02/22/2002 1:00AM

Many try, but few succeed


When American newspaper publisher Horace Greeley wrote "Go west, young man, go west," he didn't have Las Vegas pro athletes in mind.

Outside of the long-running Las Vegas 51's of the Pacific Coast League, no less than 18 professional sports teams have failed here. Now three more minor league teams, one basketball and two hockey, hope to win the hearts of fickle Las Vegas sports fans.

First up is the Las Vegas Slam of ABA 2000. The only resemblance between this ABA and the old American Basketball Association is the famous red, white, and blue ball.

The Slam is a midseason replacement for the defunct Chicago Skyliners. In a publicity stunt, Chicago made Dennis Rodman its first draft pick. Things went downhill from there and the team folded after a 0-7 start.

Here's part of a Slam press release heralding their arrival: "The team's coach, players, and playing location are not set yet, but will be determined within several days. The Slam hope to be a success in Las Vegas."

Days after the release, former UNLV great Reggie Theus was named coach on a part-time basis. That was a smart move by Theus because four basketball teams - the Dealers, Silvers, Silver Streaks, and Bandits - have already come and gone.

Las Vegas was a strong hockey town when the Thunder played in the International Hockey League. Attendance wasn't the problem. High expenses from rent at Thomas & Mack Center and player salaries doomed the franchise. Two roller-hockey teams, the Flash and Coyotes, have also failed.

In 2003-04, two hockey teams will look to compete here.

The Las Vegas Wranglers of the West Coast Hockey League will play in the soon-to-be-built Las Vegas Events Center. The arena is planned on a three-acre parcel downtown on the corner of Stewart Avenue and Main Street. The estimated cost of the 7,500-seat facility is about $50 million.

Across town, Coast Resorts plans to build a similar-size arena next door to its Orleans hotel and casino on Tropicana Avenue. The Gaughan family, which owns the Coast Resorts, projects a $43 million price tag.

Coast Resorts would own the arena and hockey team. Coast Resorts is in negotiations with the Central Hockey League to start up a franchise. A big convenience will be a 2,600-space parking garage adjacent to the arena. The arena downtown will rely upon existing parking garages.

Both teams will have a better chance to succeed than the Thunder. Expenses will be lower due to the teams' control of their playing arena and manageable salary caps in the WCHL and CHL. Ticket prices figure to be in the $5 to $20 range.

Las Vegans have and will support good sports teams. UNLV basketball and football attendance can usually be measured by the teams' win-loss records. The Outlaws had the second-highest attendance average in the defunct XFL.

Can Las Vegas support two hockey teams? We will soon find out.

By the way, you can win a bar bet if you can name the rest of Las Vegas's failed sports teams: Vipers, volleyball; Posse, Sting, Aces (twice), football; Dustdevils, Quicksilvers (twice), Seagulls, Americans, soccer.

Richard Eng is turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up Show.