Top Menu

Orleans Arena / Las Vegas

First of all, you need to understand something about Orleans Arena — this is not the Bellagio or any of its newest cousins. Like the casino it is connected to, Orleans Arena is a simple, efficient place that can handle just about every person’s need. It is an arena’s version of Mom’s homemade soup, comforting and safe. If you go there looking for some Vegas glitz, you’ll probably be disappointed. Once you realize the place was built to multi-function, you’ll be fine with it.
Year Opened: 2003
Capacity: 7,773 (hockey), 9,008 (indoor football)
Architect: Klai Juba Architects
Web Site:
Phone: 702/284-7777
Anchor Tenants: Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL) / Las Vegas Gladiators (AFL)
Ticket Pricing: $11.90-36.75 (hockey); $15-80 (arena football)
Parking: Abundant free parking.
Address/Directions: 4500 W. Tropicana Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89103. From the airport, take Swenson Street north to Tropicana Avenue. Turn left and head west, crossing Paradise Road, Las Vegas Boulevard South (the Strip), the Interstate 15 overpass, continuing west approximately 2 miles until you reach The Orleans on the northwest corner of West Tropicana Avenue and Arville Road. From the Strip, go north on Las Vegas Blvd. Turn left at Tropicana Ave. Arena is on the right.

First of all, you need to understand something about Orleans Arena — this is not the Bellagio or any of its newest cousins. Like the casino it is connected to, Orleans Arena is a simple, efficient place that can handle just about every person’s need. It is an arena’s version of Mom’s homemade soup, comforting and safe. If you go there looking for some Vegas glitz, you’ll probably be disappointed. Once you realize the place was built to multi-function, you’ll be fine with it.

This is, in essence, a college hockey rink. There are only three sides of seating, with the Zamboni coming out of the far end of the building. As a result, you get a homey feeling and think the rink is smaller than it really — even though this is a very big building.

For a city in the desert, Las Vegas has a lot of arenas that can make ice. But, as noted above in the directions, the Wranglers chose this place that is connected to a casino that is quite a bit off the Strip. (Prior to moving to the Orleans, the team played at Thomas & Mack Arena.) There are pluses and minuses to this move. The plus is there is a lot of room to move around, plenty of free parking and it is easy to get in and out of the lot after a game. The minus is that, for a city that thrives on visitors wandering aimlessly, you are not likely to stumble onto an event here by accident. It is a quite a bit off the beaten path. The Wranglers also haven’t quite made it on a lot of hotels’ radar. (My hotel concierge told me, "We don’t do tickets with them in advance. Just go out the day of the game. You shouldn’t have any problem." She was right.)

The Wranglers, whose NHL affiliation is with Calgary, play in the National Conference (Pacific Division) of the East Coast Hockey League (you read that right). This is the league made famous in the movie "Slapshot" 30 years ago. Based on what I saw the night I was there, the on-ice game has matured a bit but the off-ice demeanor of the crowd has stayed the same.

With 25 teams playing, the ECHL is the largest minor league in all of professional sports. Fortunately for the Wranglers, they play in the National Conference, which has just 10 teams in it (five per division). As a result, they do get to work up a few rivalries. This has helped attendance a bit. At this writing, the Wranglers rank ninth in the league with an average of slightly less than 5,000 fans per game.

Although I have covered and worked in hockey for 35 years, I have seen very few minor-league games. As a result, I needed to do some quick adjustments. Unlike professional baseball, hockey doesn’t filter its future to all its minor league affiliates. The main prospects get sent to the American Hockey League. Second tier prospects … as well as some guys who are added to fill places on the roster … go to the ECHL. The league seems to constantly loan players to AHL teams … and not just its NHL affiliate. The result is hockey’s version of independent baseball — the game combines wannabe big leaguers with guys who were once prospects and are playing out the string as well as a few guys needed to play a shift or two. It’s entertaining but sporadic.

But I digress. Getting inside Orleans Arena takes a bit of work. If you are coming from the casino, you must walk through a long hallway with a moving sidewalk that will make you feel you have just arrived at McCarran Airport. Once you get there from the casino (or if you are coming from the parking lot), there is a long staircase that will give you your daily isometric workout. (For those of you less inclined to exercise, there is an escalator, too.) Having never gambled at the Orleans before, I arrived about 4:30 p.m. for the 7:05 p.m. game and thought I might get my ticket early. It was a sound idea but it took 10 minutes to find someone to sell me the ticket. Once the right person was found who knew how to handle the computer, he seemed baffled that I wanted just one ducat on the aisle, if possible. "We don’t get a lot of call for that," he said. He sold me a seat at the end of the row but apparently didn’t realize there was no aisle at that end. It was no big deal but it serves as a reminder that a stranger to a facility needs to ask a lot of questions.

