They’ve been playing jai-alai in Dania Beach for 69 years. There will not be a 70th season. The Casino at Dania Beach is shutting the sport down in November.
“Jai-alai has been part of Dania Beach for years so it’s not an easy decision to make when you have to sit down and look at what this has brought to the community and South Florida as a whole," said general manager Arnaldo Suarez.
It’s a fluid, graceful, and incredibly fast sport, sort of like racquetball on a much bigger court. It’s not easy for jai-alai fans to see the curtain coming down.
"It’s heartbreaking, I mean I follow the sport all my life, I play amateur jai-alai and I think it’s one of the greatest sports in the world,” said Julio Rosales. “I remember Miami jai-alai back in the 70’s, when I first started going I couldn’t even get a seat."
Those days are long gone. They used to draw thousands of fans to the fronton in Dania Beach as well, but these days they’re lucky if more than a hundred show up to place their bets.
"There’s so many other choices nowadays, right? You have slots, sports betting, online gaming, 30 or 40 years ago, who would’ve thought of having those opportunities as an option?” Suarez said.
Former players often come just to watch, including J.J. Goicoechea, who played professionally for 25 years.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s heartbreaking, we seen this coming a long time ago, it’s unfortunate for the players who are playing now because they’re gonna have to find other jobs elsewhere,” Goicoechea said.
The downward spiral started years ago, but since the state passed a new law allowing casinos to go it alone, without parimutuel sports like harness racing or jai-alai, cutting the jai-alai is strictly business. Now some of those former players are trying to save the sport outside the casino environment.
“The revenue’s never been able to keep up with the expenses of playing it in this format, so I’m gonna remain hopeful that maybe we can rebrand it or repackage it in another format that could either cost less or make money,” explained Benny Bueno, another former professional player.
Sign up for our Breaking newsletter to get the most urgent news stories in your inbox.