a two-month season – with pari-mutual wagering and a limited roster. It could also feature tournaments and Partido’s, which are always exciting to watch and bet. The season likely would run in the months of December and January while capitalizing on prime tourist season.
But nothing is official. As we have said before, the owners like Jai-alai and they love Benny. They have never announced that they were closing for good, and even during the final two performances, Benny has hinted “never say never”.
Magic City is getting prepared for its 5th season, which starts this Valentine’s Day. Players have started practicing Tuesday.
The schedule is a little different this year, with performances Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays. Pari-mutual Wagering Performances will start at 1:30pm and H2H Sports Betting Performances will start at 5pm. The Saturday performances are gone. The H2H betting is only available in a handful of states as of now, with this clearly being the future of Magic City jai-alai. Fans will only be allowed in on Sundays for both performances with special admittance if you request it in advance.
It is obvious that the are targeting the sports betting end of it and have acknowledged they will lose money this year. The goal is to have as many states as possible on board that offer sports betting. The days and hours of play has irritated many longtime pari-mutual betters, but these hours and dates (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday) are clearly an attempt to get betters who would normally not have many options at this time. In fact, there is likely nothing being offered by the major 4 sports at those hours with football over with, Sunday MLB games over with, while hockey and basketball games are starting a couple hours later.
Folks, people will bet on anything. There are likely hundreds of thousands standing by wanting to make a bet on something, but in the United States your options currently (Sun-Tue 5pm) are nil. Your options are on events like ping-pong in China. Perhaps darts, cricket or rugby if you’re lucky. The money bet on events like this is amazing and therefore Magic City is giving it a try. Go to the Betrivers website and see for yourself. And yes, jai-alai is a sport they are promoting. Magic City has realized that pari-mutual wagering in jai-alai will never be profitable. Even if they are the only game in town – or shall we say in the United States.
I do have an idea, Magic City. Keep the pari-mutual wagering going if you can. How about running it after the 5pm H2H games and start at 7:30 or 8pm? You would reach a lot of more people at those hours.
As we have noted before, the court has been stained black and it looks good. Special thanks to Kyle Kubala for the photos.
The excitement of having the Miami Vice crew here had faded and I was now starting my seventh year in Miami. Sue had given birth to our second child, Jason, in March of 1985. We were dealing with being parents of two young children, no in-town family for support. Sue was doing a phenomenal job dealing with the kids while I sometimes “worked” late (those gin games with Donovan and Rico did not end until Donovan was ahead). Then, I would arrive home, my clothes stinking of cigar smoke.
Business was good, though you could see the summer seasons at Miami, Dania, and Tampa chipping away at the seasonal attendance and handle. But, the overall yearly totals were still much higher, so the owners thought the extended seasons were beneficial. I, on the other hand, was worried.
Our best promotion still remained the intercity tournaments, now called the NAJF (Nat’l Association of Jai-Alai Frontons). The hosting fronton was packed the night of their round. Most of the time, the management would travel to the tournaments to support the players. Some of the owners played golf, like Hort Soper, who owned Orlando Jai-Alai. We would fly to Orlando or Daytona Beach early to get in a round of golf before the tournament that evening. Yep, tough job, but somebody has to do it.
I would drive to the Palm Beach round, usually taking Sue and the kids with me. They would stay in the hotel while I went to the fronton. I felt badly leaving them, but Sue found it a respite, almost a vacation.
I have fond memories of seeing Palm Beach owner, Arthur Sylvester, Sr. He always wore these colorful sports jackets, light colored pants, even white shoes. He was quite a character and a very nice guy. Everybody loved Art.
The Miami team usually consisted of Joey, Asis, Juaristi (who later went to Dania and represented them), Alberdi or Elorrio in the frontcourt. The backcourters would be Soroa, Enrique, Ecenarro, or hard-throwing Elorduy. There was fierce competition between the frontons.
One late afternoon, while Donovan, Rico, and I were “in a meeting,” Frank Duffin, Director of Player Personnel and one of Miami’s Assistant Managers, walked into Donovan’s office. Frank, being an ex-FBI agent, whispered something to Dick. Frank was always whispering. Maybe his past experience as an agent made him think the office was bugged. I heard faintly something about Joey.
