Bowling: The classic family fun that could earn a bit of cash

The hidden benefits, advantages and opportunities available to league bowlers


Via ginnerobot/openverse.

Dean Reyes arrived on a windy Thursday night. “This is a business trip,” he said, equipped with his own shoes and bag, listening to music and ready to practice before his competition with his weekly consistent warm up routine.

With his custom finger grips that distribute the weight of a reactive 14-pound bowling ball evenly across the palm of his hand to allow for comfort and consistency, he steps on the approach and begins to practice.

He secured straggling pins and was picking up devious splits. Building up kinetic energy across 40-feet of buffered oil that burns out, drives into the wooden floor and creates echoing contact with the pocket, shattering the pin structure. A sonic boom rings throughout the other 55 lanes and adds thunder to a rainless night. Strike. 

Reyes is relaxed, breathing steadily while high-fiving opponents and teammates. He waits for the cycle to return his bowling ball. He doesn’t just keep one.

“Untitled” by Eduardo Saldana.

As a day job, Reyes is the store owner of Kingpin Pro Shop, adjacent to Bowlero’s West Covina bowling alley location and has competed in bowling for over 18 years in his share of tournaments, 3-6-9, sidepots, brackets and bingos. 

He had earned more money from bowling than he would like to publicly disclose. He shows no sign of stopping. He enjoys his time with his teammates and takes pride in competing. Without using the oversized house balls or shoe rentals from the bowling center, he comes equipped and ready to go with his own bowling swag.

Reyes feels calm adapting to whatever the situation entails and exerts that same relaxed feeling within his daily persona. He has battled against unpredictable oil patterns that could change ever-so-slightly after every bowler. 

Producing a strike does not stem from random variables and unpredictable conditions from lane to lane, alley to alley. Understanding the approach, oil pattern, and what specific type of ball to use is all part of the preparation. Everything within Reyes’ arsenal serves a unique responsibility.

“Hell yeah it matters. If I threw one of those hollow ass plastic balls with my form, it would go right in the gutter,” Reyes said. “It’s all about adjusting and adapting.” 

Not having the proper equipment could make or break an important frame, which may opt out of a chance to win hundreds or thousands of dollars. Every throw must be calculated.

I have worked at the front desk of the Bowlero in West Covina since August 2021 and have seen every different type of person bowl casually and competitively. Every approach, preferred weight and throwing style is unique to each individual’s taste. 

All of the highest-earning bowlers of all time had to have started somewhere. A victory in a Professional Bowlers Association tournament could win first place a whopping $20,000, all seemingly just for rolling a ball. Any casual bowler physically able to hold, throw or push a bowling ball, can get started and join a league.

“Untitled” by Hadi Yassine.

All leagues are bowled in a three-game format and provide members with two free games each week. Lanes are guaranteed by the center to be oiled, cleaned and maintained before each competition to increase consistency and bowler satisfaction.

Additionally, league bowlers are entitled to two free games to practice their skills, 20% discount off food and nonalcoholic beverages and a special menu only league bowlers can order from using their individual phone number at any Bowlero within the U.S. Leagues have meetings before the first game of the season to discuss rules with the league president, secretary and team captains. Anyone interested is able to compete in any bowling league after signing up and agreeing to pay their league fees weekly. 

The first step is deciding on creating a team or joining one.

The next step is choosing the type of league.

Social, practice, junior and senior leagues operate by seasons and off seasons which range anywhere from five to 18 weeks until completion. Social leagues like KR in the Bag or 5 for $75 offer short seasons and an affordable league fee ranging from $15 to $20 each week. 

Upon completion of the league, competitors are gifted with free bowling shoes, a bowling ball and bag; all available to custom sizing in order to create a more personalized fit.

Practice leagues such as Can’t Believe Its Not Gutter grant six extra free games each week, totalling to right free games at a league members disposal. Minors are not allowed to bet on themselves for money, but instead play toward scholarships and grants within the junior leagues. Seniors typically bowl early mornings, accompanied with discounted coffee, complimentary water and old-time hits like Jerry Lee Lewis’s song “Great Balls of Fire!”

Competitive leagues dense with money and competition like “Patterson 5” compete year-round and only get two weeks off. Lanes are closed off from the public when this high caliber league hits the lanes, but any person is welcome to spectate while league play is taking place. Sheets are placed at the front desk to direct foot traffic to the correct lanes. League sheets provide the standings after last week’s series, specific bowler stats and matchups for the current week.

With tons of, or little, practice, league bowlers have the same opportunities as professionals to win large cash prizes from various scratch or handicap sidepots at a local bowling center. Some leagues have handicaps added to your total score of each game of the season. Handicaps are used to keep everything fair within the league and give each team a feasible chance of not getting steamrolled by any overpowering matchup that week.

Not every league or tournament employs a handicap system. The first three games of your league career are counted to receive an average. That average is subtracted from 200, which is the minimum average needed to bowl professionally in the PBA. The total of that number, equals the bowler’s handicap. 

For example, bowling a 140 average results in a 60-pin handicap. Handicap sidepots allow for bowlers with a low average score or sandbaggers purposefully throwing for lower scores to win some money too. 

Sandbagging in competitive leagues purposefully lowers the average in an attempt to receive a greater handicap and is considered cheating in sanctioned leagues. Leagues or tournaments sanctioned with the United States Bowling Congress send the book scores of that week to be recorded for each individual bowler to view their stats online.

Vegas Rollers Fall 2022 handed out before their opening night the rules of the season.

“Misrepresenting an average to gain a greater handicap, or qualify for a lower classification in an event or establishing an average below the players ability to gain unfair advantage can result in loss of games, prize winnings, league removal and you may be subject to suspension from league,” rules state.

League officers such as the president, secretary and or team captains can discuss if they feel a bowler is not playing to their true potential in order to gain unfair advantages, and have the right to take action.

For advanced and experienced bowlers that bowl better than 200 on average like Reyes, the luxury of a handicap is nonexistent, and contestants score pins only from what they hit, which is called a scratch score.

“If I bowl a 96, that’s it. no bonus no nothing, I only have 96 pins. And that sucks. If Mr. Random over here bowled his balls off, got a 230 or 240 on top of his added 50 pins handicap, I would lose that game,” Reyes said.

The best scores come from getting consecutive strikes across 10 frames and picking up spares if ever falling short. Three hundred is the highest score possible in a single 10-frame bowling game, where every frame was a strike.

“Untitled” by Christian Kent.

Bowling is a recreational slice of entertainment that is easy to play but complex to master. Casual bowlers feel the special aura that a league bowler radiates and that aura can sometimes be intimidating.

Iliana Gravina, operations manager at West Covina Bowlero facilitates reserved events, staffing, maintains the location with other managers and is available to guests throughout her shift to accept any comments, questions or concerns. She first bowled in a league located in Beverly Hills when she was 18.

“When I got into my league for the first time, it was … it was scary at first,” Gravina said. “The bowlers are just really hardcore. … they would be like, ‘well you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ There are all these different rules and I’m like ‘I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m good enough.’” 

“It’s like tough love,” she continued. “You end up learning the culture of it. It’s like that cousin you see every once in a while you fight with for a second and then you’re like ‘Hey, let me buy you a shot!’”

“Bowling to the Bank” by Tracy Gallegos.

Every alley or center across the U.S. have bowlers that radiate a bowler’s personality. It’s a subculture that has its own customs, taboos, positive and negative qualities. League bowling is perhaps not as easy as it seems compared to a Saturday night with a group of friends and family. There is still money to earn even with little bowling experience. All it takes is that first step to create experiences, find new friends and generate a little extra money in your pockets.