Poker keeping jai-alai afloat, steering Annie Duke to the altar

poker-jai-alai-annie-duke-altarThere’s a recent story in the Miami Herald that takes a wistful look at the city’s dying jai-alai institutions. Once a thriving sport that was capable of filling 10,000 seat venues, jai-alai audiences rarely surpass 1% of that figure nowadays, and many of those in the stands are well past retirement age.

Local venues like Dania Jai Alai used to gross $50m in handle over a four-month season. Now, even operating 362 days a year, they can barely manage $13.3m. The only thing keeping Dania’s doors open is its new 26-table poker room, which draws as many people on a weekday afternoon as the jai-alai contests get on a Saturday night.

As a local expert on sports and gambling observes, “Jai-alai was always a niche sport invented for betting, and when betting options increased, jai-alai’s economic viability went down.” The same phenomenon has impacted the racing industries; not just in Florida, but across the US and around the globe. How many US horse tracks would still be around if they hadn’t added slots to become racinos, just as Florida’s greyhound tracks in Florida survive only via their onsite poker rooms?

Given the amount of government handouts these industries receive, it makes one dubious as to whether such largesse is justified. After all, it’s not like government was expected to support the horse and buggy industry in the post-Henry Ford era. “If an industry is dying, all you can do is prolong its life,” says that gambling expert, predicting that ultimately, these industries “will be like these renaissance fairs,” trotted out occasionally for nostalgia’s sake.

Hollywood has taught us always to end on an upbeat note, so we’re happy to announce that poker pro Annie Duke is engaged to actor/producer/poker player Joe ‘Ugly’ Reitman. Annie is #2 on the all-time female poker player money list, while Reitman won’s $1m Guarantee in 2006. Reitman, who was formerly married to actor/poker personality (and Calvin Ayre buddy) Shannon Elizabeth, proposed by hiding a ring in Annie’s Christmas stocking. Displaying the relentless pursuit of prizes that’s served her very well on the felts, Duke tweeted that she was “pissed that I didn’t get a chocolate orange this year.” Women…