I later found out that Duffin had told Donovan that he got word (he had his “informants”, mainly Alfredo Garcia, player manager) that Joey was trying to open a Jai-Alai fronton in Arizona. Donovan dismissed it as almost a joke. After all, he had tried to get Jai-Alai legalized in various states and even other countries and failed. For Donovan, if he couldn’t do it, nobody could.
I didn’t think much about it. Rumors of this sort popped up all the time. I was good friends with Joey. I had spent time with him on our national media tour. We had played golf together. I now thought he was not only the best Jai-Alai player in the world, but a very close friend. I couldn’t really see how or why this rumor was true. And, if it was, good for Joey.
Days and weeks went by…then, Duffin approached Donovan again. Rico and I were sitting in his office discussing advertising. Duffin told Dick that Joey was trying to get some of the players to commit to leaving Miami Jai-Alai to go with him to Arizona if he got the fronton. Now, that got Donovan’s attention and he got angry.
Donovan said that he had some sources that told him Joey, indeed, and a couple Miami insurance guys were trying to get a facility on the Gila Indian reservation. Reservations were treated as sovereign nations and were exempt from some state laws. Their attorneys felt it would be legal to have Jai-Alai on the reservation. Joey would be a partner in this venture.
While this seemed to be very secret, it was revealed to Donovan through some financial guy out in Arizona. I’m sure Joey had to keep it a secret for fear of one of the Florida owners stealing this unique idea, Native-American gaming. (The concept was truly ahead of its time and their idea became the framework for the many Native-American casinos throughout the country).
I remember Donovan saying, “Frank, don’t tell anyone that I know about this. I want to see if Joey comes to me to talk about it. But, keep me posted if you hear about any more discussions with players.”
When Duffin left, I said, “Dick, there’s no way Joey is trying to steal our players. He wouldn’t do that.” Donovan said he trusted Duffin’s information and that Joey could try to get another fronton and leave, but he couldn’t try to take any of our players. For me, if Joey could be an owner and make more money, I was all for it. He had always been drastically underpaid, as were all Jai-Alai players.
Then, it finally happened. It became public as the Arizona papers got wind of the story. There were comments from the Governor who said he would never let it happen. He was completely opposed to gambling and was dead set on finding a way to stop it. But, since reservations were not technically under his jurisdiction, he would have to be creative to stop the deal. And, he was. The Arizona project died, as did Joey’s dream of owning a fronton.
With the news stories being faxed around to the state frontons, Joey now had no choice but to face Donovan. He told Dick about the deal, that his partners had sworn him to secrecy, and that he definitely had NOT talked to players about leaving World Jai-Alai to go with him. I believed him. Donovan didn’t. Donovan would make Joey pay. But, in the end, World Jai-Alai paid, by losing Joey.
Joey had a contract to play with World Jai-Alai and Donovan didn’t mess with that. But, Joey, also, had a discretionary bonus in his contract. Joey was a special player. He was used extensively in promotions. He was always willing to do anything extra that would promote the sport or Miami Jai-Alai. But, I think it was, also, tied to making sure he didn’t sign with any other fronton.
Joey was “the Face of Miami Jai-Alai.” That bonus was important. And, Donovan withheld it from him. He claimed it was “discretionary” and had the right not to pay it. Of course, he had paid it for years. It was a lousy thing to do. It hurt Joey, it hurt the sport, and it hurt World Jai-Alai. I knew things would never be the same for Joey.
Later that year, Joey announced he was leaving and signed with our biggest competitor, Dania Jai-Alai. Steve Snyder, owner of Dania, pulled another huge coup signing Joey. This was like Mickey Mantle leaving the Yankees to go to the Dodgers. I couldn’t believe it. The “Favorite Son of Miami Jai-Alai”, my best promotional tool, my good friend was leaving us and going to Dania. Donovan was beside himself. Now, lawsuits flew everywhere.
