"LOOK AT ALL these people here - ain't nobody going to church this morning," said Edwin Howard as he glanced around the floor of Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack shortly before 6 a.m. yesterday.
Howard, of Yeadon, stood behind his friend, Paris Johnson, of South Philly, as she ponied up to a blackjack table.
"You pray harder up in here than they do in church," Johnson said.
Nearly 200 people counted down the minutes and staked out seats at Harrah's as the clock ticked down to 6 a.m. - the opening of table gaming in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Along with Harrah's, Parx Casino, in Bensalem, and Sands Casino Resort, in Bethlehem, opened table gaming yesterday. They were the final casinos in Pennsylvania to do so, after openings began July 8 in the western part of the state.
At Harrah's, not even an inch separated players at the crowded craps tables, where waitresses slung hot coffee instead of cold cocktails.
At the roulette wheel, a man in a lime-green blazer, salmon shirt and white fedora was so serious about the game, he could have been playing the Russian variety.
And factory workers, just getting off their midnight shifts at nearby Boeing and Kimberly-Clark, milled about the floor, deciding which table games were best to gamble away the money they'd just earned.
Sandy Campbell, on the other hand, was already wiped out by 6 a.m.
Campbell, 57, of West Philadelphia, arrived for the opening of table games at Harrah's very early - or very late - depending on who was counting.
She began playing video blackjack at 11:45 p.m. Saturday night and by the time table games opened, she'd already lost a "substantial amount" of money.
So Campbell stood behind her daughter, offering tips and advice as she took a seat when live gaming started.
"I don't drink coffee; it's just my personality that keeps me up," Campbell said. "Anyway, I lost too much. I can't afford a coffee."
Peggy Brown, of Chester, knows the allure of the games and the sting of defeat. She sat yesterday morning on the sidelines of table gaming at a slot-machine stool, holding a book titled A Divine Revelation of Heaven in her hands.
"I guess it's an odd book to have in here," she said.
Though she normally "plays the machines," Brown, who knows many of the casino workers by name, was looking forward to playing live blackjack.
"You have better luck there, I have that vibe," she said. "But eventually, I want to slack off with gambling. . . . If you can walk away, it's fantastic. I just don't want to be crying later."
There were cries - cacophonous female shrieks mostly - later in the day, when actor Chris Noth, best known for his role as Mr. Big in "Sex and the City," cut a ribbon and threw out the first dice at Parx Casino, in Bensalem, at 6 p.m. to celebrate the opening of table gaming.
It didn't seem to matter to the throng of mostly middle-aged females gathered to see Noth that table gaming at Parx actually opened at 6 a.m. In fact, gambling didn't seem to matter to any of them at all as they pushed men and foreigners entering the casino out of their way to get a look at the star.
Penny Beres, of Bensalem, who tapes "Access Hollywood" every night, said she was celebrating her birthday yesterday by seeing her first real celebrity.
"I gave up dinner and a movie and left my husband at the bar to do this," she said.
The screaming throng grew so deep by the time Noth moved to throw out the first dice at the craps table that John Elliot, 67, of Langhorne, couldn't tell what the commotion was about.
"Are they giving away free money?" he asked.
Elliot did not come for Noth or the table gaming. He said he'll continue to play the slots, just as he's always done.
As the Noth crowd dispersed, it was easy to see that the table games were booming at Parx.
Chips shook in the hands of a gaunt, sickly old man wearing a hospital mask as he played craps next to a group of loud, tattooed young men in white T-shirts who blew smoke in his face.
The band in the casino club played The Cure's "Just Like Heaven," while people gawked at slot machines and laid down $100 minimums at table games.
It was a whole new frontier of gambling in Pennsylvania - and there were plenty of settlers.
Connie Foust, 53, of Levittown, who grew up across the street from Parx, said that despite the proximity of the casino - which she remembers once being farm land - she'll still travel to Atlantic City for the beach, the boardwalk and the variety.
"This is just a nice little fix," she said from a slot-machine stool.