Chief Inspector Anthony DiLacqua, who heads the Philadelphia Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, is leaving to become director of security at SugarHouse Casino.

"It's tough to walk away from something I've loved so long," DiLacqua, 50, a 29-year veteran, said yesterday.

"We have a saying that this is the ticket to the greatest show on earth. You see people at their best and their worst. You get to make a difference . . . but it's been 29 years and I think it's time to do something new. I'm looking for new challenges.

"I'm real excited about the new job. I can taste it. I just think SugarHouse is an opportunity for me to be on the ground floor of a new business that's going to take off. I think it will be a tourist mecca in the city."

DiLacqua's departure comes at a time when the department has been besieged by a string of high-profile scandals.

Two officers were recently arrested for homicide, and another was accused of trying to pick up minors for sex.

When cops are accused of misconduct, Internal Affairs investigates.

"There's all levels of misconduct . . . when it's serious misconduct, it gets your adrenaline flowing as much as you cringe," DiLacqua said.

"As much as I've been disheartened, truthfully, my faith in the department remains strong," he said. "When you consider the number who face serious charges, it's still a small percentage."

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who tapped DiLacqua to run Internal Affairs in May 2008, said "losing Tony is a huge loss."

"He's a very, very talented individual," Ramsey said last night. "I just can't say enough good things about him. I've gained a lot of respect for him. He's very straightforward, honest as they come. He was the perfect guy to be running Internal Affairs."

Ramsey said he hasn't yet picked a replacement for DiLacqua, who will remain on the force through June.

SugarHouse general manager Wendy Hamilton said DiLacqua had been selected from among at least two dozen candidates considered for the top security job.

"From the minute we met him, we knew we wanted him on our team," Hamilton said. "The guy is a rock star. He's just got a great way about him. He gets business done, but he does it while making friends along the way."

DiLacqua will oversee a "sizable" number of security officers, she said.

Hamilton declined to reveal his salary. Last year, DiLacqua made $130,327 in his police job, according to 2009 city payroll records.

SugarHouse, which is being built on a 22-acre site on Delaware Avenue in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, is on track to open in mid-September. The casino will feature more than 1,600 slot machines and 40 table games, and employ roughly 800 people.

DiLacqua had wanted to be a cop since he was a kid growing in Northeast Philadelphia, a desire that developed after hearing his uncle's police "war stories" at every holiday dinner.

"When you're an accountant, you go home and to your neighbors, you're just Joe. When you're a cop, you go home as Joe, the cop. It's more than just a job," said DiLacqua, a married father of two daughters, 18 and 23.

Even after almost three decades wearing a badge and working his way up through the ranks, DiLacqua still describes himself as "just another cop."

"People want to have parties," he said. "I just want to ride out quietly into the sunset."