Cribbage, shuffleboard a big deal for the Sands |

Cribbage, shuffleboard a big deal for the Sands

John Seelmeyer

No one minds when bowling tournaments brings thousands of participants to downtown Reno, but Tim Morton is just as happy — happier, maybe — when the North American Shuffleboard Championships bring 300 folks to town.

Morton, director of marketing at the Sands Regency, works hard to attract and retain niche events with die-hard followings. Bigger and shinier hotels may give short shrift to the niche markets, but they’re a cornerstone element of The Sands’ marketing strategy.

Take cribbage, for instance.

As many as 800 folks bring their cribbage boards and their ability to count to 31 for a big tournament at downtown Reno hotel each winter.

Smaller cribbage tournaments, typically scheduled around Veteran’s Day and Independence Day, draw several hundred players to the property.

A chess tournament at The Sands scheduled close to Easter each year brings a couple of hundred players to town — and helps fill rooms in an otherwise slow period.

And then there’s John McDermott and his North American Shuffleboard Championships.

Playing that game that’s over on the other side of the bar — the one with shakers of powdered wax and those metal pucks — somewhere around 250 to 300 shuffleboard players from around the nation to come to The Sands each autumn.

The Sands takes the tournament so seriously, in fact that it carefully takes care of two dozen shuffleboards in a humidity-controlled storeroom between gatherings of the shuffleboard faithful.

McDermott, who makes a living selling shuffleboards and related supplies (a set of eight regulation-sized pucks for $165, for instance), has been bringing the tournament to The Sands for nearly a quarter of a century.

“The people at the Sands, much like the shuffleboard community, are very much a family,” he says. “They make us feel so welcome, and many have come to know our participants by name.”

McDermott, a high-energy evangelist for the sport who’s convinced it’s going to go viral just any day now, notes that shuffleboard players are good customers, boosting food and beverage sales anywhere they go.

That’s just what Morton and the management of The Sands hope to find as they scout other niche special-events markets.

“We’re always looking for more, but we have to find the ones that work for us,” Morton says.

Euchre, a slightly obscure card game, didn’t do well in a tournament format. Neither did mah jong.

Morton speculates that players of euchre and mah jong probably find each other online these days and don’t need a tournament as a gathering place.

Other great ideas have proven more challenging in reality. Pool tournaments, for instance, require moving a bunch of pool tables in and out of The Sands’ convention center.

A darts tournament at The Sands just didn’t quite work.

But when a niche idea clicks — chess or cribbage or shuffleboard — Morton says the events fall squarely into The Sands’ sweet spot. They help fill the 800-room hotel, they take advantage of the property’s small-ish convention facility and they keep folks in the casino.

“We want to treat them like they’re kings,” he says.


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