Is a part of Atlantic City’s storied past a key to its future?

That’s a conclusion that could be drawn from Thursday night’s “Boardwalk Empire” event sponsored by HBO and Caesars Atlantic City.

The invitation-only, hours-long bash was staged to celebrate this Sunday’s premiere of the highly anticipated series based on Atlantic City’s wild and wooly days as America’s first “Sin City” during the 1920s. It was attended by a slew of the show’s stars and included a red carpet session with the actors, remarks from series creator, Terrence Winter, a screening of the first episode and a pretty fabulous (by local standards) post-showing soiree at the elegant One Atlantic facility atop The Pier Shops at Caesars.

It’s not that the evening was heavy with bold-face names. Veteran character Dabney Coleman (“9 to 5,”) was probably the most familiar face (especially for older partygoers); headliner Steve Buscemi, who portrays Nucky Thompson (a fictional version of AyCee rackets czar Enoch “Nucky” Johnson) passed on the bash, as did executive producer—and first episode director—Martin Scorsese.

But then again, James Gandolfini was hardly a household name prior to the debut of “The Sopranos.” Given the buzz already out there about “Boardwalk Empire,” who’S to say the likes of Michael Pitt and Paz de la Huerta won’t be A-listers sometime soon.

But Thursday night wasn’t about star power (or the lack thereof). Why the “Boardwalk Empire” rave-up could be crucial to the town’s future is because of what it represented: excitement, pizzazz, good, old-fashioned show biz.

It’s hard to remember anything happening in Atlantic City in years that had such an au courant sparkle as Thursday’s festivities. Sunday’s “Boardwalk Empire” introduction is going to be the week’s—maybe the month’s—hottest, hippest show business event. And here was downtrodden, beleaguered, seemingly unloved Atlantic City smack, dab in the middle of it all.

Even the most jaded of the town’s insiders seemed genuinely jazzed by what occurred Thursday night. As well they should have.

Which is why the “Boardwalk Empire” celebration shouldn’t be an anomaly. Events such as this should be a part of the landscape. Not that there are going to be that many TV shows set in town. But there are a lot of bright people working there, and they should be able to think up plenty of excuses to regularly stage this kind of blowout.

With the attendant publicity, word can get out that Atlantic City is more than just a bunch of large buildings with slot machines and gaming tables. Being only 2∏ hours by car from New York (significantly less by helicopter) should make it easy for Manhattan-based celebs to turn AyCee into a home-away-from-home, much as those in Los Angeles are regularly shuffling off to Las Vegas.

Nine decades ago, the real Nucky Johnson was instrumental in making his city “The World’s Playground.” Today, the fictional Nucky might just be the guy to pull off that trick again.