On Feb. 19, I visited the Casino at Dania Beach (301 E. Dania Beach Blvd., 954-920-1511, DaniaCasino.com). An hour after arriving, I walked out with $61.38 in winnings off $6 in bets.
I'd been wanting to visit Broward County's newest casino — and only jai alai fronton — since it reopened Jan. 13 following a $60 million makeover. The 62-year-old property, which had been closed since October 2014, is owned by a partnership, with Argentinean investors having a majority interest and Magic City Casino in Miami having a minority.
The only other time I'd been here was on a weekend night about 12 years ago, when the place was a crumbling has-been with a confusing sport on which people bet. I remember guests drinking beer from plastic cups, and 90 percent of the seats being empty.
I parked in the lot off Dania Boulevard a little after 4 p.m. Friday and walked toward the massive building, noticing that some work on the façade and landscaping was still going on. All sorts of human beings were walking toward the entrance, from a couple of dainty young women in cocktail dresses with middle-aged men in suits to lots of grizzled old men and women. It was too early for most young partiers.
Once inside, I entered the fronton to watch a game of jai alai. According to the property's website, the fronton seats 500 people. I'm guessing 50 seats were filled, although this was only the matinee. The evening program was scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. The revamped fronton looks great. It has new stadium seats, modern lighting and a jumbo monitor to give spectators a second view of the action. The court has a new floor and freshly painted walls.
I'd arrived during the second game of the day. After watching for a few minutes, I decided to place a bet. Since I didn't know how the game was played, a cashier suggested I keep it simple and bet on one of the eight players to win in Game 3. So I placed $2 on a guy with No. 4 on his jersey. His name was Echeva. He came in second.
I was ready to move into the casino.
At the players' club, I received a card to keep track of points that I might be able to redeem one day, and then I rode the escalator to the second floor. On the way up, I had a good vantage point of the entire casino.
The place is vibrant and bright, with about 900 slot machines and an open, central bar. Everything is modern and clean. It's a huge improvement for both gamblers and Dania Beach.
From the escalator, I saw the entrance to Stage 954, the new 850-seat concert area. In March and April, rockers Foreigner, Air Supply and Smash Mouth will perform, as will standup comics Ralphie May and Gabriel Iglesias.
On the second floor, I ordered a soda from a concession stand and entered the poker room, which offers ultimate Texas hold 'em, Omaha, no-limit, three-card and two-card poker at 21 tables. The room hosts poker tournaments that begin at 1 p.m. Sundays and at 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
Simulcasting is featured in the spacious lounge behind the poker room, but during my visit the screens were showing sports we couldn't bet on, because the simulcasting didn't start until a week later. Now, it offers betting for Naples Fort-Myers Greyhound Track, Casino Miami Jai-alai, Mardi Gras Casino (for dog racing) and Isle Casino Racing (for harness racing).
Back on the ground floor, I walked through aisles of slots and eventually sat down at a machine called Quick Hit. I took out a handful of $1 bills and inserted one, betting the minimum with each spin. I also inserted my players' card.
I kept losing, although only pennies. But with my third dollar, I won $2.68 and decided to stop. After printing the voucher with my winnings, I walked to another aisle filled with slots.
After sitting down at Golden Eagle, I inserted my players' card and a dollar. I bet the minimum, spun and lost.
I spun a second time on that first dollar, and seconds later, the screen flashed, "Huge Win!" The digital slot machine kept spinning and spinning for what had to be 60 seconds.
I won $58.70.
That was good enough for me. I printed the voucher, walked to the cashier and cashed out.
Next time, I'll come with a group and spend more time and money, on gambling as well as on drinks and food (a buffet and deli are scheduled to open in a couple of weeks). I might even attend a concert. I'll definitely play poker and slots, and probably bet on jai alai, although I won't touch simulcasting. I wouldn't spend my time at a casino watching TV.