Broward News

Ten Reasons the Dania Beach Casino & Jai Alai Is Still Awesome

Dania Beach Jai-Alai opened in the 1950s and was one of the first frontons to operate in the country. At its peak in the '90s, the sport attracted thousands of spectators, but those numbers have significantly decreased as other gambling options (like horse and dog tracks) became available.

Over the years, Dania Jai-Alai has switched owners, with each implementing small changes. But the group of Argentine businessmen who purchased the jai alai last May performed a total face-lift: The facility's vast seating was torn up to make room for a new, two-story casino, a glass-encased poker room, a bar and food area, and a live music lounge.

When it reopened under its new moniker, Dania Beach Casino & Jai-Alai, in late February, the glitz of the place overshadowed its once-modest beginnings. If you look closely, though, you'll find remnants of the old place and potentially new things to enjoy.

See also: Dania Casino & Jai Alai Opening Tonight

10. They have sweet potato fries. Don't get me wrong: Their hot dogs both pre- and postremodel have been great. They're a timeless staple here. But during the remodel, the menu received a face-lift as well. The prices are a bit higher than before, but the quality of the food is significantly better, and the wait staff is friendly and all smiles. When a friend ordered a Cuban sandwich (which was surprisingly very tasty), there was the option of regular or sweet potato fries. While it's a no-brainer (sweet potato fries all the way!), it felt like we were at an actual restaurant and not some random food bar in the middle of a never-closing casino. Next time I'm in the area again, I'd consider going in just for that sandwich and those fries. Mmm...

9. There is a room completely lined with TVs. There's not one inch of wall not covered with a TV along the entire perimeter of the simulcast room. It's like a wallpaper of flat-screen TVs, all stationed to various horse, dog, and other simulcast events. I tried to count the exact number of TVs but got dizzy spinning around the room and lost my count every time. It's somewhere around 30.

8. The poker room will remind you of a James Bond movie, but with funnier characters. The poker room is cased in glass like a fish tank. While the rest of the casino is bustling with the chimes of various slot machines, it's dead silent inside the room. I went up to an attendant dressed in the red polo uniform to ask the reason for the pin-drop silence. He laughed (without uttering a peep) and ran his thumb along his fingers to signify it was a high-stakes game. Sitting at the table was a shaggy-haired young man wearing a backward cap, an older woman in a green visor, and a smiling man in a Hawaiian T. The Hawaiian-T man held his hand closest to his chest. The more genuine his smile felt, the less you trusted him.

7. The jai alai is still free to watch. That's right, you can waltz inside, grab a beer, and take a seat at the jai alai without paying a cent. No matter how long you stare at the game, you'll never make sense of it. That's not to say it isn't entertaining to watch the young men in their white-hot pants wield a baseball in their claw-like gloves. Just try not to strain your neck with whiplash as you follow the ball (traveling at speeds over 100 mph!) from one end of the court to the other.

6. And the insults people shout at the players are still better than anything else on TV. Seriously. The Cuban men shout indistinguishable insults at the players. Sometimes the insults are in Spanish, but simply watching these grown men stand up, shake their fists, and berate the players is hilarious regardless of what is said. Although some of the vitriol isn't intended for children's ears, it's not that bad. The median age of spectators is probably 65.

5. The slot machines are sexy. We didn't count them all, but there are reportedly more than 500 slot machines inside the new casino. They all flash, make noise, and eat your money more often than not. They also have slot machines with scantily clad women caricatures on them. They have regular Michael Jackson, Tarzan, and Sex and the City machines, but they also have more provocative games with provocative cowgirls, Asian sniper women, and even topless mermaids for you to play depending on your preference (to the game, obviously).

4. Beers are cheap and flowing. On a Saturday night, a bottle of Budweiser is $4.24. There were also a handful of other beers on tap and in the fridge to choose from, but the Budweiser was the cheapest at under $5. They also boast an $8 bloody mary.

3. The couples slow-dancing in the Cesta Lounge will warm your heart. The sounds of an Elvis cover band can be heard as you ascend the escalator to the second floor. Along the back wall is a cordoned-off section where a handful of gray-haired couples gaze into each others' eyes as they dance. On a small stage, the singer is decked out in a back glitter jacket and slicked-back hair. This is potentially the best spot in the county to people-watch.

2. A dollar can go far. If you're not familiar with slot machines or gambling, you can still test your luck without breaking the bank. Slot machines are only a dollar or two, and even if you don't win, the entertainment value is worth the expense. Since jai-alai players aren't as predictable as horses or dogs, betting on a long shot (or a seemingly bad choice) could pay out. According to the Sun Sentinel, a woman once won $87,000 on a $2 bet at Dania Jai-Alai.

1. It's less pompous than the Hard Rock. The Hard Rock is not just a casino. It's a casino, hotel, dining, and nightlife hot spot combined in one whopping 100-acre resort. Tucked less than six miles east, the Dania Beach Casino is more modest and, more important, less crowded and pricey (regardless of its recent up-do). Sure, the Hard Rock has live blackjack -- whereas the Dania Casino is licensed only for a virtual version -- but the Hard Rock doesn't have jai alai.

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson