I don't know quite what to make of Jai Alai. If you approach it as a single entity, then it does have many of the things found in Macau hotels all under one roof, with dining, accommodation, gaming, and nightlife all spoken for. The only problem is that the place isn't really a hotel at all. It's more a small mall with private companies chipping in to collectively provide the restaurant, shopping and entertainment services. The hotel part of Jai Alai is really only that — a part — and a rather inconsequential one at that. It's not even close to being the main draw of the building, with either the sauna or the nightclub probably bringing in the most business. For that reason, the overall complex has a very seedy feel to it, with its plethora of posters advertising strip shows and sauna girls, not to mention the mean looking security dudes who stalk the sidewalk out front, keeping order over the type of clientele who chase services long associated with the night.
Jai Alai's casino is very old, and I wouldn't be surprised if it predates the Lisboa. I remember reading somewhere that someone saw a postcard of the place from the 60's. If anyone has an authoritative list of just when every Macau casino opened up, please send it along, because I'd really like to know. All my online queries have turned up empty.
Jai Alai is the easternmost casino on Macau island, located a stone's throw away from the ferry terminal. Oceanus, another SJM property, is directly beside it.
It's funny how your impression of a casino can change. I had about half of the casino review written based on my lone visit back in May, and I was a little less than complimentary. Here was the introduction:
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. One third 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 two thirds of Jai Alai that remain open is run down and faded, especially the old multicolored carpet on the floor and the dark 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 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.
But you know what? After having been there a second time, I've almost done a complete 180-degree turn on the place. If you look past the fact that two thirds of the casino is basically shut down and just focus on the lower third that is open, then Jai Alai really isn't that bad. First off, it's not really withered and worn as I wrote, it's just old, but pleasantly old. Jai Alai's middle aged dealers wear traditional red suits, and slowly deal out cards to players who solemnly sit back, mind their own business, and silently game. With no background music or anything to look at other than the warm wooden walls, there's a simplicity and authenticity to the casino that's endearing. It would actually be nice if more places in Macau were like it.
Of course that doesn't mean there shouldn't be improvements. The main problem, as I said, is that two thirds of it is basically closed. The VIP and high limit quarters are completely roped off while the middle third has four $200 Baccarat tables open versus 15 other tables closed. Only the lower third section I've just written about (which still has nine unused tables) looks like it has a pulse. Obviously no business can be run properly in such a condition. Jai Alai needs to go all in, or put their cards down.
They also need more games. There are only three with exact table numbers being: 12 Baccarat, 2 Sic Bo and 2 Yee Hah Hi tables. Minimums are fairly low, with Sic Bo and Yee Hah Hi $50 and Baccarat ranging from $50 to $200.
Finally, there are non smoking signs throughout the casino but they're all ignored. It's no secret China has all the best laws in the world, they're just not enforced.
I was looking forward to playing Mah Jong Pai Gow, but that game is no longer available at Jai Alai, and thus, in the whole city. I always hate to see games go, especially in Macau, where more variety is needed, and not less.
I saw one or two Banking Three Card Baccarat tables but I don't think that game is played at Jai Alai, instead the tables are just stored there.
Outside of the Lisboa, this is the only other place in Macau that still has Yee Hah Hi.
There is also a slot hall on the ground hall, with 62 slots at 5¢ - $2 minimums, plus electronic sic bo, baccarat, and roulette.
The only player card available at Jai Alai is the Lisboa EC card, and it can't even be used at Jai Alai. Nope, a Lisboa card is only good in the Lisboa and that property is on the whole other side of the Amizade strip, about a twenty minute walk away.
Let me take this opportunity to explain the layout of the Jai Alai building. There are two entrances on the ground floor, one on the left side and one on the right, with the casino taking the middle ground between them. The building has three floors in total, with all of the second floor taken up by the hotel rooms and the huge Jai Alai Show Palace. Here's visual representation that should help you get around:
The hotel rooms at Jai Alai are very small and very standard. They're more akin to something you'd find in a hostel, except all the rooms do have TVs and a private bathroom. Among hotels with casinos in Macau, Jai Alai's rates are the lowest in town, but you only get what you pay for.
|Jai Alai Room Prices|
|Standard rooms (88 in total)||$575||$805|
|Suite (4 rooms in total)||$690||$920|
To check in proceed to the eastern side ground floor entrance.
You didn't really expect a pool, did you?
Jai Alai's two restaurants are both found in the west side of the building.
Jai Alai Mei Shi Zhong Xin — Mei Shi Zhong Xin doesn't look like much from the outside, but when you walk in, it's actually a restaurant. Passing by it before I thought it was like a place in a food court with one or two tables, but it's actually three or four times bigger inside. Guangdong dishes are the order of the day here with bird's nest, shark fin and abalone going for $198 to $968. Everything else mostly stays under $50, with casserole dishes the only brave soul with the nerve to push $100.
