From time to time we’ll feature some of the more renowned Florida pari-mutuels, racinos and gaming venues. Since the landscape has changed markedly over the past 5 years, many of these companies have entirely redirected their identities….mainly toward slot machines and poker.
Though the laws that were enacted were based primarily on helping to fund education, create jobs, and strengthen an anemic pari-mutuel industry, the preponderance of public perception for all participants has centered around the slots, and the jackpots and the concerts and the give aways. Newspaper stories about higher purses or better fields are few and far between.
In fact, as the racinos push for lessening the taxes on the slots, they also push to eliminate the existing law that the horses/greyhounds/jai alai must continue to operate their races/games. With the exception of Dania Jai Alai every South Florida pari-mutuel is effectively a neighborhood slot parlor. Yes, the horsemen and dog men who were promised significant upgrades in purses and facilities have seen SLIGHT upticks. But, nothing consequential. The greyhound and jai alai entries and results, once a staple of the daily sports sections, are no longer.
The latest entry in the racino derby is the venerable MIAMI JAI ALAI owned by Florida Gaming. The fronton’s storied past dates back to the introduction of the game in South Florida in 1926. Through its top players becoming household names like Joey, Churruca, Michelena, Zulaica, Asis to the near death knell player strikes in 1968 and 88 to the modern day casino/fronton mix. Miami Jai Alai has always been the nation’s and Florida’s 400 pound gorilla.
With its location near the Miami International Airport and being minutes from downtown there will be plenty of opportunity to beckon players. Ultimately, though, the profitability of Miami Jai Alai as a racino will depend a great deal on repeat players from nearby Miami Springs, Hialeah and the western suburbs of the city.
From the outside, the fronton hasn’t changed much. The spires are still visible for quite some distance. The “casino” entrance looks like an afterthought with a canvas banner draped across a side entrance on the aged fronton building. What used to be sufficient parking is no longer. The lot across the street from the entrance is dreary at best.
Once inside, the casino beckons with a nice, not fancy entry way adjacent to the jai alai court. The rows and rows and islands and islands of modern slot machines wind through the casino. Part of the gaming floor encompasses the old Crystal Palace Poker Room which was opulent and huge. Now the poker parlor is tucked inside the rows of slots with a wall around the dozen tables. Mid afternoon there were four tables going, no waiting.
A preponderance of video lotto machines in the mix suggests that management is targeting the neighborhood Cuban population—which is fond of playing the “numbers.”
Though the overall ambiance inside Miami Jai Alai Casino is comfortable and relatively roomy, it’s nothing special. A workable racino footprint.
The food service is disappointing— a Cuban sandwich stand, empanadas, sub sandwiches and a soda machine. Seating was stark and very limited. Supervision was invisible. The Cuban sandwich was the real deal. Perfect.
There appeared to be plenty of workers on the floor, and security personnel were inconspicuous.
On the Jai Alai court the pelota was whizzing high off the wall being greeted and retrieved in balletic form by extraordinary athletes— from cesta to cesta much the same way it has since the old Basque country. A very small group of fans were busy handicapping the upcoming matches.
In summary Miami Jai Alai “racino” is up and running. The management has spent significant money on the slot machines and infrastructure. The layout is a bit confusing at first but ultimately the gamers retire to their niche machines with little fanfare.
The facility is a slot parlor sharing space with the legendary fronton. No doubt as management tweaks the product, and the marketing and events components are introduced, Miami Jai Alai will join the other pari-mutuels in South Florida as a viable neighborhood entertainment center.
Through the first 21 days of slot operations, Miami’s 1,035 machines have averaged $137.00 in drop. The payout average is a respectable 92.51%. As the locals and seasonal patrons become more familiar with the slot mix, expect the business to increase.
The big news (aside from the runaway freight train HEAT) is that Tiger Woods will play both the Honda and Doral Tournaments—making the tri county area golf fans ecstatic. The management at the Honda has printed more tickets, leased more parking lots, added more shuttles, and increased the concessions and security. It’s the first time he’s played the tournament since 1993 when he was still amateur. Doral, part of the World Golf Championship is a main stop on the Tiger Tour. But this year the organizers are expecting record crowds.