- Rush Street Interactive has partnered with Miami’s Magic City Casino to offer fixed odds sports betting on Jai-Alai.
- Betting on head to head format matchups is now available at BetRivers in Illinois and Iowa with more states forthcoming.
- The sport of Jai-Alai is enjoying something of a resurgence as a betting sport thanks to live streaming video.
Were it not for the opening credits of Miami Vice few people under the age of 40 would have a clue what Jai-Alai is. The fast paced sport of Basque origin driven by parimutuel betting was at one point the hottest ticket in South Florida with frontons jammed with tens of thousands of spectators every night. In 1975, the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton hosted a record crowd of 15,502 fans and for awhile the sport even developed a cult following in Connecticut and Las Vegas. During the 1970’s the sport was played year around in Florida and the top players treated–and paid–like rock stars.
The popularity of Jai-Alai began to slump in the 1980’s as more gambling options became available. The Connecticut Jai-Alai frontons that had opened in the late 1970’s started to lose business by the mid 1980’s. Facilities in Bridgeport and Hartford closed at 1995 with a Milford fronton hanging on until 2001. The sport also came and went in Nevada–frontons at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the MGM Reno were opened in the mid to late 1970’s but both had closed by 1980. In Florida, the sport managed to survive only because it was subsidized by other forms of gambling. The situation reached a nadir a few years ago when the former Flagler Dog Track converted to Jai-Alai simply because it was a cheaper way to keep running their slots operation under Florida’s convoluted gambling regulations. It had become a ‘means to an end’ with a smaller than regulation facility hosting as few games as management could get away with and still qualify as a licensed parimutuel gaming operation.
Jai-alai has enjoyed a quiet renaissance since that low point. The Flagler Dog Track has ‘rebranded’ as the Magic City Casino and instead of just going through the motions to maintain their status as a ‘licensed parimutuel gaming operation’ they’ve actually done right by the sport. Here’s what the Rush Street Interactive (RSI) press release announcing the partnership with Magic City Jai-Alai says about that:
Magic City Jai-Alai, which has run over 4,000 matches since opening in 2018 under the regulatory oversight of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), has taken a modern approach to protecting the integrity of its matches and improving the reputation of the sport. Beyond conducting training programs and background checks on the athletes, staff, and officials from the league’s inception, the league has contracted with a third party integrity firm to independently monitor and analyze all wagering and event activity.
In addition to rebuilding the foundations of Jai-Alai in Florida they’ve retooled it somewhat to appeal to a new generation of fans and bettors. In addition to the traditional format of Jai-Alai involving teams in a round robin format and parimutuel wagering they’ve added what they call ‘H2H’ (head to head) that uses fixed odds in a more ‘sports betting’ oriented format. That’s where RSI plays into all of this:
The world’s fastest sport is now being played in a new and electrifying head-to-head (H2H) format and only Rush Street Interactive’s online sportsbooks are offering betting on it. Rush Street Interactive, Inc. (NYSE: RSI) (“RSI”), a Chicago based gaming and betting company which operates the BetRivers, PlaySugarhouse, and RushBet sportsbook brands, has been named the exclusive Official Sports Betting Partner of Magic City Jai-Alai. As part of this collaboration, BetRivers is now exclusively authorized to use Magic City Jai-Alai’s official league data and streaming feeds for bettors to watch and bet during live games in real-time, which is vital for in-play wagering.
Here’s Richard Schwartz, CEO of RSI, explaining why his company wanted to get involved with Magic City Jai-Alai and the sports betting appeal of the H2H format:
“The league’s commitment to integrity and fair play impressed us from the outset. At the end of the day, RSI wants to offer our players engaging and high integrity betting content and we’re thrilled that Magic City’s league is able to achieve both of these goals.”
“RSI is excited to partner with Magic City Jai-Alai to pioneer this new fast-paced format of play for Jai-Alai, a sport which has long been a betting favorite and has a storied history in Florida dating back to the 1930’s. As a result of these modern H2H matches transitioning away from the traditional parimutuel style of play into a brand new fixed-odds betting format where every action-packed point matters, customers can wager directly on the head-to-head matchups, set-by-set or even point-by-point just like in the popular betting sports of tennis and table tennis. Jai-Alai is the fastest sport in the world, with ball speeds exceeding 150 mph, and with this new electrifying format, we are really excited to offer bettors a unique way to watch in real-time and bet in-play on a sport we know they will love.”
Scott Savin, Magic City COO, is excited to be working with the RSI team and optimistic about the future of Jai-Alai which could be positioned for a major resurgence:
“Working closely with the RSI team, we are excited to pioneer a new twist on an old favorite and offer fans exciting and different ways to engage with Jai-Alai while modernizing the sport to a whole new digital betting audience. From day one we’ve made it our mission to create an innovative and modern-looking league where the integrity of the game and its athletes have been our focus to earn and retain our bettors’ trust.”
Right now, H2H Jai-Alai is live at BetRivers in Illinois and Iowa with additional markets forthcoming. Nothing but respect for RSI but in the longterm exclusivity could work against the growth of the sport. One metric of growing popularity among bettors will be how many other sportsbooks look to offer it. Since there’s not the third party data market for Jai-Alai that exists for other sports their ability to do so is limited. In the short term, however, it could be extremely beneficial–Rush Street’s expertise with the regulated US market will help get Jai-Alai included in states’ sports betting catalogs which is the first step in offering any new sporting event for wagering.
Will it be successful? Why not? Yesterday, we talked about the Drone Racing League’s prospects for success as a betting sport and the same concept applies here. If table tennis can succeed as a North American betting sport so can drone racing and Jai-Alai. In both cases, the sport needs to be packaged and promoted properly. If you want to check out Jai-Alai in the 21st Century you can do so at:
As someone who hadn’t seen actual competitive Jai-Alai since the 1980s I was very impressed with the way they’re marketing the sport. It’s definitely exciting to watch and they’ve been able to develop the personalities of the players in a way that wasn’t possible ‘back in the day’. I’m going to keep an eye on how things progress and report back but if you’re a sports bettor that enjoys new wagering opportunities–or an old school Jai-Alai fan–you should check it out.