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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Bowling gets glamorous

1 May 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- With its deep-pocket casinos, Las Vegas is redefining the nightclub scene with increasingly posh and eclectic offerings.

But bowling?

The men who built the most expensive off-Strip casino in history, the nearly $1 billion Red Rock Resort, have taken their love of bling to the realm of cheap beer, nachos and kiddie parties in an effort to transform the humble bowling alley into a hip hangout.

Red Rock Resort's newly opened 72-lane bowling alley isn't the largest in the Las Vegas Valley. But in a town already popular for bowling tournaments, the lanes are becoming significant elements of casinos as they market themselves as all-ages entertainment centers.

"This is the next step up," said Dennis Mathews, Red Rock Lanes' bowling operations manager. Mathews has been playing host to bowling operators from across the country who are buzzing about the obvious differences with the center's lower-rent peers.

There's the deluxe bar with a carpet that glows under a black light. There are the gun metal and wood-inlaid chairs, with ne'er a plastic chair in sight. There's the printed screen above each lane featuring Red Rock Canyon, reminding bowlers of the beauty of open desert (without the drawback of scorching heat).

But the real reason for the buzz lies beyond a doorway of hanging metal beads, where 12 bowling lanes await in a separate room resembling a jet - set lounge. The space can be divided into three rooms of four lanes each, with each boasting a nightclub-quality sound system, special-effects lighting and 120-foot-long projection screens that can display music videos, movies and television shows.

Nearby meeting rooms feature laptop hookups and 65-inch plasma TVs.

Renting four lanes for three hours will set you back about $1,500 - not including catered food and bottle service.

Those rates will help pay down, albeit slowly, the $31 million cost of what the Red Rock folks say is the world's most expensive bowling center.

All of which raises the question: How do you make money renting lanes for $3 per game? (A pair of shoes, plus socks, rents for $3.50 more.)

Mathews counts the ways.

"About 70 million people bowl every year. Everyone eventually ends up at a bowling alley," Mathews said. And in Las Vegas, bowling in climate-controlled comfort can be an attractive option to being outdoors .

Station Casinos is the valley's largest bowling operator , with 264 lanes altogether. About 60 percent of the business comes from walk-in customers