The Relic Cantonese Restaurant — Jai Alai's main eatery, the Relic Cantonese Restaurant, does all manner of Guangdong fare, with the majority of dishes in the $30 to $88 range. Standard Canton delicacies are naturally more expensive but still mostly stay under $500.
Jai Alai has no gym, but two spa places do exist. Jai Alai Tai Pan Beauty Spa is the exception to the rule at Jai Alai, seeing as it's 100% legit.
Jai Alai Tai Pan Beauty Spa — $368 is the magic number to get in, while other services require further payment. Massage can be had for $250 to $380 while health and beauty remedies cost $128 to $329. Comparatively speaking, it's much cheaper than spas in other Macau hotels whose treatments easily go into the $1000's.
Darling Sauna — Look we all know what goes on in these saunas, but unless you actually pay money and go inside, there's nothing to say from standing in the lobby or at the front desk that the place isn't perfectly legit. (Well the posters do often give it away, but except for that, you really don't know.) The Darling Sauna however is completely different. They don't hold anything back. The first room you walk into before you even reach a front desk is jammed with young Asian beauties wearing skimpy little bikinis. The day I was there, there must have been about thirty women in all, including two or three who stuck out like sore thumbs, being white, beautiful, blonde and Russian. Darling Sauna's rates are the lowest I've seen with full 75 minute service costing $1518 to $1880. Most are the girls are from China and Thailand.
Nothing gets pushed at Jai Alai more than the Show Palace strip show, which seemingly has a poster advertising it wherever you look.
Jai Alai Show Palace — Now I'm not sure if the Show Palace takes things as far as the Golden Dragon's Crazy Happy Show, but with male dancers present, I'm pretty confident in saying it probably does. There are two different type of performances, Table Dance and the Sexy Moulin Rouge show, with entry into both covered by one $420 ticket. The latter show is held five times a night, at 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 11:00 and 12:30. Each round promises five different types of excellent performance.
Attached to the Show Palace is a UFO Disco, which I think would be more accurately referred to as an escort bar. You know, the kind of place where you pick up only at your pocketbook's peril.
Keeping the theme going in grand style, Jai Alai has two places masquerading as drinking establishments.
The China City Nightclub — Currently closed for renovations, the China City Nightclub will make its reappearance in a couple of months. When it's open again, treat the place no different than UFO Disco. Expect expensive drinks and expensive women.
Dynasty Club KTV — Located way up on the third floor of the western section, what would Jai Alai be without a KTV? Hopelessly incomplete, that's what. Current special is $118 for 3 beers. I was never there at night, but a price of $2,000 all inclusive seems to be the going rate across the city for singing joints.
A little more variety in the shopping department would do Jai Alai a world of good, but as it is they only have three shops that all sell the same thing — watches and jewelry. Quite how Macau supports so many jewelry shops I don't know, because there never seems to be anyone in them.
The Jai Alai complex is one of a kind in Macau. Equal part strip mall, strip club, stripped down casino, sinful sleaze and sex, it's just about as base as you can get. I obviously can't recommend either the hotel or its casino to anyone. Sure the hotel rates are lowest in town, but that's because Jai Alai really isn't a hotel. It's a complex full of carnal delight with some hostel type rooms thrown in. I mean seriously, how often can you say that a casino is the most legitimate part of a building?
Speaking of the casino, until they stop operating at 33 percent and actually put some effort into it, there's no real reason to game there. Two thirds of the casino is a ghost town, including the part that holds the membership desk, meaning there are no comps or player cards to be had. Game selection numbers a paltry three, and while the minimums are low, they aren't the lowest in town. In other words, better deals can be had elsewhere in nicer casinos. I will say though, if you're into history and like old things, then Jai Alai may be worth checking out, because it might not be around much longer.
A reader sent in the following about the history of the Jai Alai. I always wondered why never saw anybody playing Jai Alai there.
Hello, I was just reading your website regarding the Jai-Alai Casino in Macau and it seems very seedy in a nostalgic way. I actually know quite a bit about the history of this place that may be useful. Casino Jai-Alai was built in 1972 and costed over 60 million Hong Kong dollars to build and has 5 floors.
If you are familiar with the spanish indoor ball game known as "Jai-Alai", then you know the history of this place. Jai-Alai games were played there from 1972 up to the late 1980's or early 1990's. I don't know when Jai-Alai games ceased, but I do know that there was a player strike from 1988-1991. Wagering on the games was central in the sport. — Stewart