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Las Vegas' Stardust casino imploded

The gutted Stardust hotel-casino is shown in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan 31, 2007. The implosion of the 48-year-old casino is scheduled to take place Tuesday March 13. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LAS VEGAS --From Stardust to just dust. The Las Vegas Strip's first mass-market casino-hotel was imploded early Tuesday in a hail of fireworks to make way for Boyd Gaming Corp.'s $4.4 billion megaresort Echelon.

Hundreds of people partied beneath tents and on makeshift patios before Boyd chairman Bill Boyd's four grandsons pushed a plunger to detonate the former Stardust casino. The blast generated a massive dust cloud that chased the revelers into cars, buses and nearby casinos.

"It hurts. We cried," said Sheila Navarro, 51, a school supplies buyer from Oxnard, Calif., who took shelter in the nearby Frontier casino-hotel. She came with three sisters, her mother, an aunt and a brother-in-law to say farewell to the casino she's gambled at for more than 30 years.

"It's very hard for me to find another casino to go to," she said. "Maybe in two years, three years, I'll have different feelings, but right now, my heart is broken."

The casino opened July 2, 1958, billing itself as the world's largest resort hotel with 1,032 rooms. It was credited with being Las Vegas' first mass-market casino, thanks to cheap rates and loss-leading food and drinks.

Bob Boughner, Echelon Resorts' chief executive, said while the Stardust was a favorite of the nostalgia crowd, it was missing out on younger patrons and those who come to Las Vegas for conventions.

For many, the Stardust represented the most accessible place to stay in a city that gives VIP treatment to the biggest gamblers. But the concept of discounting rates to keep people coming is rapidly fading from the Las Vegas Strip as many casinos nowadays make more revenue from hotel rooms, clubs, shows and cuisine than from gambling.

"There was this implicit idea that invisible high rollers came in and funded everything, so that Mr. and Mrs. America could have a steak for $2 and see Frank Sinatra for the price of a drink," said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

"Now you can build a 7,000-room hotel and charge $300 a night for rooms," he said. "With slots being so big, it is all the people losing $200 per trip that are driving the growth."

The implosion turned a 32-story tower, gutted to its barest concrete and steel over the past three months, into the tallest building ever felled on the Strip.

LVI Services Inc. used 428 pounds of explosives to destroy the casino's two towers. Twenty water cannons sprayed the dust cloud, which blanketed the area in gray ash, and the main drag of the 24-hour gambling mecca was temporarily shut down.

The clean up of the site was expected to take up to two months.

The Stardust became as famous for its stellar, 188-foot sign and marquee as its mob connections. The Strip institution was the inspiration for the 1995 movie "Casino," in which Robert De Niro played a character inspired by Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who ran the casino-hotel in the mid-1970s.

But as regulators cracked down on skimming in later years, Boyd was brought in as an operator in 1983 and bought the Stardust in 1985 when the owners lost their gambling license.

In the next two decades, the property's luster began to fade. "Lido de Paris," the showgirl extravaganza that starred illusionists Siegfried and Roy for more than a decade, wrapped up in 1991 after a 32-year run.

Crooner Wayne Newton brought nostalgia back to the aging clientele in 2000 but called it a wrap in April 2005.

And in each of last year's three quarters before its official closure Nov. 1, the Stardust made less money than the previous year.

The Echelon is to open in late 2010 with more than 5,000 hotel rooms, a production theater, concert venue, shopping mall and more than 1 million square feet of meeting space.

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On the Net:

Boyd Gaming Corp.: http://www.boydgaming.com

Stardust: http://www.stardustlv.com

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