A bus ride to riches?
Laura Marble/The Explorer Casino del Sol runs a bus in the Northwest seven days a week that takes people to the casino in the morning and drops them off in the afternoon.

It’s a weekly routine: Every Friday morning, Ching Woggon boards a bus bound for Casino Del Sol with $100 in her purse and high hopes that her money will multiply.

Lest her mind cut ahead to celebratory “ka-ching” noises and blinking lights, she always starts by paying the driver his dues.

“I always give George a tip first, in case I lose it all,” she said.

In December, Casino Del Sol started offering bus service to people in the Northwest. These days, about 1,000 Northwest residents a month choose to get to the gaming center by bus.

Bus service started with a request, said Wendell Long, the casino’s chief executive officer. Customers pointed out that they could catch a bus to Apache Gold Casino in Phoenix, but couldn’t as comfortably reach this casino.

Gaming is big business in Arizona, with 2007 tribal contributions to state and local governments alone amounting to about $103.6 million.

According to Long, national averages suggest that each patron spends about $40 and $50 on gambling per outing, and the Northwest offers a good number of potential clients with its large percentage of retirees.

“In the present market, one of our best markets is seniors,” Long said. “They have more disposable income, more time, and they enjoy the chance to socialize.”

The decision-makers at Casino Del Sol decided it was wise to provide a bus — not just for the busiest months, but year-round — especially because rising gas prices and construction on Interstate 10 might cause people to think twice about making the drive.

“You’re fairly unique in having a diversity of people and distance,” Long said of the Northwest. “For other people, it’s so easy to get there.”

The bus makes seven pickup and drop-off stops, seven days a week. It leaves the Northwest at about 8:30 a.m. and returns at about 3 p.m. Seats are $5, and passengers receive $10 in free slot play.

Most passengers live in SaddleBrooke, Rancho Vistoso and Dove Mountain, according to bus driver George Bright.

Although a hurting economy has strained many industries, Long said Casino Del Sol is prospering. As prices of restaurants, movies and other forms of entertainment rise, he said, people are drawn to the more predictable cost of spending a day at the casino — predictable, that is, unless you get carried away with the gaming.

“You can still come to the casino with $50, have a great time and maybe win something,” he said.

And for Woggon, that’s the plan.

“Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but mostly I lose it all,” she said, laughing.

And that’s not stopping her.

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