With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Do you remember Jai-Alai in Hartford?

Sad City Hartford favorite Gerry Brooks getting his Jai-Alai.
 Does anyone out there remember Jai-Alai in Hartford? Hakaan and I were both way too young to ever go before it shut down, but we grew up fascinated with the cool, legal gambling in Connecticut before the casinos. I'm currently working on an upcoming creative project that draws on our city's Jai-Alai past and I would love to talk to people who got experience the joys of Hartford Jai-Alai. For those of you who have no clue about what I'm talking about, here's a quick historical refresher.



Imported to the United States from Spain, Jai-Alai is hard to describe. It's much better to watch.



The sport is now well beyond its glory days. It's rise and fall can most likely be linked to Mafia connections and the rise of Native American casinos in Connecticut.

Currently, all that is left are some devoted hardcore fans and empty buildings that dot the state. But now that Whitey Bulger has been found, maybe the sport can flourish again.





As we said before, we're currently working on a creative project about Jai-Alai in Hartford. If you or anyone you know has past connections to Jai-Alai or access to any of the current Jai-Alai buildings, please let us know.

39 comments:

  1. My father and I were just speaking about Jai-Alai in Hartford over Thanksgiving. He remembered going a few times with some friends while they were all in college. According to my dad, the games were always fixed and players would just drop balls sometimes without even really trying to cover it up to make it look like an accident. He said it was good times though.

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    1. I worked there for the first two years of its operation, 1976 and 1977. I ran one of the two trifecta box machines in the fronton.

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  2. Where is/was the Hartford Jai-Alai building?

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    1. Where the Carmax is now on Weston St. in Hartford

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  3. I'm pretty sure that Hartford Jai-Alai was down near where the Expo Center is now.

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    1. Yes, the Expo Center used to be BJ's Wholesale Warehouse, and Hartford Jai Alai was in the building that now houses CarMax.

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  4. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/04/nyregion/hartford-mulls-slot-machines-to-rescue-jai-alai.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

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  5. I won't be much help, but I did go to one jai-alai game. What I recall was that the ball moved so quickly it was next to impossible to see. The seats were closer than I'd have imagined so that made it a bit more exciting. Since I was a broke student at the time I didn't gamble, so I wasn't particularly invested in the event. I did see a very drunken, and/or/drugged Elvis Costello in the Jai-Alai Center back in the late 70's I think.

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  6. We saw George Clinton and P Funk at Hartford Jai Alai maybe 10 years ago. Was crazy terrible sound in there (imagine mind-bending decibels in a racquetball court, for reference.)

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  7. My friends and I went to Berenson's quite a bit. I loved it -- even have a few cestas in my office, a friend and I practiced in the basement of a church in Hartford (can't remember which, I only went a couple times, I'll ask him next time to I talk to him). I was a low-stakes wagerer and really just enjoyed watching with my friends. (Well, ok, the wagering did make it more interesting.)

    My posts about jai-alai (or mention it in passing) are here.

    My dad would really be the guy to talk to. He used to go quite a bit and told some interesting stories about the shadier side of the business ...

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  8. I wish I could have seen Hartford. We are lucky to still have Jai Alai here in Orlando. Feel free to check out my site dedicated to the sport of Jai Alai ... http://www.merryfestival.com/

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    1. You should have come up to CT when Milford, Bridgeport and Hartford were still open. Nothing left now. Milford has been replaced with a Lowes and Hartford with a CarMax. The Bridgeport Fronton is still standing, not sure what they use it for now. It was turned into a dog track. To bad that the Casinos got the monopoly on the slot machines and put the Frontons out of Business.

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  9. They had a "celebrity" competition back in the WPOP days, when I had all that hair and 'stache. (Late '70s.) Trust me, having a "good arm" has nothing to do with being able to fling that pelota.
    By the way, I also saw Steve Martin play to a sell out crowd at the Hartford fronton when he was the hottest standup in show box.

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  10. My friends and I went to Hartford Jai-Alai numerous times in the mid-'80s. I wasn't much of a betting man, but was fascinated by the game and the crowd. Unfortunately, as at many gambling institutions, the attendees looked like they were spending their last few dollars on the sport. The only player I recall is Urquiaga, who one of my buddies nicknamed "Urq the Jerk." He was the best player, but as someone mentioned above, he threw many games. A few of my friends went to the Milford fronton to take lessons, and get their own cestas. I'm curious to know what your creative project entails.

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  11. I remember going on Thursday nights. They had 25 cent or 50 cent beers and hot dogs. I tend not to believe all the comments about throwing games, although it was a common accusation. I think the problem with jai alai is that it is hard to drop the ball with any kind of grace, so it looks intentional.

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  12. I just heard of Jai-Alai a couple of days ago, while researching sports for a project I have to do for my spanish class, and it seems like it's a pretty interesting sport... I still am not very clear on the rules of the game. Anyone know a site or video that would be helpful?

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    1. I can tell you all you need to know about Jai alai if you get in contact. Its a great sport. All we have up here in CT now is an Amateur court in Berlin,CT. You might want to google that. They have a live feed on the court when they are open so you can see the guys out there playing. Not sure how much they charge to get out there on the court, but I'm sure the website will tell you when you look it up.

