New jai-alai fronton, poker room set to open in Florida City

Gonzalo Vivanco, left, and Inigo Calzacorta own a company that builds jai-alai courts. They hustled up to build one in Florida City. Nick Sortal

A new pari-mutuel facility opens this month, way down in Florida City, a town of about 12,000 linking south Miami and the Florida Keys.

By utilizing a recently discovered portion of a 1980 law, Hialeah Park owner John Brunetti Sr. received an extra pari-mutuel permit, and this month is completing construction of a jai-alai court and poker room. The court seats about 150; the poker room consists of six tables.

It is called King’s Court.

By law, King’s Court must operate a jai-alai session before it can offer poker. The first match is set for noon June 11, followed by noon June 16 and 18, then noon and 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays in July. The facility can add simulcasting after 58 jai-alai performances.

Hialeah tournament director Aaron Roiter will run the card room, which players can connect to via He said he’s “beyond excited,” citing that opportunities to open a room from scratch are rare. No poker room is within 35 miles or so of the King’s Court facility, which expects to draw patrons from Homestead, Kendall, and those dissatisfied with Miccosukee Resort & Gaming.


Hialeah officials contracted with a company based in Markina (Basque country on the border of France and Spain) to construct the jai-alai walls, which are made of a very sturdy tempered glass and can absorb the 100-mph-plus pelota flings of players.


“It’s impossible to break,” says Gonzalo Vivanco, of “A Formula One driver couldn’t go through it.”

Each of the 88 glass panels comprising the main, back, and side jai-alai walls weighs 670 pounds.

The 1980 law, uncovered by John Lockwood, a lawyer for Hialeah Park’s competitor, Magic City Casino, states that the lowest-performing pari-mutuel in a county can apply for an extra jai-alai permit. Magic City gobbled up a permit in 2011 and others have followed, even though jai-alai itself is a dying sport.

Magic City also had its eye on the Florida City property, just east of the landmark Mutineer lounge, the first imbibing opportunity as travelers hit the Florida Keys. Brunetti bought the 38 acres, across from the Florida Keys Outlet Mall, for $6.7 million.

Nick Sortal writes a weekly column for The Miami Herald’s Weekend section and reports on casino news daily at He’s the tall geeky guy at the poker table with his glasses perched on his forehead, sucking on cough drops.
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