Reno comes to life as bowlers roll for strikes

Oddly enough, the blue-collar game of ten-pin bowling was instrumental in putting the glitz and glamor back into Reno, Nev., once the mecca for quickie divorces and high-rolling gamblers. Tabbed half-a-century ago as “the biggest little city in the world,” Reno fell on hard times in the ’70s and early ’80s. It was stagnant, shopworn and definitely showing it’s age.The reasons for its decline were predictable: throughout Canada and the United States, divorces had become easier, no longer was it necessary to fly to Reno to quickly sever a marriage. And gambling casinos had sprung up in many U.S. states, including New England and New Jersey. In short, Reno was falling far behind rival Las Vegas, 450 miles to the south, as Nevada’s gaming powerhouse.

“Bowling really was the key to pulling us out of the slump,” recalls Pennie Sar-Sangi, sales manager at Reno’s opulent Circus Circus Hotel and Casino. “New hotels are under construction, older hotels are getting a face-lift. Here at Circus Circus, we are in the middle of a multimillion dollar renovation.”

^The $45-million National Bowling Stadium opened in 1995 — a magnificent, ultramodern structure doted to bowling, nothing else. It’s a hi-tech wonderland dubbed “the Taj Mahal of ten-pins” by the Los Angeles Times. Picture this: 80 gleaming, state-of-the-art bowling lanes, each with its own digital scoring monitor; an eight-foot-tall, 450-foot-long high-definition video scoreboard, a 16-foot-square video wall for instant replays — mind-boggling stuff.

“Over 100,000 people, both players and spectators, flood Reno for a major tournament,” comments Reno tourism spokesman Matt Bonaudi. “Bowling generates millions of dollars in revenue for the city. And, a huge plus, the stadium was built at zero-cost to taxpayers — funds were raised from a one per cent special hotel room tax.”

If you plan to visit Reno, don’t miss the world’s ultimate bowling alley. Admission is free. On the main floor is Ruby’s, my personal favorite — a 1940s-theme restaurant, all chrome and red leather, with the best chocolate milkshakes I’ve had since high school (a few years back).

Reno is much more laid back, less frenzied than Vegas, where the number one reason for visiting is to gamble. Of course, there are thousands of slot machines and hundreds of gaming tables in Reno, but there’s much more to do in the biggest little city than just gamble.

However,the big-time casinos at the major hotels in Reno and Las Vegas have several things in common: The washrooms are located in the middle of the gambling areas so you have to go past hundreds of slot machines and other gambling devices. There are no clocks and no windows there — gamblers don’t know if it’s morning or night — nor do they care.

Nearby is Lake Tahoe, a refreshing place to visit. A beautiful lake on the border of Nevada and California, it’s surrounded by lofty mountains, snow-capped even in July. It’s a hideaway for millionaires and movie stars. Steam paddleboats take tourists on scenic trips to many of the lake beauty spots. But don’t try swimming — the lake is frigid. It’s fed by ice-cold water from the glaciers on the snow-capped mountains, crystal clear and unpolluted.

Only 23 miles away from Reno is Virginia City, an old silver boomtown enjoying rebirth as the liveliest ghost town in the West. On the main street is the faithfully restored Territorial Enterprise, the newspaper which launched the journalistic career of Samuel Clens, who later became known by his famed pen name, Mark Twain. You can still pan for silver or visit an old silver mine. The mine tours take visitors beneath the streets of Virginia City for a brief look at the more than 750 miles of tunnels.

Another nearby must-see spot is the Ponderosa Ranch, location of the Bonanza television series which starred Toronto’s Lorne Green. In Reno, a don’t-miss-it attraction is the National Automobile Museum, a marvellous showcase of 200 antique, vintage and classic automobiles.