Jai alai regulations are seen as useless in Nevada

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two players participate in a jai alai doubles match in 2008 in Dania Beach, Fla. While many have never seen or heard of jai alai, it maintains a position in pop culture, especially in Florida.

When Gov. Brian Sandoval ordered state agencies to find regulations that are in need of updating or no longer relevant, it didn't take long for the state Gaming Control Board to zero in on repealing a regulation for a game that hasn't been played in the state in more than 30 years.

At Thursday's board meeting, members recommended the repeal of Regulation 27, which outlines play, rules and wagering for jai alai, dubbed the world's fastest ball game.

The Nevada Gaming Commission will consider seven amendments to regulations, including the repeal of jai alai wagering, later this month. Because most of the amendments are simple, the commission isn't expected to conduct any workshop meetings, but will take comments in public hearings.

The jai alai phenomenon in Nevada was a shooting star that faded quickly.

Played in a "fronton," on a "cancha" court with three sides allowing spectator viewing from the fourth side, and using a goatskin-covered "pelota" propelled by banana-shaped "xisteras," flung balls can reach speeds of more than 180 mph.

A jai alai fronton opened at what was the MGM Grand — now Bally's — in 1974 and at the MGM Reno in 1978. Jai alai was expected to be a hit in Reno because of the game's Basque origins and a substantial Basque population in Northern Nevada.

But when little interest was shown, the hotel's owner, Kirk Kerkorian, closed the fronton in 1980.

Play continued in Las Vegas until Nevada's worst disaster — the Nov. 21, 1980 fire that killed 85 people. Jai alai never returned when the property reopened.

Debbie Munch, a longtime Caesars Entertainment spokeswoman, said the area where the fronton was located, on the north side of the building along Flamingo Road, is now used for conventions and meetings.

Today, Nevada's only existing connection with the game is Boyd Gaming's ownership of the Dania Jai-Alai casino property in Dania Beach, Fla.

Boyd spokesman David Strow said the game has a small but loyal following with about 1,000 fans a week turning out for seven sessions that are run Tuesday through Saturday. Strow said that same level of interest has been shown over the past five to 10 years.

In Florida, casinos can only have slot machines if some form of pari-mutuel wagering is offered. Jai alai wagering is pari-mutuel, and Strow said the property also offers simulcast horse and dog races.

The main draw to Dania is its poker room, but the company cross-promotes poker with jai alai.

Boyd announced plans to sell the property last year, but in November canceled the sale when a group of investors failed to get financing to complete the transaction.

With the expansion of gaming a hot topic in Florida, Boyd has held onto the property, and Strow said the company has no immediate plans for it, but is continuing to operate jai alai.

While the public has lost interest in jai alai over the years — some say it's because of potential corruption in the sport — Strow said there's a fan base in Connecticut and Rhode Island where matches are simulcast and wagered on as well as in Florida, where the game is played in six locations.

Nevada's jai alai regulation is filled with rules reflective of the game's era. One section says "any player showing obvious displeasure with a judge's decision or otherwise acting in an unsportsmanlike manner may be disciplined by suspension and/or fine" and "each player under contract with the fronton management shall endeavor to achieve and retain superb physical fitness to successfully compete in jai alai."

While many have never seen or heard of jai alai, it maintains a position in pop culture.

"Miami Vice," a television show popular in the late 1980s, featured a clip of a jai alai game in its opening credits and, today, "the Most Interesting Man in the World" plays jai alai in some Dos Equis beer commercials.

Other gaming regulation amendments scheduled for review would modernize how licensees communicate with the board and how the board communicates with the public.

Gaming employee registration procedure amendments will enable employees to register either online or with a paper form. The board also will enable online credit and debit card payments for fees.

Like other government entities, the Control Board and the commission would be enabled by regulation to post public notices on the organization's Internet website instead of in newspapers with circulation in the state's largest cities.

Previous regulations required legal notices to be printed in newspapers in Las Vegas and Reno.

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  1. Take the wagering out of jai alai and even in FL it would disappear overnight.

    But how to place the right bet on a match is not as easy as it seems. ~grins.