WHEN WE LEFT this drama, the evil gaming moguls had conspired to despoil our pristine shores with their big boxes of flashing lights and spinning reels.

They planned to blot out the sun with massive concrete casinos and towering parking garages, denying the villagers access to the life-giving river.

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Unless good triumphs over evil in the third act, the villagers may never cast their nets or unfold their beach chairs along the shores again.

At least, that's the way this morality play is unfolding for those of you who tuned in late.

In reality, the shores of the Delaware haven't been pristine since the tribal chiefs met William Penn at an historic site best viewed from the porches of one of the many tropical-themed discos that dot the waterfront. The last development plan for the shoreline north of Market Street was written 26 years ago to make way for industrial sites like that festering eyesore of a sugar refinery one casino is being named for.

As for access to the shoreline, the city in its infinite wisdom cut that off years ago when it wedged I-95 between the river and the streetscape. Not since the book of Genesis have the waters been separated from the dry lands so effectively.

The area abutting the Foxwoods site at the south end of Columbus Boulevard has been zoned for lap dances. Seems nature will take its course if no one else does.

Which is why Mayor Nutter has called together the smartest planners in the country to come up with a plan consistent with a more lofty vision of the waterfront.

PennPraxis, good guys in any telling of this story, have put together a document outlining its conclusion that casinos "would be better suited elsewhere."

But how do you get casinos to go "elsewhere" after investors have spent a ton of money preparing the sites that they were awarded by the state?

Those issues weren't considered by PennPraxis, which is a nonprofit planning entity of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Design.

All the mayor asked them to do was review the casino plan to see if it was consistent with 2007's "Civic Vision for the Central Delaware."

Coincidentally, the mayor had already concluded that casinos would be "better suited elsewhere."

"It was absolutely not predetermined in any way," Harris Steinberg, of PennPraxis, insisted. "This analysis was not undermined in any way by politicians."

That would make it the only aspect of this entire casino flapdoodle that wasn't.

Politicians in Harrisburg were so intent on getting into the casino business that they completely bypassed the city's zoning authority and granted the licenses and the sites without consulting the city.

The city has managed to get back into the game with a court ruling that restores its zoning authority. But the ruling requires all current disputes to be brought directly to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the casino operators, who came late to the battle of the state and local pols, are left in limbo as politicians and planners seek to rewrite the covenant that both sides signed on to.

I have consistently opposed gaming in this city ever since then-mayor Ed Rendell came up with the idea of floating casinos along the same river everybody is now rushing to preserve for posterity.

First-class cities don't raise operating funds by encouraging citizens to take a chance on the slots.

But I lost that argument. So did the city.

The law is in place. Gaming moguls are abiding by it, and the city and I may as well get used to it.

Casinos are pumping money into the state budget. Philadelphians are reaping some of those benefits, whether we wanted them or not.

If Rendell can persuade the casino operators to move their action elsewhere and the Legislature can be persuaded to rewrite the law to allow that, so be it.

Otherwise it's time to move on and salvage what we can from this business before too many more moons set over the pristine shores of the Delaware. *

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith