JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 6:00 am
When our 11thFrame.com teams head to Reno for the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships, we have lots of important things to decide: how to attack the lanes, what bowling balls to bring, which side events to bowl, etc.
But there’s one thing that requires no discussion: where to stay.
You will find us at the Sands, which often prompts the question, “Why do you stay there?”
Let me explain why.
I first stayed at the Sands when it sponsored the PBA Regional Players Invitational in December 1999 and continued to stay there at least once a year for the next decade or so as I qualified for the RPI and eventually live blogged the event for a couple of years as that event became an avenue for gaining an exemption for the PBA Tour.
Our teams started staying there with the 2007 USBC Open Championships and have every time the tournament was there since.
We took the team all-events lead in 2007 before finishing second, the team lead in 2010 before finishing 14th, the team lead in 2011 before holding on to win, and last year Mike Shady nearly took the singles lead before finishing third.
Yes, we’ve seen some good times at the Sands, which has never minded a good celebration, loud as it may get.
But that isn’t why we stay there.
I’ve been known to wager a few dollars at craps and have had numerous offers to stay free at various properties in Reno over the years. But the Sands is the only place I’ve stayed in Reno for years, other than for events where there’s an official hotel, like the USBC Hall of Fame inductions.
All of the major downtown properties support the USBC tournaments, but it’s been the Sands supporting the PBA in Reno since 1999. It continues to support multiple PBA Regionals each year. That counts for a lot with me — I’m loyal to the people who support the things that are important to me.
And in those years I established relationships with a lot of great people at the Sands, many of whom still are there 15 years later.
There’s the world’s greatest craps crew that deals 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. — there is nowhere else in the world I’ve been where the dealers will yell “Too Bad” with you when you get on a hot roll.
The bellhop and shuttle guys are friendly and extremely helpful, never complaining about all our bowling balls and shuttling us all over — and we take care of them for their great service.
And, of course, there’s Dennis Young, who I call the world’s greatest casino host. I mean that sincerely, but it’s not just for the great treatment he gives me.
Yes, every year he puts my girlfriend Susie Fever and me in a suite that becomes our team headquarters and tries to make sure we all get rooms on that floor. And like any good host, he’s smart with the special touches, like Diet Mountain Dews in our room fridge to take care of my caffeine addiction.
I’ve had hosts that did things like that at far fancier places like the Venetian in Las Vegas, where my ex-wife and I used to go a couple of times every year.
The thing about Dennis is he’s a real guy who I know wouldn’t forget I existed if I suddenly quit gambling and/or coming to Reno. We’d still kid each other about our NFL teams — he’s a former Minnesotan and Vikings fan and I’m a lifer for the Packers — and discuss how bad the Twins and Brewers would be again this year.
Dennis has gone out of his way to deal sincerely with numerous bowlers I’ve referred to him over the years. He even answers questions for people when I pester him with a tag on Facebook.
And he’s taken an interest in bowling to the point where he knows about oil (even when it’s not blue) and why we use so many different balls. Heck, he even bowled in the Open Championships last year.
If you’re an Open Championships bowler looking for a casino and host who will give you a fair shake for your gambling action, contact Dennis at the Sands.
The Sands itself is not the property many think it is, especially with the many improvements it has seen over the last 15 years. We used to call it a loveable dump, but it’s improved a lot since 1999.
The gambling area is fine, you never have trouble finding a low limit game or slot machine, the drink prices are moderate if you’re not gambling (though I wish they stocked a few more craft beers, especially a good hefeweizen), most of the staff are friendly and helpful, and they don’t care if you get a little loud if you’re on a hot streak.
Heck, they didn’t even mind when I bought a round of banana milkshakes from Mel’s Diner for the players and craps crew on the legendary night during a PBA tournament week when I held the dice for nearly an hour and drank way too many white wines from the bar (I almost never drink anything but beer).
I much prefer a smaller place where I know the people, than a fancier but impersonal big property. It’s kind of like the difference between a local store or restaurant and a big corporate chain store or restaurant.
I’ve never been to Reno in pool season, but the pool at the Sands looks nice. And the whirlpool in the fitness area at the Sands has helped me recover on many a long bowling week, and it has a great view of the mountains.
The standard rooms aren’t the fanciest in Reno, but they’re big and I survived just fine in them for more than a decade. My only real complaint is the lack of in-room coffeemakers, which forces me to head downstairs each morning on a coffee run for Susie.
I haven’t tried the newest iteration of the Sands’ fancier restaurant, but Mel’s is as good a diner as I’ve ever found — and it’s a great value with a big menu. Do yourself a favor and try one of those awesome banana milkshakes.
As for the often-discussed safety factor of the Sands location a couple blocks beyond the Tri-Properties, I think it’s way overblown.
I’ve walked from the Stadium to the Sands, from the Tri-Properties to the Sands and from the Harrah’s area to the Sands dozens and dozens of times and never had anything more happen than being asked for money. And many of those trips have been alone at night, though I don’t recommend that, especially for women.
And you can always take the free shuttle to the Sands from the Stadium, or it’s a cheap cab ride from one of the other downtown hotels.
The bottom line is that the Sands became a home away from home for me for many reasons, it’s filled with memories and we wouldn’t consider staying anywhere else.