Outside the SugarHouse Casino, more than 1,000 gamblers gathered double-file in a line that stretched the equivalent of about four city blocks before the doors opened at 1:30 p.m. Some had been there since early morning.

In the middle of the line, twins Jeannette Johnson of Mount Airy and Annette Parish of North Philadelphia said they had come to celebrate their recent birthday.

Dressed in shimmering off-white outfits, the twins, who declined to give their age, said they had come to see the new casino and take on the slot machines.

"I came to play the slots and hopefully win some money," said Johnson, who added that they sometimes gambled at Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack and Parx Casino in Bensalem. "We came here to celebrate, too."

As about 25 gaming opponents rallied on Delaware Avenue in front of the casino parking lot, about 80 eager gamblers stepped off SEPTA's Route 43 bus and strode toward the casino.

Zachary Hershman, a member of Casino-Free Philadelphia, stood with other protesters.

"Today, we're launching our campaign to reclaim the riverfront, which is a campaign that will culminate in the bankruptcy of SugarHouse," Hershman said.

He said the group would start a town watch in the area to help make sure people did not leave children alone in cars.

Hershman said his group would also bring organizations to the neighborhood to provide information on addiction.

"We're going to document abuses. We're not going to be confrontational," he said. "We're not here to confront patrons."

The protesters also displayed murals painted by children depicting the riverfront without the casino.

Gambling opponent Chelsea Thompson, 36, a mother of two who lives near the casino, came with her 6-month-old son in a stroller.

"It's his first protest," Thompson said. "I'm here to protect the neighborhood for the children."

Despite the protests, gamblers continued to line up outside the casino.

Some patrons complained that there were not enough parking spaces. There are 500 valet spaces and 1,500 self-parking spaces. Both kinds are free.

Joddie Isham of Norristown said she arrived around 2 p.m., about a half-hour after the casino opened, and the self-parking spaces were filled. The valet service did not begin until about 3 p.m., officials said.

"Why didn't they have parking figured out before they opened?" Isham asked. "They knew everyone was going to be here."

Roosevelt Thompson, who drove up about 2:30, had to park on a side street, he said. He complained that he had tried to park in the casino lot, but that attendants had waved him away.

"The inside is small. The parking lot is small. Everything is small," Thompson said.

Police checked for residential registrations and ticketed cars parked illegally in the neighborhood. Capt. Mike Cram of the 26th District said officers were "strictly enforcing" blocks that have two-hour parking limits and ticketing cars parked too close to hydrants.

"It was the initial rush," Cram said of the problem, adding that the situation had eased by 6 p.m.

As elected officials and others addressed the gathering a few minutes before the doors opened, the eager crowd became a bit restless.

When City Councilman Frank DiCicco told the gathering that the opening marked "the beginning of developing the waterfront into a family-friendly riverfront," people in the crowd began to jeer.

"Open the door. Open the door," they chanted. "Open the door."

A Mummers string band then began to play "When You're Smiling."

Minutes later, Ben Franklin reenactor Ralph Archbold stepped down from a white carriage drawn by two white horses, with two Las Vegas-style showgirls in silver bikinis by his side.

He then used a three-foot-long key to open a giant fake padlock on the casino's large glass doors. The crowd then began to rush into the casino, and within minutes the long line of people was gone.

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writers Liz Gormisky and Stephen Jiwanmall contributed to this article.