PENNSYLVANIA has just served notice on all the surrounding states in the casino game: We just opened a fresh can of whoop-ass with your name on it.
New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Connecticut and all the ships at sea - you'd better bet big or stay home.
The state Senate took the gloves off this week by passing an amendment to Senate Bill 711 (I'm not making that up) to add poker, roulette and black jack to the original slots legislation of 2004. But if they have to, they will sanction virtually every game of chance that can be played on or near a table.
They would OK Russian roulette if they could find a way to make the loser pay.
Pennsylvania has only been in the game for four years and Atlantic City's mega-casinos are already starting to wilt under the pressure. Philadelphia's slot palaces haven't even escaped the drawing board and already they're doing redesigns to accommodate table games.
But before they start decorating poker rooms on the waterfront, they might want to check with the local delegation. Philadelphia's state lawmakers are hedging their bets.
"That's a Senate bill. It still has to come back to us," state Rep. Jewell Williams told me yesterday. "What I'm getting is that the bill came back with some elements that Philadelphia won't support. The way it's written now, I understand, it takes out the 2 percent local share that was supposed to come to the city."
So, final passage is off at least until after the holidays. But expect action on it soon.
For one thing, the lawmakers have already passed a budget that calls for $250 million in table-game revenues. There's not another golden goose in sight who can drop an egg that big.
Which may explain the sudden haste to speed it through the process this week. In their haste, the Senate cobbled together a piece of, ahh, legislation that created more problems than it solved.
Most notably, the bill would permit the slot palaces and racinos to extend credit to gamblers. Under current legislation, gaming operators are only able to take us for the money in our pockets.
The new and improved SB 711 would permit them to attach a suction pump directly to our life savings. Add the proposed provision to keep the liquor flowing perpetually and you have a formula for disaster.
"I'm not for that," Williams said of the line of credit. "People who can't get credit at Macy's would be able to get credit while gambling at a casino. That's crazy.
"That and the idea of taking out the 2 percent share for Philadelphia are sticking points for us in the Philadelphia delegation."
State Sen. Shirley Kitchen attached an amendment yesterday to prevent casinos from charging interest on the loans and to deny access to credit lines for people with weak credit or gambling problems.
"Casual players could easily be lured into spending their money very quickly," Kitchen said on her Web site this week.
But isn't that the idea?
"It will end up with the people who can least afford to borrow getting these lines of credit," said Lance Haver, the city's director of consumer affairs.
"This is anti-consumer legislation. If you bought a vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door saleman, you'd get three days to change your mind."
But state Sen. Vincent Hughes argued that the credit provisions would be closely regulated. Besides, he said, they were never meant for average players.
"This was always meant for high rollers," he said. "It is to be regulated by the gaming control board not the operators.
"But even the operators have an interest in making sure loans don't go to people who can't afford them. We're going to deal with all of that."
Mainly, they're going to deal with those states that would lure our suckers away.
New Jersey, New York, Delaware and all the ships at sea - that whooshing sound you just heard is the can opening.