October 19, 2007 / 2:43 AM / 12 years ago

Sands blasting makes way for Atlantic City facelift

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Sands casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which hosted celebrities Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr in its heyday, was reduced to thousands of tons of rubble on Thursday evening in the latest effort to remake the seaside gambling town.

The 21-story Sands Casino Hotel is illuminated in fireworks moments before it was demolished in Atlantic City, New Jersey, October 18, 2007. The Sands casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which hosted celebrities Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr in its heyday, was reduced to thousands of tons of rubble on Thursday evening in the latest effort to remake the seaside gambling town.REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

The casino’s owner, Pinnacle Entertainment Inc, blew up the 27-year-old casino to make way for a new multibillion-dollar resort on the city’s famed boardwalk.

The demolition of the 21-story Sands came as Atlantic City — the second-largest gambling market in the United States after Las Vegas — struggles with a partial smoking ban and competition from new gaming facilities in nearby Pennsylvania and New York.

Gaming win — the amount that gamblers lose at the tables — has fallen 4.8 percent at Atlantic City’s 11 casinos through September.

But the current problems at Atlantic City — about 130 miles south of New York City — does not deter Pinnacle, which promises to bring Las Vegas-style gaming to the U.S. East Coast.

“You don’t build a multibillion dollar project, because you expect to make your money back in a year,” Daniel Lee, Pinnacle’s chief executive, told Reuters. “This is something that will take years and years and years.”

“A lot of people fly from New York to Las Vegas. If you could have a Las Vegas experience much closer to home, then it’ll be successful,” he said.

Pinnacle paid about $270 million for the Sands and adjacent real estate last year. The 18-acre plot is about three times the size as the site of the original Sands, which was called the Brighton Hotel and Casino when it opened in August 1980.

The location is at the center of Atlantic City’s boardwalk, which runs alongside the city’s beaches. Pinnacle intends to build a resort that redefines the gambling haven, which is dominated by aging casinos.

“We want to design something that’s really exciting that’s really fanciful,” said Pinnacle’s Lee. “We are going to build the centerpiece of Atlantic City at the center of Atlantic City. It will be something that brings it to a new level.”

Pinnacle, which is known for developing new gaming resorts outside of Las Vegas, including the Belterra in southern Indiana and L’Auberge du Lac in Louisiana, expects the casino to feature 2,000 hotel rooms, 120,000 square feet of gaming space, as well as retail shops and a large entertainment venue.

But it’s not the largest new project in Atlantic City.

MGM’S CASINO

Last week, MGM Mirage said it planned to build a $5 billion casino near Atlantic City’s marina.

The project will be built on a 72-acre site, adjacent to the Borgata, a casino jointly owned by MGM and Boyd Gaming Corp.

Slideshow (4 Images)

The MGM project will feature three hotel towers, with a total of more than 3,000 rooms and suites. The casino floor, which MGM has said will be Atlantic City’s largest, will have space for 5,000 slot machines, 200 table games, and a large poker room.

Pinnacle hopes to open its project in 2011 about a year before the new MGM casino, but Lee says MGM is not a threat.

“We’re happy to see them coming along,” Pinnacle’s CEO said. “I think it’s good for the market. They build quality product.”

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