Now defunct Milford Jai-Alai Fronton in Milford, Connecticut.
Jai-Alai means "Merry Festival" in the Basque language. The term is used to denote a fronton (or open-walled arena) used to play a variety of Pelota called Cesta Punta, and, more broadly, to the game itself. The game is characterized by the fast pace of play, in which a 125g. ball (or pelota) covered with parchment skin can travel faster than 180 mph. The ball is placed into play and volleyed by players wearing a wicker basket glove approximately 63 to 70 cm long.
In countries such as France, Spain and Mexico the game of jai-alai is popular where, in some regions, the game is played in almost every town and city. In the United States, jai-alai enjoyed some popularity as a gambling alternative to horse racing and remains popular among gamblers in Florida, where the game is used as a basis for parimutuel gambling.
While in contrast the popularity of jai-alai in the north-eastern and western United States waned as other gambling options became available. As a result frontons in the Connecticut towns of Hartford and Milford permanently closed while the fronton in Bridgeport was converted to a Greyhound race track; and a fronton in Newport, Rhode Island had been converted to a main stream gambling facility with Video Lottery Terminals (VLT's) replacing the fronton. Jai-Alai enjoyed a brief and popular stint in the western United States with the opening of a fronton at the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada however by the early 1980's the fronton was losing money and popularity and as a result MGM Grand owner Kirk Kerkorian decided to close the fronton and replace it with a more profitable entity.
In an effort to prevent the closures of frontons in Florida, the Florida State House of Representatives and the Florida State Senate introduced a law that would allow poker rooms to be operated within parimutuel facilities such as Jai-Alai frontons, Greyhound and Horse racing tracks. The bill pass both legislative bodies and then sat on the desk of Governor Jeb Bush waiting for his signature. After fifteen days the bill went unsigned by the Governor and as a result is automatically because law.
¹ Ceased live Jai-Alai performances on July 14, 2003. Wagering on simulcast Jai-Alai is still available.
- Dania Jai-Alai, Simulcast and Poker Room, Dania Beach, Florida
- Fort Pierce Jai-Alai, Fort Pierce, Florida
- Hamilton Jai-Alai, Hamilton County, Florida (Projected Opening Summer 2005)
- Miami Jai-Alai, Miami, Florida
- Newport Grand Jai-Alai, Newport, Rhode Island ¹
- Ocala Jai-Alai, Orange Lake, Florida
- Orlando Jai-Alai, Casselberry, Florida
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Florida Gaming Corporation
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