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Why bowling works in Las Vegas

Las Vegas’ first casino bowling alley opened in 1959 when the off-Strip Showboat added lanes as part of its successful effort to refocus on locals, driving growth at the property for the next 20 years.

Showboat’s success has made bowling a mainstay of locals casinos—so much so that the International Bowl Expo came to Paris Las Vegas this month (it ends June 28). Yes, it’s ironic that the expo settled on a casino without a bowling alley, but the lanes have been the purview of locals casinos: Station has five bowling alleys in the Valley, with lanes at Red Rock, Sunset Station, Texas Station, Santa Fe Station and Wildfire Sunset.

According to Station chief marketing officer Staci Alonso, the lanes are an integral part of those casinos’ identities as all-around entertainment destinations. “You don’t have to decide exactly what you’re going to do,” she says, “until you get to the property.” Whether it’s bowling, a movie, dining or, of course, gambling, there’s always something to do.

“It works,” Alonso says, “because it’s still fun. It’s fun for my 12-year-old son, for me at 40 and for my mom at 70. It’s got a diverse appeal.”

Station promotes both leisure and league bowling, and, with more than 2,000 bowling birthday parties a year across its Las Vegas properties, sees the game as a major business driver. Charity games and competitions are also major draws.

In recent years, bowling has even made inroads into the upscale market, which is fitting, as the game is undergoing a national shift. According to a report by leisure consultant White Hutchinson, the demographic profile of the average bowler is younger and wealthier than it was during its 1960s heyday, and with nearly half of the more than 50 million people who bowl each year coming from households with incomes above $75,000 a year.

The Palms’ 5,000-square-foot Kingpin Suite, which opened in 2005, features among its over-the-top amenities a fully functional two-lane bowling alley. Guests at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Real World Suite, though, have to make do with a single lane.

It’s no surprise, then, that a major new Strip development will feature bowling, but with a twist. When Linq opens between the Flamingo and the Quad, one of its flagship tenants will be Brooklyn Bowl. The Brooklyn original is almost the poster child for bowling’s 21st century reinvention: Bowlers can kick back on Chesterfield sofas to take in performances by everyone from Guns N’ Roses to DJ ?uestlove, or order food from Eric and Bruce Bromberg’s Blue Ribbon.

“It’s not just bowling,” says Brooklyn Bowl co-owner Charley Ryan. “It’s a conspiracy to get people off their couches to a place where they can interact with each other. We put bowlers in the catbird seat for the live music, on a sound system better than anything they have at home.” That’s why Brooklyn Bowl’s bowling lanes are higher, instead of lower, than the surrounding area: They are a VIP section.

But more traditional bowling is, if anything, growing in Las Vegas. The South Point recently announced plans to build a $30 million bowling center that will host United States Bowling Congress championship events starting in 2016.

Alonso credits Reno’s recent renaissance on men’s and women’s bowling competitions being held concurrently for the first time, which boosted visitation and spending. She sees a similar effect in Las Vegas. “With more competitions coming,” she says, “it’s good for the economy.” It doesn’t hurt that Station owns more lanes than anyone else in Las Vegas.

So while Brooklyn Bowl highlights the next generation, there are plenty of places around Las Vegas where traditional competition and league bowlers are welcome. Participants at the International Bowl Expo, looking for clues to keeping their game relevant, have a case study in their host city.