All seats in the arena are comfortable but, if you want to get up close and personal, the trick is to attend a midweek game. I was there on a Tuesday night for a game against Toledo and snapped up a seat two rows from the ice. Try that at a NHL game and you better have some serious plastic ready. I plopped down $27.50 and had as good of a view of a game as I could have hoped for. Get one row closer andthe price goes up nine bucks.

Since this was a midweek game, I could have followed the lead of the guy sitting directly behind me, who brought two young kids with him and paid less than en toto than I did for my one ticket. This fellow took advantage of youth rates, bought the cheapest ticket in the place and simply walked down. The ushers, who seem to range in age from 50 to 70, simply smiled and waved him on. "They wouldn’t do that if this was a weekend game," the fellow explained. "Of course, I wouldn’t bring the kids on a weekend — the crowd gets a bit wild at times." (In Vegas? Say it ain’t so.) The announced house was 3,507 the night I was there, about half the arena’s capacity. This number goes up considerably on weekends.

As you might expect for an arena that is only four years old, the seats are very comfortable with solid backs, arm rests and excellent leg room. Want to sit at the top? No problem. You can see everything. All the main seating is on one level (For those of you who hit a royal flush on a video poker machine or have a bigger expense account than we do at August Publications, there is a suite level. It looked nice.) As is the case at Thomas & Mack, you don’t see too many vendors wandering the stands. That’s because there are plenty of concessions stands behind the seats are ample. The walkway around the arena is very wide.

Concession prices are fairly standard with a good variety of food and drink. (Beer is fairly reasonable but some of the mixed drink prices are a bit hard to stomach. However, this is a trend in nearly every building that has the license.) The souvenir stand, however, seemed a bit pricey. The team yearbook didn’t look like a very good deal at $7. Lots of pictures, little information.

As noted, this arena is a triangle of sorts with everything pointing towards the end where they are no seats. Although there are boards on the side that listed the score and the penalties, most people seemed intent on the big one at the end. One reason: Wrangler home games are available on pay per view so there is a built-in highlight system on the video board. This is helpful because the crowd was not always watching the action intently. Indeed, much of the night on our end of the ice was spent in taunting Toledo goalie Dominic Vicari, who must have thought he was back at Michigan State and playing a game at Michigan. The Vicari (rhymes with pucks) cheer rang loud and clear after each Wrangler goal. At the same time, when the p.a. announcer intoned the Wranglers were at full strength after killing off a penalty, the regulars yelled, "Always were." You can’t beat fun at the old arena, can you?

To lend an air of big league formality (or perhaps to help those who stopped at the casino and laid down a wager), NHL scores appeared on the scoreboard between periods. There are the usual between period amenities such as chuck-a-puck and a zeppelin that dropped T-shirts into the crowd. A furry mascot appears on the ice and in the stands, alternately scaring and thrilling kids.

The Wranglers don’t do promotions at every home game but they have an interesting variety. One March game has them wearing Hawaiian jerseys. This kind of promo is done in baseball all the time. In hockey, it is a bit rarer.

The Orleans has gradually become the main arena in town for ice shows and the like. A NHL celebrity game is scheduled there for late March. There is an Ice Racing event set there as well. The place is also scheduled to host such diverse events as MotoCross, a dancing competition and animal shows.

But the Orleans’ latest, greatest feat was getting the Arena Football League Gladiators to move there after playing four seasons at Thomas & Mack Arena. Considering that venue had been the site of the previous two Arena Bowl title games and the team is listed as averaging 9,893 fans per game there (more than the Orleans’ capacity), this was a neat trick.

There is a method to what appears to be madness. The team has a practice facility and weight room onsite. The players can stay at the nearby hotel. Most of the home games will be on Sunday afternoons, a time when folks are a little more likely to get in a car and motor over to the arena. (If you have driven on the Strip at night, you know what I mean. There is a reason why car racing is so popular in Las Vegas. It is practiced on the strip and highways daily.) Ticket prices stayed basically the same as they did at Thomas & Mack.

It is hard to believe but the AFL is in its 21st season. The Gladiators, who came to town after a pair of seasons in New Jersey, have not been a traditional league power. They made the playoffs their first season as a wild card but missed badly the next three years. They are going to find their new home is a little cozier than Thomas & Mack. (Indeed, cozier than any other AFL team; the league waived its rule about teams playing in a facility with a 12,000-seat minumum.) The hope is that will inspire the natives a bit. The fact that the arena may look fuller for television? Coincidence.

All in all, the Orleans is a nice place to visit for a game. It is definitely off the beaten path but, after you walk around the place, you understand why. Las Vegas is reportedly America’s fastest growing city. There isn’t much room left on the strip. (The 51s play at Cashman Field, which is also off the beaten path a bit on the other side of town.) As a result, the future of pro sports in this city seems to be in facilities like Orleans Arena — simple, effective but roomy. Want glitz? Go to Steve Wynn’s new casino. Want to see a sporting event and feel like you are still in your living room at home? Get in the car. As with a lot of things in Vegas, it is all about choices. –Dave Wright