jai alai hī´lī˝ [key], handball-like game of Spanish Basque origin. It is also called pelota. Jai alai is played on a three-walled court with a hard rubber ball that must be hurled against the front wall with the cesta, a wicker basket attached to the player's arm. The court is about 175 ft (53 m) long, 40 ft (12.2 m) wide, and 40 ft (12.2 m) high. Spectators sit behind a wire fence or plexiglass wall on the fourth side. To their right is the front wall, or frontis. The object is to hurl the ball against the front wall in such a way that it cannot be returned. The ball may hit the side or rear wall, but not the spectator wall, before striking the frontis. The ball, which reaches speeds of 150 mph (240 kph), is caught in the cesta and thrown in a continuous motion. Jai alai is played as either singles or doubles with scoring similar to that of court handball. Betting on games is popular; parimutuel wagering is legal in a few U.S. states. Jai alai is also popular in parts of Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, and the Philippines.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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