Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Money on the tables
Casino pointed toward a December opening
Huge makeover readies casino for reopening.
Sometimes the sign of progress is a completely gutted building. The 62-year-old site of Dania Jai-Alai is down to its skeleton as construction workers hustle to open a full casino on the site in December.
And when Dania CEO Scott Savin says full casino, he’s talking about more than slots, poker and jai-alai.
“This can be a special place if you do it right,” he said.
Savin is also chief operating officer of Magic City Casino (formerly Flagler Dog Track), which bought one-fourth of Dania Jai-Alai last year. The Magic City team, which operates the most lucrative casino in Miami-Dade County, will run the new Dania casino, in a partnership with a group of Argentine investors.
Dania Jai-Alai’s makeover will cost $40 million to $50 million and the building “is basically a shell,” Savin said.
The casino at Dania has had a rocky start. Gulfstream Park and Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach were offering slots by 2006 after Broward voters approved them in 2004. But Dania parent company Boyd Gaming held off on installing slots. Boyd then announced a sale to local investors in 2011, only for financing to fall through.
Then Argentine businessmen bought the fronton in 2013 and opened one-fourth of the building with slots and poker on Feb. 14, only to close it eight months later in order to just go for the full makeover.
So now bulldozers are clearing the valet parking entryway for a makeover; roofers are hustling to beat the rainy season; and the approximately 9,000 auditorium seats have been ripped out to make way for slots. A 30-table poker room, simulcast area and sports bar will be on the second floor behind the slots. A concert area, called Stage 954 (modeled after Magic City’s Stage 305 in Miami-Dade) is being built in the second-floor area that had been used for slots during last year’s brief opening.
Savin says one of the biggest features will be a repackaging and re-emphasis on jai-alai. A large video screen will show the action on the slot floor, and patrons visiting a new deli and/or buffet will be able to place bets on the games. The emphasis on the game runs counter to the general trend, with jai-alai interest crippled by a 1988 player’s strike, the Florida Lottery and other entertainment options.
“So many people in their 40s and 50s tell me they remember the good times they had at Dania Jai-Alai,” Savin said. “We’re not ready to give up on it.”
Savin said Magic City Casino has prospered because it offers all kinds of options, and the same plan is here.
“We want to offer all phases of a night out: jai-alai, card room, casino, restaurants and entertainment,” he said, noting that bands from the 1970s through the 1990s have been the core of Magic City’s music card. “It’s not just coming out and playing slot machines.”
He says Dania has an advantage because it’s the closest casino to Fort Lauderdale, and being close to the airport and port means that 21 million air travelers and 3 million cruisers a year might stop by.
“Hopefully, we’ll surprise a few people,” he said. “And it’s my job to scoop some of them up and bring them over here, either before or after their trips.”