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Arnold M. Knightly

Bowling centers give casinos powerful lure, profit booster

22 June 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Bowling is as Las Vegas as Elvis Presley, the Rat Pack and the mob.

In the early years, the Professional Bowlers Association's annual tour, which stopped at the old Showboat from 1960 until 2000, provided some of the earliest national television exposure for what was then a sleepy resort town.

Today, bowling centers have emerged as revenue-generating amenities for local gaming companies seeking a different kind of high roller.

Station Casinos spent $31 million to build its 72-lane center, which opened in April at Red Rock Resort. The company spent $26 million to add the 72-lane Strike Zone to Sunset Station in May 2005.

Both projects broke records for bowling center construction costs, company spokeswoman Lori Nelson said.

"The primary purpose is to draw people in," said Michael Monyak, bowling director for three Boyd Gaming Corp. centers. "So they gamble, drink, eat and be merry."

Monyak oversees bowling operations at The Orleans, Suncoast and Gold Coast, which contain a combined 204 lanes.

He said each lane sees an average of 40 paid games a day. It's not uncommon on league night to go to the casino and see bowling equipment bags sitting next to slot machines, he added.

The company spent $1.1 million in 2006 at The Orleans center to update all the pin-setting machines, lanes and automated scoring machines.

Monyak points to South Point owner Michael Gaughan as the casino magnate who grew bowling as a money-making amenity at locals gaming properties.

"I put it in to bring people in and it made money," Gaughan said. "I did well with bowling."

Gaughan added bowling in 1986 to the Gold Coast and it was so successful he included bowling at all his later Coast Casinos properties, which he sold to Boyd Gaming in 2004.

He said South Point's 64-lane bowling center is one of the departments that "runs ahead of budget" while other areas, such as restaurants, lose money.

Unlike pricier offerings at today's megaresorts, bowling is a local attraction accessible to everyone.

"It's a leisure night out without having to deal with the long lines at the nightclubs," said Robert Frey, owner of Lucky Strike Lanes at Rio, which opened in March. "It is very approachable for people who do not want high-priced Vegas shows."

Frey owns Pure Management Group, operator of Strip nightclubs including Pure and Pussycat Dolls at Caesars Palace and Tangarine at Treasure Island.

While he leases the space from Harrah's Entertainment, he said the gaming company was interested in the idea of upscale bowling because its audience is so varied.

"The clientele has ranged from gaming company presidents and their families to casino workers looking to unwind after work," Frey said.

Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming own and operate their own bowling centers. Neither company would release specific revenue statistics for their bowling centers. But Monyak estimated that the three centers he oversees draw 2 million people to the properties that may not visit otherwise.

A large percentage of those bowlers are locals, although the casinos also draw professional and amateur tours from around the country.

The PBA tour returned to the area in late January after a three-year absence. Sunset Station hosted the Motel 6 Classic, which included a championship round televised on ESPN.

Monyak, who Gaughan referred to as the area's "baron of bowling," said Boyd Gaming hosts 20 major tournaments a year and 30 smaller ones.

Many leagues from California and Arizona also come to Las Vegas for three-day weekends to celebrate the season's final week and hand out awards.

"That's a huge bonus," Monyak said. "We fill hotel rooms up, we put them on the gaming floor and they bowl, also."

Gaughan said he always focused on the locals and visiting league groups because tournaments are disruptive to the core customers.

Phil Platko, a local bowler with 30 perfect games, is a partner in two local independent K&K Bowling Services, pro shops offering equipment and lessons. He said that from June through August, when bowling centers in other parts of the country shut down or cut hours, Las Vegas lanes are thriving.

"Vegas is one of the biggest bowling cities in the country. When the summer months come send the kids bowling while the parents go down and gamble."