Pull out the tissues. It appears that Calder Jai-alai is history.
One of the players that has been on its roster in its short “2-3 history”, “Rastock”, informed everyone at the St. Pete Cancha that Calder Jai-alai appears to be over with.
Speculation had built that the former horse track would be forced to run a 40-performance season to maintain its casino license.
Calder had a 50-year run as a horse track before gaining approval to run jai-alai instead of the more expensive horse racing in 2018. The horse racing industry tried to halt the change, but a Florida appellate court sided with Calder Casino stating that ‘Contrary to the appellants’ arguments, nothing….requires a facility to continue to same form of pari-mutual wagering activity that originally qualified it for a slot machine license, nor does this statue tie an ‘eligible facility’ to the same type of racing or gaming as it had when the constitutional amendment was approved, the judges’ opinion stated.
On May 22, 2019, Calder Jai-alai opened in a newly built “fronton”, just feet from the main casino and facing the torn out grandstand that once held thousands of people. Over 600 people attended that opening performance. By the second day, about 50 were in attendance, and after that it was pretty much a ghost town. The court was 111 feet long with an awkward serving area. The roster included the hiring of the first female jai-alai player in the world – Becky Smith.
Last year, Magic City Casino successfully sued a gambling package worked out by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with the Seminole Tribe to offer exclusive mobile sports betting and other casino enhancements. The package included the decoupling of jai-alai. After 40 days, a judge halted the entire package and sports betting was immediately stopped while leaving the jai-alai industry in flux. The Tribe has appealed the decision, and a split decision is very possible from a 3-judge panel that has been reviewing the case for about a year now.
Somehow, an exemption was approved, thus allowing Calder Casino to continue operating its slot machines without having to run any live jai-alai games. The savings on this would likely be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is unknown what will happen to the building, but whatever the plans are, it was fully designed to operate for something other than jai-alai.