Downtown Miami

New gambling facility for jai-alai and poker gets state approval to open in Edgewater

A poker card room and jai-alai fronton are planned for a facility in the Edgewater neighborhood north of downtown Miami that state regulators approved this week.
A poker card room and jai-alai fronton are planned for a facility in the Edgewater neighborhood north of downtown Miami that state regulators approved this week. Miami Herald file photo

A new gambling facility near downtown Miami won approval to move forward from a state agency Tuesday, which could bring another poker and jai-alai option near downtown Miami within the next two years.

The state Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, part of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that oversees gambling, approved a “summer jai-alai” permit for West Flagler Associates to build and run a facility at 3030 Biscayne Blvd. in Edgewater. The company, which is run by the Havenick family, already operates Magic City Casino southeast of Miami International Airport and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs.

The new permit is a victory for West Flagler, which had sought permission for another facility and won a court case last year reinstating its application for a second jai-alai permit using a loophole in state law.

“We’ve just been waiting for a year and a half for the state to decide what to do,” West Flagler vice president Isadore Havenick said of the second permit. “We see it as just another entertainment offering in the Miami area.”

The Edgewater project, which does not yet have a name, would join other new facilities in South Florida expanding jai-alai, a sport that was common until the early 1980s but has faded since in popularity. Magic City Casino, its sister facility southeast of Miami International Airport, is phasing out dog racing for jai-alai even as it continues to operate slot machines. The owner of Hialeah Park also recently opened Kings Court Key, a Florida City complex also offering jai-alai and poker.

The so called “summer jai-alai” permit allows gambling on jai-alai games only from May through November, and the company can begin hosting poker games after the first jai-alai game is played. In the winter season when games are not allowed, the facility will house improv comedy performances and concerts for local bands, Havenick said. The facility is also expected to include a restaurant and hire 300 to 500 people.

West Flagler is also nearing an agreement to rent the 50,000-square-foot property off Biscayne Boulevard from the development firm Crescent Heights to build the fronton and a card room for games.

Because West Flagler does not intend to operate slot machines at the Edgewater site, the facility’s permit would not be affected by a requirement that the Legislature approve any new casinos or a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that would shift approval for expanding casino gambling to voters. The amendment could affect what kinds of poker games are played on site.

Both of West Flagler’s permits have been the subject of litigation, in part because of Florida’s convoluted gambling laws.

The company received a summer jai-alai permit in 2011 after its attorney John Lockwood used a loophole in a Florida statute that grants a summer permit to the lowest-performing pari-mutuel facility in a county. West Flagler also successfully argued for a second permit when an appeals court agreed that a rule allowing one permit every two years should be evaluated on a rolling basis.

Lockwood acknowledged that the interpretation of the statute has played an outsized role in expanding opportunities for the industry in the region.

“The statute and the court’s interpretation has definitely started to shape the face" of gaming in South Florida, Lockwood said. “It’s been very important to this industry.”

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