The new jai-alai fronton at the Casino at Dania Beach.
Photo by Nick Sortal
The thwack of a jai-alai pelota smacking the wall is back, but this time there’s plenty of ding-ding-dingfrom nearby slot machines too.
Officials from the Casino at Dania Beach unveiled their massive $64 million renovation of the casino and jai-alai facility Wednesday, with the softest of soft openings: They contacted selected media shortly before 8 a.m. with news that, yes, the 18-month casino makeover was ready for visitors.
A few began trickling in around noon, and they saw a vibrant casino in what most last remembered as a musty jai-alai court that drew fewer than 100 patrons a night. The slot-machine floor featured bright-orange lights, and the escalator handrail to the second floor shined in neon green.
“I don’t like it. I love it!” said Steve Braun of Delray Beach, who has been calling the facility regularly to find out when it would open. He loves to bet jai alai, and his wife enjoys slots. A large-screen TV on the main slot floor — formerly home to a few thousand auditorium seats — will show jai alai, so guests will be able to have two kinds of betting action going on at once.
“That’s a very good thing,” Braun said.
The casino is the last of four pari-mutuels in Broward County to offer slots. Gulfstream Park, Mardi Gras Casino, and the Isle Casino and Racing all had slots by 2007. Boyd Gaming owned Dania Jai-Alai at that time, then waited on the state to lower slot taxes from 50 to 35 percent. Boyd then sold it, in a deal that fell through.
Four Argentine businessmen, who run about 25 casinos in their own country, bought Dania and did a quick open in February 2014, using only one-fourth of the building. Results were disastrous: They averaged about $50 per machine; the state average approaches $200.
Owners of Magic City Casino in Miami, by far Miami-Dade’s most successful casino, bought one-fourth of Dania about two years ago and are now running it. They quickly closed the casino so they could launch an all-out gutting of the building and turn it around quickly.
With the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino about five miles away in Hollywood and with Gulfstream and Mardi Gras established to the south, CEO Scott Savin acknowledges business will be competitive.
“This is a much bigger challenge than in Miami, where we were the first ones to open and were able to have a battle plan in place when the others opened,” Savin said. “Now we’re surrounded by established casinos.
“The only goal I will say is: We want to make money,” he said.
So there will be lots of entertainment, including local bands on weekends and special acts. Booked so far: Jefferson Starship on February 27 at Dania, Foreigner on March 11 at Dania and March 12 at Magic City, comic Ralphie May on March 18 at Dania and March 19 at Magic City, and Air Supply on April 15 at Magic City and April 16 at Dania.
“We don’t want people to just come here, spend $20 on slots, and leave,” Savin said. “We’d like for them to have a drink, listen to some music, maybe watch some jai alai as well.”
The 21-table poker room is on the second floor and is expected to open Wednesday, Savin said, and an adjacent sports bar and simulcast betting area is a few more days behind that. Stage 954, a knockoff of Magic City Casino’s Stage 305, is farther behind that, in the area that used to be a large poker floor at Dania about five years ago. But it’s gotta be done for February 27 for Jefferson Starship, he adds.
Jai alai, with a 500-seat auditorium walled off from the slots, is running six days a week, with sessions at 4:15 and 10 p.m. The restaurants are about two weeks away, Savin said, so food trucks are keeping bellies full for now. A deli, called Roaster’s and Toaster’s, and a high-end buffet, Luxe, are in construction.
Patrons of all ages can watch jai alai. Those 18 and older can bet on jai alai and poker. The slot floor, electronic craps, roulette and blackjack, and high-roller rooms are restricted to those at least 21.
Oh, yes, that slot floor: lots of regular favorites, new machines (including Britney Spears), and a “must-hit” progressive slot machine that starts at $1,000 and pays out by $1,199. You see, $1,200 means you get a tax form, so this way…
Savin also notes that players who earn points at Magic City will be able to use them at Dania, and vice versa.
A quick note: When you pull into the parking lot, you’ll see dozens of big, dusty trucks, a very unfinished parking lot, and men in hard hats carrying steel pipes on their shoulders. Do not be alarmed, said Savin, noting the project is about 85 percent done. Also, don’t worry that the outside of the building looks unfinished: Bright-orange panels will soon be placed to cover up the 62-year-old building’s innards.
“It’ll be orange, like the South Florida sun,” Savin said.
A grand opening, mainly for city officials, will be February 26, he said.
The Casino at Dania Beach, located at 301 E. Dania Beach Blvd., will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 9 a.m. through 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Visit casinodaniabeach.com.