Thomas & Mack Center – UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Photos by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Thomas & Mack Center 4505 S. Maryland Parkway Paradise, NV 89154
Year Opened: 1983
A Trip to Thomas & Mack
Founded in 1958 and playing in the Mountain West Conference, the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels basketball squad was a powerhouse back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, winning the ultimate NCAA championship in 1990. Their last tournament appearance was in 2013. The club plays their home games in the iconic Thomas & Mack Center, just a few blocks from the Las Vegas strip.
Grand broad staircases (and escalators) take fans up to the main entry. The building’s facade has video boards on each side of the entryway. The plaza outside is wide open and ready for pregame festivities. The venue is adjacent to McCarran International Airport (now known as Harry Reid International Airport); fans see plenty of planes taking off and landing as they park their car and head into the venue.
Thomas & Mack Center also hosts men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, Harlem Globetrotters, concerts, and other entertainment. The building is impressive, and the game day enjoyable.
Food & Beverage 4
Thomas & Mack provides a good choice of stadium fare for sports fans.
Even before entering the arena, a Sin City Wings food truck is in the plaza and is quite popular. The plaza has tables to eat with heaters (if needed) and a DJ provides music pregame.
Inside, hot dogs (Rebel dogs – Nathan’s brand), pretzels, nachos, popcorn, and candy cost $5 - $7. Check for specials. The evening we visited the Rebel dog was half-priced. The South of the Border stand sells tacos, taco salad, and nachos grande ($9 - $11). The Mack Attack concessions sells a variety of hot dogs, chili dogs, and soup ($6 - $14). And another stand specializes in chicken fingers, burgers, fries, bratwurst, and fries ($6 - $11). Pizza & Brew offers three types of pizza ($10 - $11) and premium and light beers ($11 - $12).
Several bars are on the concourse offering craft beer for $13. Beer choices include Fosters, Blue Moon, Hop Valley, Sapporo, Miller Light, and more. Hop Valley Brewing has a portable station on the concourse selling draft brews, and it is one of the few cash-only stands in the venue.
Thomas & Mack is a Pepsi facility with bottled sodas, Gatorade, and water priced at $5.
A few chairs and tables are near the bar areas to sit and enjoy food purchased, but they fill up fast.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels provide an enjoyable game day experience at Thomas & Mack Center.
The arena has two levels of seating. Handrails are available for climbing up or down the staircases. All fixtures are a bold red color: the seats, the piping, the handrails, and the banners. The seats are a tad narrow, and there’s not a lot of legroom.
The court has an impressive Las Vegas city line silhouette design on the floor. A slew of championship and retired number banners hang from rafters along the sidelines, with the 1990 National Championship banner anchored in the middle. The temperature in the arena is comfortably warm. No need to bundle up.
A crisp, clear center-hung, double-decker scoreboard provides video of the game, the score, quarter, time left, and player game day stats.
The team provides an impressive introduction using smoke and fire, with the band playing and cheerleaders cheering as the Rebels run onto the court. During halftime, fans get to participate in a basket-shooting contest. Other entertainment includes the dance cam during time outs. The fans love it. One sponsor even has a contest to win a free semester of tuition. Nice prize.
The concourse has one souvenir area that sells mostly UNLV Rebels shirts; they carry very few trinkets.
The arena is only two or so miles from the Las Vegas strip, even less from some resorts like the MGM Grand. Chain restaurants Buca di Beppo (Italian), Gordon Biersch Brewery, Fogo de Chao Brazilian (Brazilian), and Bahama Breeze (Caribbean) are a mile from the venue. Fast food choices like In-N-Out, McDonald’s, Popeye’s, and more are a few blocks away.
The closest brand-name hotels include Virgin Hotel (Hilton), Embassy Suites, and Best Western McCarran Inn. Bear in mind that hotel prices may seem affordable at first, but when you tack on taxes and resort fees, they can double in price. And there’s usually a charge for parking a car.
Las Vegas offers nearly unlimited entertainment options from dining, shows, people-watching, shopping, museums, and gambling. If you’re not a gambler, other things to see and do include a Pinball Hall of Fame, a Titanic Museum, and golfing. Other sports to visit in the fall and winter are UNLV’s women’s basketball or football, the NHL Vegas Golden Knights (at T-Mobile Arena), NFL Las Vegas Raiders (at Allegiant Stadium), or the NLL Las Vegas Desert Dogs (at Michelob ULTRA Arena).
A good crowd is on hand supporting their team. It’s a mixed crowd of families with kids, retired folks, alumni, and students. The student section cheers the entire game, and the school’s band energizes the crowd with its tunes and songs. Fans stay till the end of the game.
Attendance isn’t as high as it was in the team’s glory days or before COVID. The games still draw 6,000 – 7,000 fans.
Vehicle traffic in Las Vegas is gruesome. That said, getting into the parking lot of Thomas & Mack is painless. Parking attendants direct traffic out after the game, aiding the traffic flow.
The arena is only a mile from the airport. Buses can take you to the arena from the airport or the strip with at least a ½ mile walk. Uber and Lyft are readily available in Las Vegas.
Thomas & Mack Center’s outside entrance area has plenty of places to sit and wait for late-arriving friends. The box office is outside to the right of the grand entrance with plenty of windows open pregame.
Getting through security is a breeze. Clear stadium bags 12” x 6” x 12” are allowed. The concourse is plenty wide, minimizing congested foot traffic at halftime.
The bathrooms are icky but serviceable (at least in the ladies’ room).
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices run $16 - $137 with an additional $5 charge if purchased on game day. The price includes the parking fee. You may be better off trying to find a ticket on third-party sites. Students get in free.
Food and drink prices are less than the major professional teams in Las Vegas, and if you’re lucky. you may get 50% off on a Rebel dog.
It’s a pleasurable time and is priced as expected. Remember to check third-party sites for ticket deals.
Customer service is exceptional; from the security to the ticket booth to parking lot attendees and concessions, all staff is polite, friendly, and helpful. I’m quite impressed.
The banners hanging from the rafters deserve another mention, as does the student band.
The concourse holds numerous historical displays on its interior wall. These include presentations of bankers Parry Thomas and Jerry Mack and their story of how they made the arena a reality. Other exhibits are for Coach Tarkanian, who led the 1990 team to the championship, and for the 1977 Final Four team. It’s well worth strolling the halls and viewing these exhibits.
At one point in time, UNLV was the only sport in Las Vegas. That, of course, has changed in the last decade or two. Thomas & Mack Center has served the basketball team admirably since it opened in 1983. If you’re headed to Sin City in the fall or winter, be sure to check out a Runnin’ Rebels game.