Sometimes the best that a down-on-his-luck gambler can hope for is to exit the casino floor with a few bucks left in his pocket.

Just ask Mayor Nutter, who this week threw his full support behind a slots parlor on the Delaware River - after opposing plans for two waterfront gaming halls as a mayoral candidate and after his election.

What qualifies as Nutter's meager win in this high-stakes game are the design changes made to the SugarHouse Casino proposed by Chicago investor Neil Bluhm and several prominent local partners.

The scaled-down look for the first phase of the slots parlor on the Fishtown-Northern Liberties site is a welcome change from the original, at least. It means a lower profile for the gaming hall, plus greater recreational access to the waterfront for visitors who don't want to blow the rent money.

But the proposed single-level location for 1,500 slot machines will be backed by a hulking 10-story parking garage, surrounded by vast surface lots. In other words, most customers will reach the slots parlor by car - contributing to the existing traffic problems along Delaware Avenue and Columbus Boulevard.

As such, the concrete gaming Valhalla still won't fit in with the exciting vision that Nutter has adopted for the central Delaware River waterfront. Under a plan developed by the PennPraxis design group at the University of Pennsylvania, the city hopes to reconnect Philadelphians to the river with recreational areas, and homes and businesses along streets that extend to the river.

The mayor earned well-deserved kudos for backing the waterfront makeover. To rescue a waterfront long cut off by Interstate 95, Nutter will have to ruffle plenty of feathers in taking aim at the city's deal-making culture that drives so much poorly planned and uncoordinated development.

So if PennPraxis chief Harris M. Steinberg is right that SugarHouse's car-dominated plan "completely throws off any compatibility with the vision" for the waterfront, what prompted Nutter's sudden support for the slots parlor?

As recently as the summer, a mayoral aide informed federal officials that the city's official view was that "it is not necessary or desirable to locate gaming establishments on Philadelphia's riverfront."

Apparently, Nutter's flip-flop came after he concluded that he had a losing hand - coupled with a $2 billion budget hole he needs to plug amid a troubled economy. SugarHouse's refusal to consider an off-river site, court rulings in its favor, and the relentless political pressure from Gov. Rendell and Harrisburg lawmakers to open a city slots joint prompted the move, Nutter's spokesman said yesterday.

It's a jarring turn of events that puts too high a value on expedience. Casino opponents have every right to feel abandoned by the mayor. Even those resigned to the inevitability of slots should want to get the locations right, given the long-term impact on the city. The waterfront - as the mayor once said - doesn't cut it.