California Bowling News
by Fred Eisenhammer
SAUGUS – There are the usual reasons for visiting the local bowling center. You’re there to bowl, you’re there to socialize while you’re bowling and you’re there to exercise while you’re bowling. But not so fast. More and more bowling centers have turned to other activities within their premises to lure customers.
Now there’s karaoke, there’s dancing, there’s live bands, there’s speed-dating. There’s even off-track horse-racing betting – at least there is at Santa Clarita Lanes in Saugus.
The brainchild of part-owner Tom Cristi, the betting parlor has been around at the bowling center for about three-and-a-half years.
It’s typically open during the day on Wednesdays and Thursdays and day and night on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The weekends attract the biggest turnouts with about 200 people packing the room on both Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m considered a mini-satellite,” said Cristi about his off-track site. “The big satellites are in Palmdale and Ventura and they have seating for 500. I have seating for 140.”
Cristi said some bowlers at his center may not even be aware there’s a gambling area on site. Likewise, he said some horse-racing players may not be aware there’s a bowling center around the corner.
The big thing the horse-racing site provides is “something to do,” especially for retired seniors who may seek other activities besides watching movies or golfing, Cristi said.
“What’s good about it is that it’s free admission and parking,” said Cristi, a self-described horse-racing enthusiast who used to own racehorses. “And people can bet as little as a dollar.”
Cristi, a regular bowler with an average of more than 200, said his gambling site generates a lot of action; he estimates that his patrons “bet at least one million dollars a month.” And many of those wagers have proved to be huge winners. Cristi said there “have been a lot of guys who have won six, seven, 14 thousand dollars. Our biggest was $52,000 on one ticket.”
That monster winner hailed from the Santa Clarita Valley area and he won the Pick Six, which requires that the bettor select the winning horse in six consecutive races.
One of Cristi’s biggest racing highlights came June 9 when American Pharoah completed the Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes. American Pharoah became the 12th horse to capture the Triple Crown and the first in 37 years to win it.
The race was shown at the Santa Clarita Lanes off-track site, like all the big races. “It was really exciting to hear the roar of approval when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown,” Cristi said. “People just wanted to see history.”
Robert Edwards, a former bowling center manager, has visited the off-track site and has come away impressed. “It puts a tremendous amount of traffic in the center,” said Edwards, who works as a manager at Mountasia Family Fun Center, across the street from Santa Clarita Lanes. “They pack the place. The parking lot is always full. I think [Cristi] was the first to think of the idea – at least in L.A.”
Johnnie Englehart, an elite bowler, also has passed by the off-track site and was equally complimentary. “What a creative idea it is – to think outside the box,” said Englehart, adding that it’s a great place for race-track gamblers who prefer not to travel to Palmdale or Hollywood Park.
“It was creative on Tom’s part. As you can tell, people like to bet or gamble.” There are 14 voucher machines for self-serve bettors at the site. Additionally, there are a couple of tellers who can handle the wagers. Cristi said one of the key reasons he put in the off-track gambling site was the fact that from noon to 5 p.m. it was “quiet” at the bowling center. But not anymore.