As Dania jai-alai completes its 69th and final season, a lot of people are making trips to say goodbye to an era. Crowds have been much larger and a lot more noisier with some faces that many have not seen in decades making appearances.
This week will be the last of Dania jai-alai, and goat-skin jai-alai as we have known it. The fronton will be closed for Thanksgiving, then open for the final weekend. There will be a 7pm Friday night performance, followed by a big twin-bill on Saturday and then the final performance on Sunday afternoon beginning at 1pm. Saturday night will be the big night as hundreds of jai-alai “celebrities” will be there including former Dania star Joey. Awards will be giving out. Gorbachev will tear down that mini red wall that has blocked over a couple hundred seats that was installed to give the players an expanded locker room during COVID-19. A full house of 500 people will be expected. This will be the largest crowd at jai-alai since Calder’s debut performance that drew about 600 people three years ago.
Watching in person is a much better experience than watching it on Dania’s grainy video. These guys are amazing athletes and watching from every view possible angle at the fronton gives it a more prospective. We were able to spend time up in the broadcast booth with legendary announcer “Big Dave” Lemmon and ESPN’s Dave LaMont. Then we were able to visit the players cage in between games with several players from Magic City and players manager Arra. Then it was a visit above the players cage for another amazing view of the game. Finally, we all visited the locker room, where Magic City players were able to meet several Dania players for the first time.
Our trip included a visit to North Miami where I was able to play against Calder players Giddy-up and Post Time, former Newport player Jai-a-Lou and Ralph Holst. Ralph has played since the late 1970s there and at Orbea’s amateur court. It’s been an amazing story for him, as he has just survived lung cancer two years ago and has been working his way back slowing graduating to throwing the ball around.
We look forward to seeing everybody this weekend and the shutterbug will be clicking away.
Is this really the end of jai-alai? That’s the big question everyone is asking.
Benny has been dropping hints that “never say never”. We do know that the fronton will stay in place. The seats, the big red wall, signs and everything else will remain in place till a final decision is made. Could partidos be the next thing? Sports betting? But the sports betting compact has been vetoed by a judge. Ironically, that suit was filed by the Magic City owners. An appeal is coming, which will prolong it. It is also not known at this time if this veto – which also strikes down expanded gambling on live games such as roulette and craps – will halt the decoupling of jai-alai. There are many out there that want jai-alai to resume. The Argentinian owners really do like jai-alai, want jai-alai action going to give them something different than any other casino – but not at a huge loss – some estimate at well over a million dollars a year. It is going to be hard to imagine if pari-mutual wagering will ever return there giving the high player cost and low handles.
Coming next week…………
Why New Jersey is responsible for Jai-alai’s decoupling
The Tribes hypocritical ad campaign to stop a referendum for more sports betting
What’s next in the Magic City Lawsuit