The Raise and Fall of Jai Alai

Jai Alai (pronounced Hi-Lie) is translated as merry festival from Basque language. Jai Alai is the name for a game also called Cesta Punta, Xistera or Pelota Vasca. This term is also used to refer to an open-walled arena (fronton) where the game is played. The game is a variety of Pelota and is played in a very fast pace. A small 125g rock-hard ball called pelota can travel faster than 180 mph being volleyed by players wearing a 63 to 70 cm long wicker basket glove called Cesta Punta in Spanish or Xistera in Basque. Cesta Punta, translated as tip basket, was invented in 19th century by Gantxiki Iturbide (Gantchiqui Diturbide), a French Basque.

In both French and Spanish Basque countries the game of Jai Alai is very popular. It is also well-liked in other Spanish and French regions as well as in Mexico. In the United States, Jai Alai had some popularity as an alternative to horse racing gambling and is still popular in Florida, where it is used as a basis for pari-mutuel gambling.

In other U.S. states Jai Alai has almost disappeared as other gambling options became available. The Bridgeport fronton was converted to a Greyhound race track, Newport fronton in Rhode Island has become a general gaming facility while frontons in the Connecticut towns of Hartford and Milford are permanently closed. MGM Grand Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas has once opened a fronton, but it was closed by the early 80s because it was losing money.

In August 2003 the Florida State Legislature issued a law that changed the rules about operations and wagering of poker in pari-mutuel facilities such as Jai Alai frontons Greyhound and horse tracks. This law has helped to recover some popularity of frontons and prevented the closure of some of them.

The most popular bargaining agent for Jai Alai players and fronton workers was and is The United Auto Workers Local 8868, which now deals with players and locals in Florida only, but previously it also represented them at Connecticut and Rhode Island until their frontons were closed.

Relevant news