Friday, June 28, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
There's one sure bet in Las Vegas this weekend: Tears will be flowing at the Sands on Saturday night.
It's the last night in the life of the fabled resort that personified Las Vegas' glitter and glamour from the '50s through the '70s, creating millions of memories for generations of gamblers.
"We have people who were married 30 years ago at the Sands, and they want to come through here one last time," said Don Prunty, vice president of finance for the hotel-casino that closes forever at 6 p.m. Sunday.
In its place, a few years from now, will stand a 6,000-room, $1.5 billion Venetian-themed resort featuring canals and gondolas and a brand new name, all part of Sands owner Sheldon Adelson's bid to stay competitive in the new age of mega-store gaming.
But the promises of tomorrow will give way to remembrances of yesterday for most of those at the Sands this weekend.
"We've had so many requests from so many people," Prunty said. "Many didn't know when the exact closing date was, just that they wanted to be here it whenever it was, to be here for the last night, to walk through here one last time."
Many will be drawn by memories of the Sands' glory days, when Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Ed Sullivan, Nat King Cole and Danny Thomas appeared in the hotel's Copa Room, sparking the first period of truly explosive growth for Las Vegas.
It was partly the chance to rub shoulders with the rich and famous that drew people from middle America and transformed Las Vegas from a dusty desert byway into what today ranks as the world's most popular tourist destination.
The Sands opened on Dec. 15, 1952, with just 200 garden rooms and a small casino. But entertainer Danny Thomas packed the showroom, and the Sands soon became one of the most popular spots on the Strip, attracting national figures such as Harry Truman and John Kennedy.
In 1965, the 500-room tower opened, and during the next three decades the Sands went through a series of owners including Howard Hughes, the Pratt family, Kirk Kerkorian and, since 1989, Adelson.
It was the opening of Steve Wynn's Mirage across the Strip that year that ushered in a new era in gaming and sealed the fate of the Sands, an aging dowager whose drab facade and dingy quarters proved no match for the glittering new resorts nearby.
On Sunday morning the final exodus begins. Fewer than 600 of the Sands' 1,450 employes will work that last shift, still dispensing that personal touch that typified Sands service during the resort's heyday.
State gaming regulators will watch as the last cards are dealt, the last coins deposited in slot machines until the Sands seals up the doors that have not closed in 43 years.
The last workers will file out, some lingering a bit for a last look around. Some will go to another resort to mark the Sands' closing with friends.
"Some of the other hotels have coordinated with us to have parties for our workers, but on property there isn't going to be any celebration," Prunty said.
"It's a sad thing for most of us. It's not really a time to party. A lot of people will be remembering how the place was."
During the next few weeks, a handful of people will be exhuming time capsules buried at the Sands, hoping to recover artifacts such as a pipe from Bing Crosby and other memorabilia, much of it from the days when Sinatra and the Rat Pack were roaming the Strip.
Sometime late in July, Prunty said, "There will be an auction in which we'll be selling gaming equipment, furniture, pretty much everything that won't be used at the Sands Expo and Convention Center," which will remain open during construction of the new resort.
"There's a lot of interesting stuff from the time capsules, and we don't know yet whether we'll sell it or keep it for the new property," he said.