ATLANTIC CITY - Twenty-seven years of gambling history disappeared in eight seconds last night, as explosives loud as thunder brought down the fabled Sands Casino Hotel.

The casino folded like, well, a deck of cards, sending up a giant plume of dust and smoke that blew away from VIP guests who sat ready in masks, goggles and plastic coats.

"It's not an ending," Gov. Corzine said, as he prepared to push a plunger that would trigger the string of 17 blasts. "It's an explosion of opportunity."

The demolition went off perfectly, the crowd oohing and ahhing to a fireworks show and the recorded strains of Jersey boys Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and the chairman of the board, Frank Sinatra, who performed at the Sands.

When Sinatra sang, "Bye, Bye Baby," the crowd let loose a cheer.

"I can't believe it's going," said Mary Lee Dessidero, 63, of Egg Harbor Township, as she awaited the demolition. She had regularly played at the Sands after it opened in 1980 and came out yesterday afternoon to stake out a good spot on the Boardwalk. "But I can't wait to see what goes up in its place."

Tens of thousands crowded into this resort for the evening spectacle. Beneath the glare of Hollywood-style lights, just as dynamite experts had hoped, the 21 steel-and-concrete floors tumbled down. They left a three-story-high pile of debris.

Within five years, the Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment plans to build a $1.5 billion casino and resort on the site.

Daniel Lee, the chief executive officer of Pinnacle Entertainment, said last night that the new casino would help lead the way forward for an industry and a city that faces fresh East Coast competition for gambling revenue.

The implosion of the Sands - home to the smallest gaming floor in town, a place where Sinatra and the Rat Pack used to hang out - ignited a citywide party. Crowds packed as tight as show-girl leotards on beaches, the Boardwalk, and streets surrounding the Sands.

Officials tried to control the crowds by closing streets and limiting access to the perimeter of the old casino. But their efforts created gridlock on the long, narrow barrier island.

Some officials had worried that the much-anticipated event would not go off as planned, after a local hotel owner filed suit to block the implosion.

But Superior Court Judge William Nugent denied the request for the injunction, brought by Park Lane Apartment Hotel owner Vincent Barth, saying his concerns about toxic dust that might be created by the implosion were unfounded and that Pinnacle Entertainment had obtained all the necessary permits.

Go to www.philly.com

for video of the Sands implosion.EndText