In Florida, the connection between jai alai and poker is stronger than in the rest of the world, due to the legal framework for gambling. In Florida, traditional casinos and poker rooms are illegal. (There are traditional casinos and poker rooms in Florida, but they are on Native American land and thus not subject to state gambling law.) What is legal in Florida however is parimutuel betting, and if you run a facility for parimutuel betting then you are allowed to offer poker and casino games, including slots, on the side.
When it comes to parimutuel betting, it is a gambling form that, at least in the United States, is pretty much entirely focused on horse racing, greyhound racing and jai alai. So, if you don’t want to set up the facilities required to offering parimutuel betting on animal races, then jai alai is your best option.
This somewhat strange gambling law has its historical reasons. Once upon a time, jai alai was an incredibly popular sport in Florida and both bettors and non-bettors gathered to watch the games. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, spectator interest in the games waned, due to a combination of reasons. The games where rumored to be fixed, there were allegations about ties to organized crime, the spectator dress code was dropped to promote the game (but only made it lose its glamor) and there was a three-year long strike among the professional jai alai players.
As spectator interest in jai alai dropped, the Florida legislature tried to save the frontons by relaxing the gambling laws specifically for facilities that offer parimutuel betting. The HB 1059 bill drastically changed the rules for offering real-money poker in parimutuel betting facilities.
This is why we today have a situation where you can go to a Florida fronton and watch a jai alai game from a pretty empty bleacher, while at the same time the poker tables and the slot machine areas are brimming with activity.
To fulfill the requirements of the law, the fronton must host a minimum of 40 jai alai performances, with each performance consisting of eight games. The facility will employ professional jai alai players (pelotaris) that will play regardless of whether there is an audience or not. At some frontons, it’s just the same two guys playing each other continuously.
Examples of establishments in Florida that offers both poker and parimutuel betting on jai alai
- Casino Miami Jai-Alai (formerly known as Miami Jai-Alai Fronton) in Miami, Florida
- Ocala Poker & Jai-Alai in Orange Lake, Florida
- Hamilton Downs Jai Alai in Jasper, Florida
- Fort Pierce Jai-Alai & Poker in Fort Pierce, Florida
- Dania Jai-Alai & Casino in Dania Beach, Florida