Magic City Jai Alai Rebranded As World Jai Alai League

Magic City Jai Alai Rebranded As World Jai Alai League

Magic City Jai Alai has a new name. It’s now known as the World Jai Alai League.

While that might not sound like a big deal to those unfamiliar with jai alai’s history in the United States, where it went from a popular (and glamorous) parimutuel sport to the endangered species list, the man who singlehandedly revived it recognizes the significance of the rebranding.

Scott Savin acknowledges jai alai has yet to become a money maker for Magic City Casino in Miami, where he’s the chief operating officer. But in the next breath, he’s laying out bold plans to grow the sport globally.

Savin is deep into preparations for launching the new league, which will pit doubles teams from France, the Basque region in Spain, and the United States against each other, culminating in a world doubles championship to be played in August. He’s expecting the best players in the world to flock to South Florida.

Meanwhile, Savin negotiated his way out of an exclusive partnership with BetRivers and is shopping for other mobile sportsbooks to offer wagering on matches played at his South Florida fronton. He’s already deep into talks with some major international operators to launch betting in Europe, Macau, and Mexico, and he would like to get deals done with some of the big U.S. operators soon.

Pickleball’s rise gives league founders hope

BetRivers will continue to offer jai alai betting, but in what Savin called an “amicable” arrangement, the sportsbook has allowed Magic City to reach out to other operators, hoping that by growing the sport, it, too, will benefit.

“We see a short-term loss, but we see a path to profitability,” Savin said. “And very, very significant profitability.”

Savin, who resuscitated jai alai after a long, slow decline, is convinced the sport will become a staple of the smaller-sport betting slate. His bosses have given him permission to keep spending their money to prove it. Part of Savin’s motivation has come from seeing pickleball become the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. in recent years. He’s convinced jai alai, the fastest ball sport in the world, is a superior viewing — and betting — experience.

“It’s all about growing the sport as a sports wagering vehicle,” Savin said.

The league started down the path to those August world championships when it started play in its Battle Court season on Feb. 3. Magic City has beefed up the fan experience on Friday nights with a lounge and special promotions, including offering gamblers $10 worth of free bets at the casino, since sports betting remains illegal in Florida pending court decisions. The venue also streams afternoon matches on Mondays and Tuesdays that are played without fans.

A fifth playoff team has been added for this season, and the U.S. championship will be held on May 12. Games are viewable on ESPN3, Jai-Alai TV, and the Jai Alai App.

Path to profitability and new momentum

Enthusiasts who watched the sport in Florida or in the Northeast in the 1970s or 1980s will note significant changes to the rules of play. Savin has tried to make it more like tennis for betting purposes. A player or doubles pair must win two out of three sets played to six points.

Savin said the casino is hoping to make a profit from jai alai in 24 to 30 months. Since he relaunched the sport with players from the University of Miami (as depicted in the documentary Magic City Hustle) in 2018, a few other casinos, including the nearby Dania Beach Casino, have launched jai alai tournaments. That means jai alai could once again be gaining momentum.

Photo: Courtesy World Jai Alai League

Author: Ryan Gonzales