Art Blockage

Jai alai is one embattled sport. Box office is shrinking, and frontons have been shutting down. One theory is that slot machines are to blame. The old court game can't compete with the whir of spinning fruit and the electronic hum of the slots, the thinking goes.

But that doesn't take the passion of jai-alai lovers into account.

Two weeks ago, the Sun-Sentinel decided, out of the blue, to stop publishing jai-alai scores. Tailpipe's not sure what they were thinking, but there's been a lot of talk about downgrading jai alai now that Boyd Gaming Corp. owns the place and plans to turn it into a slots casino. Why bother reporting scores, eh? Jai alai is just incidental to the really important business of the place.

The Sentinel apparently had no idea what havoc they would wreak. The response was instantaneous. A call went out over the Internet. A hail of e-mail messages reportedly blasted Sentinel inboxes. The call to arms came with a valuable weapon: Sentinel Sports Editor Brian White's e-mail address and office number, along with a suggestion to "let him know your feelings." They reportedly did, and how. Messageboards lit up, with one e-mail blast igniting another and another, each carrying a thumbprint of the person who last received it.

One complainer offered the fist-shaking hope that the Sentinel's circulation would "decrease by at least 50 percent" for such a sin. (Now that was verging on hubris.) No evidence that the newspaper's circulation actually dropped significantly. But it was abundantly clear that jai-alai fans weren't about to give up. Within a week, the paper rescinded its policy and went back to the old routine of publishing the daily scores.

"They [the newspaper] did what very few people can do," said Dania Jai-Alai's assistant general manager, Marty Fleischman. "They admitted they were wrong, and they put [the scores] back in."

The newspaper never informed Dania Jai-Alai of a new reporting policy, Fleischman says.

"One day there was just a little blurb with a link to our website, saying, 'We are no longer carrying Dania Jai-Alai or Flagler Racetrack scores, please visit their websites,'" Fleischman says. Surely the Sentinel had a master plan; it must have filled the then-empty space with other local ink, right? Fleischman laughs. "No," he says, "they subbed in this obscure stuff, like soccer scores from Afghanistan or puddle jumping in Australia, but there's maybe two people who want to read that."

For the record, Boyd plans to build a new jai-alai fronton to replace the old one, which is much in need of repairs. The Las Vegas-based corporation, which will open a new casino on the site with 1,500 slot machines and 40 poker tables next year, says it's committed to maintaining the games.

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