In Florida, the owner of the Magic City Casino in suburban Miami has reportedly applied for a parimutuel license in order to open a jai-alai fronton complete with a 25-table poker room in a downtown location.

According to a report from the Miami Herald newspaper, West Flagler Associates Limited wants to open the new 50,000 sq ft facility in a former office building owned by local real estate firm Crescent Heights Incorporated and located on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard in the city’s fashionable Design District.

“We think we can make jai-alai fun and exciting again and do stuff that will garner people’s interest,” Isadore Havenick, Political Affairs Vice-President for Miami-based West Flagler Associates Limited, told the newspaper. “We felt downtown was a good area for us to go into. It’s a neighborhood with a busy nightlife scene so a poker room and jai-alai fronton would be an added amenity for people.”

The Miami Herald reported that jai-alai, which originated in the Basque region of northern Spain, was popular in the United States from the 1950s until the early-1980s but that it is now nearly extinct. If its license application is approved, West Flagler Associates Limited will be able to open its poker room the day after holding its first competitive match although the firm revealed that it has no plans to operate slots at the downtown facility.

“The misunderstanding is that poker on its own can produce enough revenues to make it more than a viable business,” Scott Savin, Chief Operating Officer for West Flagler Associates Limited, told the newspaper.

However, the license application has reportedly drawn criticism from many local residents who are concerned that the facility may eventually be expanded into a fully-fledged casino and negatively impact property values while increasing crime, traffic and congestion.

“Jai-alai has been a dead sport here forever and that’s not going to pay for itself,” Norman Braman, an automobile magnate whose dealership is located nearby, told the Miami Herald. “This is a prelude for some type of slots and gambling, which is not what Biscayne Boulevard needs. This is something I’ve long felt strongly about; the dangers of casino and gambling expansion into downtown and Miami Beach. There is no community any of the gambling proponents can point to and say it has improved because of gambling. All it does is suck the money out of the people in the community.”

According to official figures from the Florida Department Of Business And Professional Regulation cited by the Miami Herald, slot revenues at Magic City Casino for the ongoing twelve-month period to the end of June so far stand at $59.79 million while its card room receipts amount to $6.25 million.

“It would be very unfortunate if the city were to allow that use to that location,” Craig Robins, President and Chief Executive Officer for real estate development firm Dacra, told the newspaper. “It would be even more negative if [West Flagler Associates Limited] were subsequently able to expand to other forms of gaming as well.”