Dania Jai-alai staged it’s last performances this past weekend, likely bringing an end of full court, goatskin covered pelota’s, a full roster with parimutual wagering jai-alai in the United States. It was an emotional farewell for a sport that has endured a 120-year run in the United States..
Dania had run itself for nearly 70 of those years with about 6 seasons played in a condensed fronton after ripping out 9,000 seats to make room for slots machines and other amenities like a concert hall, poker room, buffet restaurant and more. Large enthusiastic crowds were in attendance Saturday and the for the closing performance on Sunday afternoon, November 28th.
The big event was actually on Saturday night when over 750 crammed into the 480 seat fronton. Walking from one end to the other end of the fronton was virtually impossible and without running into an former pro player. Yep, everyone was there from Arrigaga to Zulaica, and from Joey to Chimela to Steve “The Hook.” There was more socializing with people that had not seen others in decades and was more of a reunion and a celebration of life atmosphere then watching a good old NAJF event from decades ago. But that’s not to say nobody was watching. The play was excellent including a huge battle in game 8 singles featuring a most memorable volley between Arrieta and Erik. The performance concluded with two partidos to 15 points with the final game 10 between Zulaika and Ladutxe vs. Barandika and Leke. Zulaika and Ladutxe prevailed 15-14 by scoring the final 3 points. A long standing ovation greeted the players for an amazing performance and brought back memories of the great jai-alai days. Fans were into, including one fan that was out of control and cheering on Ladutxe who had to talk to him before and after the match. That fan likely won on a $2 bet to win – of course the only wager available in the two post game.
Sunday was the final performance and the crowd size was about 300 or so people. The players families and children were allowed on the court and ceremonies took place after game 5 both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. It was truly an emotional experience. Players jerseys were handed out to fans as well as an autographed photo of the final Dania roster.
Benny once again stressed “never say never” and has vowed to do everything possible to bring back jai-alai to the Dania Palace. But it likely won’t be a full roster and rather sports betting can be in the picture, Magic City as jumped on that already with 3 states now offering jai-alai wagering. That adventure has been a costly one to date as Magic City will open next winter as the only fronton with jai-alai action left.
A decoupling agreement in Florida had been approved by the legislators along with sports betting to be run by the Seminole Tribe but was recently rejected by a federal judge. It is unclear at this time if the decoupling part will be thrown out that allows pari-mutuals with jai-alai licenses to be able to continue running card games without staging ja-alai games. Already Miami, Ft. Pierce, Ocala have elected to.