A Florida casino operator is proposing to develop a jai-alai fronton in downtown Miami that is likely to include a few poker tables but no slot machines. West Flagler Associates which currently operates Magic City Casino and Flagler Dog Track has applied for a pari-mutuel permit which would allow it to set up a poker room along with a jai alai facility in a 50,000 square-foot site that was earlier the home of a law firm.
Florida gaming law includes a loophole which allows operators to offer poker games provided it is bundled with jai alai games.
This enables West Flagler to open a poker room even if it operates only one jai alai game. Isadore Havenick, vice-president of political affairs for West Flagler Associates, indicated that its new facility might offer 20-25 poker tables.
The company had applied for a summer jai alai permit in 2015, which was legally challenged before being subsequently allowed by the courts. The jai alai sport had been popular in U.S. between the 1950s and the early 1980s has since become virtually extinct. West Flagler ishoping to rekindle interest in the game.
In a statement, Isadore Havenick said
We think we can make jai alai fun and exciting again and do stuff that will garner people's interest. We felt downtown was a good area for us to go into. It’s a neighborhood with a busy nightlife scene, so a poker room and jai-alai fronton would be an added amenity for people.
Havenick reemphasized that the facility will not install any slot machines or other such gambling formats. Florida gaming law currently bans any expansion of gambling or opening of new casinos. However there seems to be a possible softening of the stance amongst lawmakers.
In a recent legislative committee resolution the Florida House has agreed to allow one casino in Miami-Dade along with other concession. The shift in stance accompanies the ongoing negotiations between the state and the Seminole Tribe for a new gaming compact.
Businesses around the proposed location are skeptical of West Flagler‘s success in reviving the game of Jai alai and expressed concern about it becoming a pure gambling site.
According to filings in bankruptcy court, the jai alai operation of Miami Jai Alai Casino suffered losses of around $1 million per year, though its slot machine netted weekly revenue of $1.1 million in 2012.