Welcome To Jai Alai 101: 5 Highlights Before You Bet On The World’s Fastest Ball Sport

Written By Russ Mitchell on August 20, 2021 - Last Updated on March 15, 2024
jai alai betting in iowa

Let’s learn about jai alai betting together since it’s now a legal wagering option in Iowa.

Specifically, jai alai, through the Magic City Casino in Miami, has been an approved bet in Iowa since June 8.

Why is jai alai betting in Iowa?

Magic City Jai Alai is hosting the second annual United States National Jai Alai Championship from Aug. 27-29.

BetRivers Sportsbook is sponsoring this year’s tournament and customers will find some jai alai betting at BetRivers. The company said:

“We are currently in a soft-launch period of head-to-head jai alai at Iowa and Illinois sportsbooks, which will conclude with matches on Monday, Aug. 23 at 4 p.m. CT. Those matches are available for prematch wagering now at the Iowa site.”

The betting format is different for the National Jai Alai Championship, so those odds won’t be available at BetRivers in Iowa.

Brian Ohorilko, the administrator for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC), said:

“It’s just an opportunity for something else that customers can participate in. And I’m fairly confident that not all of our sports operators will be offering this. The request came from one sportsbook.”

Meanwhile, Magic City Casino prepares for the national championship dates. In a press release from Magic City Casino, the chief operating officer Scott Savin said:

“This tournament is a huge deal in the jai alai world. To have so many skilled players, including some of the top players in the world, battling under one roof is exceptional. The sport of jai alai is alive and thriving and we are proud to be at the center of this high-stakes championship that showcases the sport’s intensity and the athletes’ passion for the game.”

Lesson 1: What is jai alai?

When the sport appeared on the IRGC’s approved wager list, we wanted to pronounce it “jay-ah-lay,” but it’s actually “high-lye.”

Florida is the only state with professional jai alai. The sport has a pari-mutuel betting format, so Ohorilko was ready with the correct phrasing:

“Really, I thought it had lost popularity. Nobody really requested the sport for any type of wagering until just very recently. So it was something that we looked at — trying to understand: Who is watching it from an integrity monitoring standpoint? And, what types of wager limits were people looking to offer in terms of betting that we might see in Iowa?”

Lesson 2: What does jai alai look like?

YouTube has the world’s fastest (and coolest) tutorial. You see jai alai at about the 24-second mark of this Miami Vice intro clip.

Screen shot

Two tips:

  1. Don’t blink.
  2. If you don’t play the entire intro for the awesome music, cars, sunsets and flamingos, we’re calling your town’s No Fun Investigation Unit.

So, now you know. Jai alai is the scoop-whippy ball sport. Let’s figure out how the sport works.

Lesson 3: How do you win at jai alai?

Now that we have the pronunciation and a mental picture, let’s drill down a bit.

The jai alai court is called a fronton. The “scoop” we mentioned is called a cesta. The ball has to be caught in the cesta, then thrown in one fluid motion.

Savin, with Magic City Casino, took  PlayIA through some of the other details:

“Jai alai is the world’s fastest ball sport reaching speeds up to 150 miles per hour. The player’s only protection is their helmet. It is a fast, furious and sometimes dangerous game.”

The fronton has three walls (they’re made of “state-of-the-art glass” at the Magic City venue) and balls can be played off the walls, similar to squash or racketball, according to Savin.

He said:

  • Jai-Alai H2H (Head-to-Head) is very similar to tennis. Matches are singles or doubles.
  • In order to win a match, you must win two out of three sets. Each set is played up to six points.
  • If you win the point, you retain the serve and like tennis, you get two serves.
  • The loser of the prior set gets to serve first in the next set.
  • The ball cannot bounce twice on the ground or you lose the point.

Lesson 4: How to bet on jai alai?

In addition to H2H, jai alai has seven-match, round robin format.

Bettors can wager on players and two-member teams for “win,” “place” and “show.” The round robin jai alai even has the trifectas and scratches we see in the horse betting world.

The Aug. 23 jai alai odds at BetRivers focused on H2H singles and doubles for Iowa bettors, however. They were posted in a moneyline format. Kubala was favored (at -167) over Ben (+125), for example.

For research, Magic City Casino posts scores, standings and player bios on its website. BetRivers customers can subscribe to the jai alai YouTube channel to scout the players or see how their wagers pan out.

Savin said the sport has a small strong niche following, particularly in Florida and the Northeast. The four professional frontons in the US are all in Florida. Fans will find about a dozen amateur frontons around the country.

“The sport has a strong following in Mexico, Spain, France, and the Philippines. The United States National Tournament in 2020 had about 12,000 views on YouTube. With the H2H format and new exposure in Iowa, Illinois and other states, the sport will hopefully see a major resurgence. In its heyday, 10,000 fans would regularly attend performances on Friday and Saturday nights.”

Lesson 5: About the jai alai national championship tournament

BetRiver odds might not be available, but the national championship is big for the sport. About 100 athletes from across the country are going to Miami for the US National Jai Alai Championship.

The tournament begins Friday, Aug. 27, with amateur participants in the masters’ division. The professional division unfolds Saturday, Aug. 28, and Sunday, Aug. 29.

More than $25,000 in prize money is at stake.

“Expect to see high intensity action in both the singles and doubles championships,” Savin said. “The amazing athleticism of these players will certainly be on display.”

Jario Baroja won the singles category in 2020. Inigo Gorostola and Inaki Goitiandia took doubles honors. Others to watch are Erik Mendizabal and Michael Carballo, according to Magic City Casino.

Familiar names from other sports also are part of the tournament. Tanard Davis is a University of Miami (FL) graduate who went on to earn a Super Bowl ring with the Indianapolis Colts. Darryl Roque played for the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos. He’s a University of Miami grad, too.

The H2H jai alai season runs from mid-February until the end of November, according to the casino COO. Magic City hosts matches three days a week, generally Saturday, Mondays and Tuesday.

The days usually include six matches, with each match lasting about 20 minutes. Savin said the overall day of matches takes about two- to two-and-half hours.

Photo by Dreamstime.com
Russ Mitchell Avatar
Written by
Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

View all posts by Russ Mitchell