Joey, I know, didn’t want to leave. But, he had no choice. He began to thrive in Dania and quickly went to the top. Of course, he was chosen to represent Dania in the next NAJF Tournament. This caused a huge, unforeseen problem. Donovan immediately wanted to withdraw.
Dick Donovan didn’t like to lose… at anything. Losing Joey was a slap in the face. When Dania submitted their teams for the tournament, he told me we are not going to participate. I begged him to reconsider, that it would look bad for us and we would lose our biggest revenue night. He finally compromised by saying we could participate, but Joey could not play on our court… at our round. He drummed up some excuse that if he got hurt, he would surely sue us.
Well, that still made it impossible. Dania was not going put in a substitute just for the Miami round. It was an unreasonable request. Donovan’s justification was ridiculous. Any player could sue us if they got hurt.
In the end, he finally relented and the tournament went on as usual. But, Donovan was nowhere in sight during the Miami round. Joey was cheered that night by his old fans. He played like he always played, winning most of the tournament games.
Joey went on to have a record setting career in Dania. He was always a winner and it didn’t matter where he played. There is no doubt he wanted to finish his career where it started, at Miami Jai-Alai. But, he did what he had to do.
There has never been a better emissary of the sport than Joey Cornblit. And, we lost him from Miami, probably when we needed him the most. We were about to enter the “Year of Doom” for the sport of Jai-Alai. 1988, Winter is Coming!
The NJAA & Pelota Press now has available a wide variety of new shirts in black or white and in a wide variety of sizes. All shirts are custom ordered, and price includes shipping directly to your door. You can even add your name and number on the back side. These are very attractive looking shirts and are at a great value for the dollar. Lead time is about two weeks and payment is available by Venmo (preferred) or PayPal, or by check. If you live near Puryear Park in St. Petersburg, you can pick up your shirts directly there if you prefer.
We also have a large inventory of new Matt Balls Gen 7. They are the same size and weight as a real Pelota and are a bit slower in speed then previous Matt Balls. Currently, they are being used by the group of kids in California that was under direction of Loren Harris, who unfortunately passed away last week. The ball is also being used at Puryear Park.
The thick, brown Manila envelope arrived containing the full script of the proposed “Killshot” episode of NBC’s top rated show, Miami Vice. I eagerly opened it and found in large, bold letters across the top: “Confidential.” It felt like I was about to read a highly classified government document.
It read like a play. Each line had the character name and a colon. Most said “Crockett:” or “Tubbs:” referring to Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas’s characters. But, then I came to the main character, the fictitious Miami Jai-Alai player Tico Arriolla. He was portrayed as a troubled athlete embroiled in dealing cocaine. When I finished the entire script, I knew our president would never accept it. But, I had no choice. I had to let him read it. I slowly walked to Dick Donovan’s office.
About two hours later, Donovan came to my office, tossed the script on my desk, and told me there was no way we could approve it. It portrayed drugs and violence within our sport. They need to change it. It’s not acceptable.
So, I called Michael Mann, the Executive Producer, and relayed Donovan’s response. I begged him to rewrite it so the player wasn’t a drug dealer. Somehow clean it up for us. He told me he would talk to Leon Echaso, the writer and director. A week later he called me back.
“We made changes to the script,” Mann told me. “Tico does not deal drugs. It’s more about his brother, a DEA agent, and conflicts about drugs. We don’t think it makes Jai-Alai look bad. This is about the star of the sport entangled somewhat in the drug world along with his DEA agent older brother.” But, he would not send down another script.
I returned to Donovan and told him about the changes. He said he would talk to Roger Wheeler, Jr., World Jai-Alai’s owner. “If he doesn’t have a problem with it, it’s ok,” Donovan said. Roger approved.
August 2nd, 1986, a caravan of trucks, trailers, and limos pulled up to Miami Jai-Alai. I met Leon Echaso, the writer and director, who told me how excited he was that we were doing this episode on Jai-Alai. Leon, growing up in Miami, was a big fan. He couldn’t have been nicer.
They parked the trailers in the back parking lot where the players parked. Each star had his or her own trailer with a sign on it. Don Johnson, Phillip Michael Thomas, Saundra Santiago, Olivia Brown, Edward James Olmos, and Fernando Allende (Tico), each with individual trailers.