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  13. Buddy Berenson ran a great fronton and brought the best players in from all over the world Remen. playing in the middle of the innovative 3 player team games was a blast to watch as he fired a scalding kill shot. From Gerney climbing the wall to Fausto running the table Hartford Jaialai was the biggest bang you could get for your paramutual wagering buck.

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    1. You are right that Berensons' Hartford Jai-Alai had the best players in the World. Cachin, Remen, Mendi, etc. regularly beat Milford and Bridgeport in the inter-fronton championships!

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  14. I remember watching some of the best jai-alai players in the world in hartford.I was only a young teenager and was lucky enough to get exposed to it as a kid.My parents would bring me and i was able to get to know some of the players.Friends and i would play anywhere we could and some days we would play from sun up to sundown.At fifteen hartford jai-alai offerd a school for kids and i was able to join. James an american player was my coach and have lifetime memories from that program.One of my playing partners Steve, witch we won the tournement together went on to play professionaly at milford. Jai-alai was fun to watch, fun to play and wish the casinos never came to connecticut, for i belive was the main reason why they all closed for good. Thank god there is a place in berlin ct to play and still keep the legacy still going in new england. Thank you Matt,and anyone who is interested in jai-alai go to see matt for lessons; or just to throw the ball around.

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  15. Hi: I worked for Hartford Jai Alai for 13 years and I also played the game all those years. It is the most exciting game I have ever played. Met a lot of players and was good friend with quite of few of them, to mention a few there was Arriaga, Roland, James, Gerny, Mendi, Jose, Said. To this day I still think of my Jai-Alai years. Would like to mention as a worker for Jai-Alai, amateur player is something that will stay with me forever.

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    1. I also worked at Jai-Alai both in CT and FL and those were the best years of my life. There was a group of us who traveled between CT and FL working at their Frontons and we do not regret it. We were a big family. Unfortunately those days are gone but the happy memories have lasted.

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  16. Hartford Jai Alai will always be etched in many peoples hearts ....from the first time I say the game I fell in love with it ,,,,nothing compares .... And if you still wanna see some great Jai Alai played in ct come down to Matt's place also known as ct amateur Jai Alai we have many pros that still play and it is awesome to watch....or play ....if you need more info please call and let's keep the dream alive ...if anyone out there has an extra 20 million or so to build a knew fronton please I know many people that wanna give up on the casino and wanna go back to Jai Alai... I hate what the casinos did to Jai Alai....to bad Hartford had it all Jai Alai ....the whalers ...semi pro football....knw all we got is uconn uconn ucon ,,,,and there glory days are gone too... Soon there will be no sports ...just singing and daning competitions because every thinks they can sing and dance ....

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    1. Jai-Alai days were the happiest days of my life. I have worked at both Jai-Alai and the Casinos and although I enjoyed working at both places Jai-Alai employed fewer people and we were more like a family there. I wish but do not think Jai-Alai would be profitable on Tribal land. MGM in Las Vegas built one at their Casino and when I attended it they had only 100 people in attendance. It did not last long. They wanted to build one in Henderson Nevada but it fell through. They built one in Texas a few years ago but it was not popular.

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  17. I went Hartford Jai Alai alot when I was in my late teens - early 20s. I remember the players were on strike which lasted a few years. So the replacement players were there for awhile. James was the best of them. Then there was Paul, Durango, a few others I can't remember. When the strike ended and the real players came back (Gerny I remember was one) it was interesting to the see the difference in talent.

    I went to see 3rd Bass at a concert there. Someone ulled a knife in the crowd and stabbed someone. The concert never happened and I never got my money back.

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  18. I grew up in Windsor and as a kid went regularly with my drunk father to the fronton. Across the street moved in a few guys who were players when I was 12 or so. Nicest people you'd meet, and me and my brother would hang out with them a bit. But some/most games were fixed. It was like pro wrestling. Who ever was to win, won. My mother dragged me to see Sha-Na-Na there, it actually was fun, considering I was young and liked watching the show. Dorky 70's stuff.
    In any case Hartford has turned into a crap-hole. The entire state has gone in the toilet. So much so, I moved to Nevada to live. While others may think of it as a great state (CT). It's usually the ones who grew up in the 50's. manufacturing was booming, and it actually was a decent city. But the 80's came and greed took over, ran the who state down.
    I can't see CT ever getting anyplace, nothing left to do, the cops are horrible to people, everyone is rude... If you ever have a chance to see the country, you will see that the most magnificent places are the Sierra Nevada and west. Dump CT, it's already dumped you.

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  19. Ah yes growing up in the 70s i used to go with my dad, it was really fun as we would bet win, place or show! thanks for the memories.

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  20. I went to Hartford Jai Alai in the mid eighties at least 50 times.While some of the games were suspect,the vast majority of them were legit.This was at a time when Hartford had the best roster in the world.Players who were stars at other frontons were playing the early games in Hartford. In it's heyday,it wasn't unusual to see 3,000 people on a weeknight.Business was already down when the strike took place,and they never recovered.The opening of Foxwoods was the final nail in the coffin.

