The Maven Meter: Jai Alai Casino & Hotel
(Last updated: May 20, 2020)
One of Macau’s oldest casinos, Jai Alai was originally built in 1975 to stage Jai Alai matches, a Spanish handball sport that’s popular in Hispanic and Latin countries. Games were held there for about 20 years, before falling out of favor with local audiences sometime in the late 1990’s.
After that, the property took a hard nosedive, turning into one of the city’s dirtiest most disgusting venues bar none, where you could find everything from sauna girls to live sex performances, dingy discos doubling as brothels to God knows what else.
It was a sad sad scene leading SJM to pull the plug on the venue in 2012, committing to a clean up and renovation that took 4 years to complete. Jai Alai re-emerged in December 2016 with a new lease on life, headlined by a much more modern casino, legitimate 132 room hotel, and 32,000 square feet of retail space.
I’d say the difference is like night and day, but it’s even more significant than that!
JAI ALAI CASINO
One of my favourite casinos in Macau used to be the old Jai Alai casino, for reasons that might surprise. Here’s an excerpt from a review that I wrote about a decade ago.
“Poor Jai Alai. It looks like it’s got two feet out the door, ready to join Macau Palace, Marina Casino, and Casino Taipa in the great gaming wasteland in the sky. Two thirds of the long rectangular one room casino is cordoned off and closed for business, littered with the remains of busted up tables and broken dreams. The only part that remains open is run down and ragged, especially the old multicolored carpet on the floor and dark chipped wooden walls. Once upon a time the place could have looked very nice, but now it’s withered and worn, its best years long behind it.”
And later on the coup de grace:
“I have to respect the thirty or so gamblers who were in the place the night I was there. Just by looking at them, I knew they were my kind of people. The kind of people who aspire to be nothing more than what they are, who’d have no problem being called habitual degenerates, because hey, you’ve got to be something in life. I mean every single one of them could be in a nice place like Oceanus right across the street but that would be an affront to who they are. They’re not Oceanus people. They’re Jai Alai people. They don’t want anything, they don’t want comfort, they don’t want comps, they don’t want cleanliness, they don’t want drinks, they’ll gamble in a ditch. And so they gamble at Jai Alai.”
In contrast, the new Jai Alai casino is modern, clean, orderly, and dull as dishwater. They even got rid of the best part, the buckets in the Fan Tan game that got lowered from the second floor to the first, a throwback to the 60s and 70s, when they were commonly used to collect and pay out bets.
Now all we’re left with is a Baccarat Hall that only offers three games: Baccarat ($200), Commission Free Baccarat ($200), and Fan Tan ($300 Sheh Sam Hong lows). Slots number 48 and start from 5 cents while Electronic gaming consists of Baccarat ($10), Roulette ($5) and Sic Bo ($10).
Jai Alai’s casino used to have a lot of personality and mystique when it was at its worst 10 years; now it’s just redundant and played.
Baccarat – Tables start from $200.
Commission Free Baccarat – The same $200 minimums.
Fan Tan – Fan, Nom, Kwok lows are $100, while Nga Tam is $200 and Sheh Sam Hong $300.
Slot Machines – 48 slots that begin from 5 cents. Also has electronic versions of Roulette ($5), Baccarat ($10), and Sic Bo ($10).
Jai Alai has two VIP programs that basically return the same thing.
Buy ins of just $1000 return 0.9% immediately, while a monthly program gives 0.9% cash back plus 0.1% comp allowance on amounts rolled in excess of $20,000.
Only Chinese nationals are eligible for free rooms at Jai Alai, which require a $60,o00 buy in.
Both Oceanus and Jai Alai have the same Daily Point Reward program that returns the follow items.
Keep in mind that no points are deducted and gamers can only redeem 1 of the 9 prizes daily.
JAI ALAI HOTEL
Rooms at Jai Alai can be booked two ways: either at the front desk or through websites like Agoda or Trip.com.
Expect to pay around $600 from Sunday to Thursday and only $700 on Fridays and $900 on Saturdays.
If you’re staying in this part of Macau though, at a hotel like Jai Alai, you’ve got to really ask yourself what you’re doing.
There are two restaurants in total, one in the lobby and one upstairs that deals exclusively in buffet.
Treasury Restaurant – Apparently the Treasury Restaurant in the lobby replicates the Jai Alai Cafe that used to be opened in the 70’s. They don’t take too kindly to people writing down menu prices there, so all I’ve got is a general idea of what they serve and how much it costs. Expect a mix of East and West, with soup, rice, noodles, salad and burgers all mostly available for under $78. Their most expensive dishes do top out at $230 plus, so be careful if ordering those.
Jai Alai Buffet – Located on the 1st floor, the Jai Alai Buffet is only open at night, with prices that run $298 for adults and $188 for children.
Jai Alai’s shopping quarter looks like one big duty free shop dealing in the usual suspects: perfume, cosmetics, wine, watches, bags, and jewelry.
Given its close proximity to the Macau Ferry Terminal, it could be useful as a quick place to shop before hitting Hong Kong.
Jai Alai is located behind Oceanus, about a 5 minute walk away from the Macau Ferry Terminal.