I remember the first day I met the stars and crew. We had a short production meeting. Everyone seemed so nice and thanked us for allowing the filming at our location.
Then, Don Johnson came in. I was introduced to him and we shook hands. He was strikingly good looking… and he knew it. He gave an air of arrogance, probably because he was the hottest television star of day. Phillip Michael Thomas seemed down to earth and genuinely happy to meet all of us. I would later interact with the others, especially the female stars.
Later, I was introduced to Fernando Allende, a young, suave South American soap opera star. He had never seen a game of Jai-Alai and was supposed to portray the top player in the sport, Tico Arriolla.
The director told me we had to teach Allende the proper throwing motion of a professional Jai-Alai player, even though they would use a real player in the action scenes. We chose our top player, French star Michelena, to be Allende’s body double. Michelena would be the player you see in the episode making all the great shots. Fernando Allende would prove to be difficult to train. Here’s why.
The day we were going to shoot the first scenes, we had about 50 crew members, actors, and stage hands all over the court. The director wanted to film some close-ups of Tico (Allende) throwing the ball. I strapped on the cesta and told him it was best to begin with just a throwing motion without the actual ball. With the hordes of people on the court just about surrounding him, he grabs the ball from me and tries to hurl it at the front wall. Of course he threw it sideways, almost backwards, nearly hitting some of the crew. The Jai-Alai ball is hard as a rock and any hit could cause serious injury. I quickly grabbed the ball and put it in my pocket, grateful that no one was hit.
Allende yelled loudly at me, “Give me the ball! I am a star and I will do whatever I want!” Now I knew what they meant about hot-headed, prima donna stars. I grabbed the director and said, “Leon, stop this idiot before he kills someone with the ball.” He calmed him down and said we would practice later. Allende regained his composure and walked away.
The next day, Don Johnson and the other stars were going to shoot some court scenes. I told my wife, Sue, about it and invited her to the closed shoot. She was so excited she got some of her friends to come with her. It really was an exciting day for all of us. Even our players, who were the top players in the sport, were thrilled to meet the stars.
After the morning shoot, the caterers set up this tremendous buffet lunch in our north lounge. I was invited to eat with the cast. I sat with Saundra Santiago and Olivia Brown, who both played the female detectives in the show.
Santiago sometimes portrays an undercover prostitute to trap the bad guys. Undoubtedly, she was in the fantasies of most of the male audience of that time. Now, I’m sitting across the table from “Gina” (Santiago), trying to be cool, yet bedazzled by her beauty. She and Olivia were so nice. They laughed at my stories, probably just being polite. But, they were both very sweet, down to earth ladies.
I remember Saundra mentioning how cute she found Michelena. I told her he was the best Jai-Alai player around and had a great French accent. I kidded her about fixing her up with him. I believe they did go out. I’m sure Michelena, though happily married and with kids, has a great story to tell about going out with a Miami Vice star. But, I will leave that to Mich.
The filming went on for about a week. They had a scene where Crockett and Tubbs meet Tico’s brother, DEA agent Frank Arriolla, at a matinee to watch Tico play. We needed a full house.
In those days, we had a good crowd at the afternoon performances, but it was not always full on a Wednesday matinee. So, we placed a few ads saying the Miami Vice crew was filming at the fronton that day. The audience could see Johnson and Thomas close up if they came. The place was packed!
Another memorable moment was the “Strip Club Scene.” The script called for the detectives to interview a stripper that had knowledge of a crime involving Tico. After not finding an appropriate place to film, they asked if they could use the player’s recreation area upstairs in the player’s quarters.
They would use props to turn it into a strip club.
However, there was one major problem. They wanted to shoot during a Saturday night performance where we would have about 7,000 people attending Miami Jai-Alai. The entire player’s quarters is locked and restricted by law. No one was allowed in the player’s area during a performance without special permission from the state authorities. After begging our state official, he relented to allowing minimal personnel in the door that night, mainly from an emergency fire escape entrance.