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    1. I have to agree with you 100% on your comments. To bad that the strike lasted so long and the state giving the casinos the monopoly on the slot machines. It would have been nice if one of the states 2 casinos had built a new Fronton onto the Casino. It was a good time going to Hartford on a Saturday night and being part of the 3000. Guess all good things have to come to an end. Buddy Berenson you are missed!

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    2. I worked there 14 years and in the beginning they had a packed fronton every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. The land across the street had not been developed yet and cars would park there in the dirt lot because the Jai-Alai parking lot was full. No one loved Jai-Alai more than Buddy Berenson when he purchased it in 1981. To a lot of Jai-Alai workers we were a big family and experienced some of the best years of our life working there. We have a facebook page and get together yearly.

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  21. I remember going just about everyday when it opened up I have a card signed by danny use to go out back for a smoke break with my niece and talk to the players card number 7 of 8 danny was one of the better players but I rember ther was something to do with the mob there was a big scandle I thought that's why it closed

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  22. Yeah I'm a old die-hard bettor/patron of the Hartford Jai Alai Days of the late 70's&80's It was kool as
    a 16 yearold teenager you could get into the Fronton to watch the matches with a adult but if was of
    course against the law to bet on the games.But most of the time you could get away with doing so.
    As the years went by and I became of legal age in 1979 the drinking and adult legal age nationwide
    was still 18 which was great! Down the road from Harford Jai Alai was a strip-club called Uncle Al's
    so on the weekends I and a bunch of buddies I grew up with and worked with from Windsor Locks
    and Enfield we would hit the fronton for some gambling in the early evening.Then Uncle Al's for
    some Brews and some T & A ! It was for sure some good times back then growing up in the Hartford-Windsor Locks Area in the 70's & 80's. Along with seeing Ted Nugent at The Springfield, Mass Civic
    Center in Concert when he recorded live at the show his hit song Stranglehold which went on his Double Gonzo Album 1976 The ticket cost was $6.50 all General Admission Tickets back then. Like I said those were the good old days!
    C.R. North Fort Myers, Florida.

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  23. I was a player , judge ,and started out as the ball boy at Hartford Jai-alai who had the privilege of having the " world's finest roster" as Buddy Berenson put it. I was lucky enough to acquire ALL of Hartford jai-alai's office files on most players with all the pictures from construction through the 80/90's. Hartford "World" jai-alai was operated from 1976 to 1980 until Whitey Bulger had the owner knocked off along with several others because one guy who worked there told Whitey they could run a skim on the concessions. But the owner said no way and he died. Then Berenson bought the jai-alai from the then owners wife and it was called Berenson's Hartford jai-alai. Buddy's father is the person who bought jai-alai to the USA in Miami and for 2 years in NYC at the Hippodrome until they couldn't negotiate for any means of gambling .The ONLY way to get jai-alai back in CT would be to get casino owners to open one seeing as they would surely do well with just one fronton which all the people from surrounding states who love the sport and wagering style would support it and it would do well. They would Easily be able to once again have the finest roster as the FL jai-alai's are nearly all defunct in 2015. As for jai-alai being fixed , sure a few players over the years tried it but you have to get at least 3-4 teams/players to rig the game and the state watches all betting so good luck trying . I've noticed certain players who've been winning a lot tend to perhaps not play 100% against a buddy who just came off the injury list, but how can you blame them when 1/2 the audience is calling them every name in the book on a daily basis ? If you want to see several old hartford jai-alai pictures/programs ,etc. go to my facebook page jai-alai Heaven.

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    1. You could possibly pay a player to not come in the money but it would be nearly impossible to fix a game so combination 8-1-7, 2-4-1, etc. would come in. Your $2. bet would get you 10-20 minutes of excitement whereas at the casino its gone in less than a minute!

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  24. I recall 25 cent beer and Hot dog night on Thursday back in the late 70s

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  25. it was fixed from the ownership on down. As someone who went many times in the 80's it wasn't hard to see the lopsided money loaded up on one player or team and they'd be one point away from winning and would intentionally fault on their serve (which is basically like playing catch, that's how easy it is to get a serve in). If the money on the board was balanced, that's when you'd see a good an exciting game played. Unfortunatey the silly strike for three years, the Bulger connection and finally the emergence of Foxwoods killed Jai Alai. But please don't tell me the games weren't fixed. It was blatant at times. Fatboy "Paul" still owes me a few hundred from my dried up quinella's he screwed me out of lol.

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  26. I used to work there as a "tote"(1978-1982), one of the guys that maintained the ticket machines.

    It wasn't "fixed", but around the end of each season, most players would "help" those players who didn't have allot of wins over the season. The players received bonus money for finishing win, place or show.

    Also, if a player was getting married or something like that...bet on him! His friends always let him win to get the bonus. Other than those times, it was on the level.

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  27. Gaming commission and FBI caught players fixing some singles games. They were easier to fix than doubles. Management was not in on it. Unusual payouts triggered the investigation. It was kept quiet and not released to the media. The players involved had to go to court and were put on trial.

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