TRENTON - These chips have been gambled for the last time. And it's a safe bet they'll never be redeemed.
Yesterday, 457,000 chips valued at $61.2 million were pulled out of a storage vault at a closed Atlantic City casino and pulverized into tiny pellets only slightly larger than dust.
The reason: Even though Sands Casino closed in November, its chips retained their value and could have been redeemed.
"Gaming chips in New Jersey have a lifetime value," said Carmen Gonz Dalez, a spokesman for new owner Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., which plans to level the Sands and build a bigger casino. "It's just prudent not to have them lying around."
Last week, Pinnacle began liquidating the Sands, selling off every fixture and stick of furniture ahead of a planned implosion of the building this fall, Gonz Dalez said.
That left dealing with the chips, in denominations from $1 to $5,000 and bearing the Sands name and logo, because Pinnacle would still legally be required to redeem any presented to them.
Pinnacle hired a company, Secure Mobile Destruction, to bring in a 51-foot semitrailer truck with a machine like a giant hammer inside to pound the chips into pellets slightly bigger than dust.
Gonzalez said the 9,700 pounds of chips, once reduced to tiny clay pellets, were to be sent to a landfill.
Members of Pinnacle's security and internal audit departments monitored the three-hour operation yesterday afternoon, along with Daniel Heneghan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
"There's no way they can be put back together and passed off as chips," he said.
Las Vegas-based Pinnacle paid about $270 million for the Sands and an adjacent hotel site, altogether an 18-acre property with a prized location on the famous Boardwalk in the heart of Atlantic City. The new casino, with 2,000 hotel rooms, a large entertainment venue and about 125,000 square feet of gaming space, is set to open in 2011. Pinnacle also operates casinos in Nevada, Louisiana, Indiana and Latin America.