It was amazing. They did turn it into a strip club with about 50 extras, music, lights, etc. I couldn’t believe when I walked from the bench area where the players were waiting to go out on the court, up the stairs, and through the door. I thought I was entering a real strip club, not that I have ever been in one. The packed house of Jai-Alai fans, screaming for their players to win the game and their bets, had no idea that our player’s quarters was doubling as a strip club.
As we got closer to the end of the script, the producers came to me and said that I had helped them so much they wanted to give me a part in the episode. Toward the end, Tico plays his final game before being struck in the head with an errant shot. They knew I had done some fronton announcing and wanted me to play the role of the announcer during the volley leading up to the “killshot.” I was grateful for the chance and quickly said yes.
They sent me to a sound studio and had me watch the volley on tape. They asked me to write the script for the announcer, describing the play, ending with the devastating hit to the head. Then, they asked me to “act.”
“We want to get a solo shot of you in the announcer’s booth immediately after you see Tico getting hit, ” the director instructed “. You need to show surprise, even horror on your face.”
I hadn’t acted since I played Peter Pan in 2nd grade. How do you fake “surprise” and “horror”? It took about four takes. I leaped from my chair, tried to make my eyes wide, and opened my mouth portraying shock.
Then, I uttered my now infamous words, “A player has been hit! Please stay in your seats.” This was the beginning and ending of my fewer than 5 second acting career. But, it will never be forgotten. I WAS on Miami Vice!
The NBC hit show won 13 Emmys. Michael Mann went on to be a very famous producer, writer, and director. While the episode, “Killshot” may not have won any Emmy, it will be one of the highlights of my career.
The sport of Jai-Alai got an hour of prime time national exposure. It was a time we all needed the escape of “Hollywood.” No one knew that we were about to face the beginning of the end for the sport of Jai-Alai.
A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help Patty Harris, wife of Loren who passed away last evening of a massive heart attack.
Please help as this unfortunate news has this has hit a lot of people hard.
The Fronton Salas is taking care of everything here in Mexico, but she will need further help.
Loren was having dinner with former pro player Lasa and it just happened. The hotel staff and everyone reacted quicky with CPR and did not stop till medical care and an ambulance arrived. He was taken to the hospital, but unfortunately nothing could have been done. They believe he died almost instantly at the hotel.
I’m trying to complete a Jai-Alai betting ticket collection and need tickets from the following (5) US Jai-Alai frontons as I don’t have a single ticket from any of these:
Palm Beach, Newport, Orlando, Melbourne (aka Brevard), Kings Court
I have other Jai-Alai memorabilia for barter for your tickets (including programs, postcards, brochures, matchbook covers/matchbooks, bumper stickers, license plates, caps, pens, photos, advertisements and more) or can pay good ole cash if the prices are reasonable. I also have more of the same type of greyhound racing memorabilia if you wish to barter for those type of memorabilia items. I’m always looking for betting tickets from greyhound tracks along with horse tracks too (the older the better).
If you should have any older betting tickets (1936 through 1960’s) from any of the early Jai-Alai frontons, please contact me. I’m only looking for very good to excellent quality tickets where the print is all very clear to read (not a fan of tickets with faded or incomplete print). I’m not interested in admission tickets; only the pari-mutuel betting tickets. I’m always on the lookout for more tickets and ones of different tote styles and wager types too. I don’t have any tickets for a Jai-Alai Pick 6 bet and that would be a neat addition. There are some frontons where I only have several tickets (i.e., Hamilton) and would like to acquire more. I do have a pretty ample supply of Big Bend and Ocala betting tickets. I would like to acquire enough extra tickets to donate a complete set to Jeff “Laca” Conway’s Jai-Alai & Baseball Museum in Seminole FL so they can be enjoyed by visitors. Any help would be much appreciated!
Please contact me through the following website email address if you can help and include your name. I can’t respond immediately but will be monitoring for responses daily. I will only deal with continental USA and Canada for shipping/receiving items. Here is the contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks again! Steve Martin (aka Straymar)
Keep US Jai-Alai alive by supporting Magic City Jai-Alai