It’s one of the oldest games around and Jai Alai is hard to find anything that compares to it. It’s played inside a walled court so some may liken it to squash or even real tennis but there are many aspects of this sport that make it unique.
It’s very much a niche event in terms of betting opportunities but they do exist and with that in mind, it’s time to take a closer look at Jai Alai.
Aim of the Game
The walled court that hosts Jai Alai has walls on the front, back and left and the floor is also in play. It’s an extended court in comparison to squash but there are similarities. The aim is to hit the ball (known as the pelota) at the walls and to score points in the process.
Two or four players are involved and, instead of using a racquet to propel the ball, they have a curved wicker basket, known as the Cesta. It’s incredibly fast and Jai Alai has been recognised as the fastest sport in the world. Sadly there have been fatalities so it isn’t for the fainthearted but, while it remains a niche, it is very thrilling to watch.
Those are very basic rules and we’ll touch on some advanced options in a moment but for now, let’s move on and consider how this curious sport came about.
It’s believed that Jai Alai originally formed as a handball game – without the baskets – and that it has been played for centuries in the Basque area of Spain. The idea to place a basket on players’ hands is credited to an unnamed Basque farmer in the 1800s who reacted to a need for protection.
The original game of Jai Alai was fast paced and players took to wearing leather gloves to protect their hands. Our farmer built on this idea and constructed a basket – the first Cesta – to provide extra protection. It worked but it also made the game a whole lot faster and from there, the popularity spread.
Jai Alai (which translates as Merry Festival) has always been popular in parts of Spain and it developed and grew across many Latin American countries. The sport also began to attract interest in the Philippines and the United States and here’s where the history takes a whole new turm
Place Your Bets
In the modern day, it is possible to find sportsbooks that quote betting markets for Jai Alai but it’s fair to say that not every bookmaker embraces it. History shows that it wasn’t always like this and in fact, betting was something of a focal point when the sport crossed over to the Philippines and the US.
In Jai Alai, the court is known as the Fronton and the very first fronton in the US was set up in St Louis, Missouri in 1904. Its appearance coincided with the World’s Fair and it was, therefore, something of an exhibition piece but from that point, the game started to slowly develop.
The game started to pick up a bigger following in Florida where the first fronton was opened near Miami in 1924. In a short space of time, Jai Alai started to spread across the country although Florida remained as something of an epicentre. The sport had, by this time, emerged as a genuine alternative to horse racing, harness racing and greyhound racing as far as the gambling community were concerned.
As is the case today, gambling was accepted in some parts of the United States while in others, it was strictly prohibited. Underground operations began and this had a negative impact on the rise of the game in some areas.
Eventually, as race track betting began to become more widespread, the popularity of Jai Alai in America started to wane and we saw something of a downfall. In the 1980s, there was a steep decline and many of the Frontons in Florida started to close down.
Over in the Philippines, the situation was much the same with gambling on Jai Alai games becoming a focal point. In 1986, the sport was officially banned by the government and the main fronton was torn down. Problems had evolved but it was eventually brought back on a slightly smaller scale.
Jai Alai Today
If we look at Jai Alai in the modern day, it continues to exist on a sustained level in areas of Spain and Latin America. In those regions, betting on the sport was never really the main focus and so there hasn’t been the type of rollercoaster ride that we’ve seen in other parts of the world.
In the United States of America, it is starting to make a comeback and that seems to be, in part, due to the changes in attitude to sports betting across the country. With the PASPA ruling overturned by the US Supreme Court in 2018, a number of sports betting halls have been introduced at locations such as racetracks and casinos and some of these spots are offering hosting to Jai Alai.
The sport continues to attract some attention in Florida and if there is a hub, this is where it can be found. New Frontons have emerged while others have stayed in place over the years and Jai Alai continues to have a small, but loyal following.
While it’s numbers have definitely dropped – it’s said that some 50 spectators may be in attendance on a matchday as opposed to some 5,000 during its heyday, there is that pocket of popularity that suggests Jai Alai will continue to have a future of some kind.
While we have taken a very basic look at how the game is played, there are some other points to Jai Alai that can be taken on board and they make it stand out from squash and other sports that we might have compared it to.
Firstly, there are those three walls – front, left and back – and if the ball falls outside of these confines, it is considered to be out of bounds. We’ve mentioned that singles matches may be prevalent but Jai Alai can also be played as ‘doubles’ with two players on the court on either side.
Players need to get to either seven or nine points in order to win and those points can be won in a number of ways. Lines are drawn on the court and the server will need to hit the front wall before the rebound lands inside the designated lines. Failure to return the ball will result in the loss of a point as will holding or juggling the ball inside the basket. Interfering with the opponent and hindering their chance of making a return will also forfeit the point. It’s quite a complex game and the points scoring system does take some getting used to but it does start to fall into place the more it’s played and watched. Now we understand a little more about Jai Alai, it’s time to make some bets where possible.
Betting on Jai Alai
If you are interested in Jai Alai and are looking to take a bet on this curious sport, there are options although these are quite limited. The trick is to find bookmakers that specializes in other niches such as Chess or Pesapallo and you should locate some markets.
Betting is often carried out on a Pari-Mutuel basis and there is a restricted amount of prop bets when compared to other sports. Naturally, those that do quote for straight markets will have a win for either player listed and there will be outright markets in relation to winning teams.
Place bets are also possible during a tournament and there is the obvious option to take doubles, trifectas plus other multiples and patents.
In a time when traditional sport is having to take a back seat, sports bettors are starting to cast a wider net and events such as Jai Alai are attracting more interest. It’s actually thrilling to watch and, as we have seen, it has a rich history so why not switch on and find out more about Jai Alai today.
Welcome to Fort Pierce Jai-Alai’s new website. Several enhancements have been made to this site in an attempt to improve your ability to get the information you want quickly and easily. We appreciate your taking the time to visit our website and we hope that you will be able to join us for a performance of live Jai-Alai this season.
2004 marks the 30th Anniversary of live Jai-Alai in Fort Pierce. Initially conceived as a spring / summer retreat for the seasonal schedule in Miami, the Ft. Pierce Fronton grew into an important training ground for some of the sport’s top talent. It became a rite of passage in the old World Jai-Alai system to make a name for yourself at Ft. Pierce before moving on to the more competitive roster in Miami. This is still the case today and the four month live Jai-Alai season remains upbeat, fiercely competitive and a fun experience for all who attend.
Although our live Jai-Alai season runs January –through- April, our racebook operates year-round. We have full-card, simulcast wagering on Thoroughbred, Greyhound and Harness racing all year long. We also have daily simulcasts of the world’s best Jai-Alai action from both Dania and our sister facility – Miami Jai-Alai, which features the most competitive roster of Jai-Alai players, man-per-man in the world today.
It is our hope that you will find this website to be a useful tool, however please remember that no online experience can match the excitement of being at the fronton itself. On behalf of our players staff and management, thank you for your support and interest and we hope to see you at Jai-Alai soon !