May 31, 2007

They’re Casino Bound: 2 Out-of-Town Resorts Provide Free Bus Rides to Folks on the Northwest Side

By Brian J. Pedersen, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

May 31--Having lived in Tucson for 23 years, Northwest Side retirees Bob and Mary McAndrew are constantly searching for different ways to spend their days other than getting roasted by the desert heat.

One of their options: Take a trip on a free shuttle and do a little gambling.

"It's a way to break up the monotony," Bob McAndrew said of his and his wife's regular trips to Harrah's Phoenix Ak-Chin Casino Resort aboard the casino's free daily shuttles from Tucson. "This kills a whole day for us."

Harrah's is one of two out-of-town casinos -- the other is Apache Gold Casino Resort, near San Carlos -- that offer free rides to their establishments for Tucsonans.

Both casinos are more than an hour away from the Northwest Side.

"We used to drive there, but we stopped doing that two years ago," said Germaine Mackin, 82, an East Side resident who was on her way to Harrah's last Thursday with her husband, Frank, 85. "We try to go at least once a month."

The McAndrews, who say they make the trip to Harrah's about four times a year, hopped aboard the shuttle at the Foothills Mall, 7475 N. La Cholla Blvd., one of eight scheduled pickup and dropoff points throughout the Tucson area. Seven of those locations are on the Northwest Side.

"We only live a mile away from here -- it's so darn convenient," said Bob McAndrew, 80.

The Foothills Mall was the third of four stops for the charter bus driven by Richard Gallego. The route also includes stops on East 22nd Street near North Alvernon Way, on North Oracle Road near West Wetmore Road and on West Cortaro Road near Interstate 10.

"People seem to really like this," Gallego said of the shuttle, operated by Mountain View Tours and adorned with gold coins and huge Harrah's logos. "It's pretty much a relaxed atmosphere."

Gallego's bus last Thursday was close to its 49-passenger capacity. Most of the riders were in their 60s or older, though 42-year-old student Lisa Ainsworth was also giving the shuttle a try.

"I like the prospect of getting out of town and doing something different," said Ainsworth, taking a break from reading a novel she brought along for the ride.

Most of the riders passed the travel time reading the morning newspaper or engaging in casual conversation with fellow casino-goers. Tales of where they grew up and old war stories could be heard throughout the bus.

In addition to providing free transportation, the shuttles from Harrah's and Apache Gold are part of an incentive package that includes free stuff for riders when they reach their destination, which those riders say just adds to the allure.

"We normally do Apache Gold, but we wanted to try this for a change of atmosphere," said Joseph Kinni, 88, who was headed to Harrah's with his wife, Ada, and Joseph's sister, Rose Wojcik.

"It's a day away from the normal routine of being bossed around by my wife. I'll spend my $10 and check it out."

If you go

A pair of casinos to the north of Tucson offer free shuttles for people who want to spend the day there without worrying about making a long drive.

Apache Golf Casino Resort

Located on the San Carlos Indian Reservation on the north side of U.S. 70, five miles east of Arizona 77

--Shuttles available: Monday through Thursday.

--Pickup/dropoff schedule: The Fun Bus makes four stops in the Tucson area, including two on the Northwest Side at 8:45 a.m. at Sam's Club, 4701 N. Stone Ave., and at 9:05 a.m. at Ike's Farmers' Market, 13005 N. Oracle Road in Oro Valley. The shuttle arrives at Apache Gold between 10:45 and 11 a.m. and leaves no later than 4 p.m.

--Incentives: Fun Bus riders receive a $10 "cashback coupon" as well as a Fun Book, which includes coupons good for free bingo and keno and discounted meals and gift-shop items.

--Reservations: Spots on the Fun Bus must be booked at least 24 hours in advance by calling 1-800-272-2438.

Harrah's Phoenix Ak-Chin Casino Resort

Located on the Ak-Chin Indian Lands on the west side of Arizona 347 in Maricopa.

--Shuttles available: Monday through Friday.

--Pickup/dropoff schedule: Ak-Chin has two shuttles that serve the Tucson area.

One shuttle includes pickups at 8:30 a.m. at Furr's, 4329 N. Oracle Road, at 8:45 a.m. at the Foothills Mall, 7475 N. La Cholla Blvd., and at 9 a.m. at McDonald's, 8349 N. Cortaro Road in Marana. Arrival time at Ak-Chin is 10:45 a.m., and the shuttle departs at 4 p.m.

A second shuttle picks up at 7:45 a.m. at Bashas', 15310 N. Oracle Road in Catalina, 8 a.m. at Ike's Farmers' Market, 13005 N. Oracle Road in Oro Valley, 8:10 a.m. in Sun City Vistoso (for Sun City Vistoso residents only) and at 8:30 a.m. at another Bashas' at 12100 N. Dove Mountain Blvd.. The shuttle arrives at Ak-Chin at 10 a.m. and departs at 3:15 p.m.

--Incentives: Total Rewards program members receive $10 upon arrival at Ak-Chin. Nonmembers can sign up for the free program at the casino and then receive their $10.

--Reservations: Either shuttle can be reserved as late as the day before departure by calling 743-4386.

--Contact reporter Brian J. Pedersen at [email protected] or call 434-4079.


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