ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Atlantic City and southern New Jersey have always been Philadelphia Eagles country.
And with the local team in the Super Bowl, the seaside gambling resort can only dream of the extra millions of dollars it might have taken in had it been able to offer sports betting.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide New Jersey's challenge to a law banning sports betting in all but four states later this year.
But the decision won't come in time to make up for the business Atlantic City thinks it would have gotten from die-hard Eagles fans, as well as casual fans, looking to bet on the Eagles-Patriots championship game on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.
Tropicana president (and lifelong Eagles fan) Tony Rodio said sports betting would generate a lot of new business for Atlantic City.
"The northeast corridor is a giant sports betting market," he said. "If you take the Eagles and put them into the mix, I just can't even imagine how big that would be. It would take it to a whole new level."
Alas, that is not to be, at least this season. The Supreme Court ruling might not come until June. Legal analysts predict New Jersey has a decent chance of winning the case with a ruling that would permit sports betting in the state or across the nation.
Sports betting would be offered at Atlantic City's casinos and the state's horse racing tracks.
City Councilman Marty Small, an Eagles season-ticket holder who organizes an annual flight to see an Eagles road game each year, said Eagles fans would have booked every available hotel room in the city weeks ago in anticipation of watching — and betting on — their team in Atlantic City.
"We would have been totally sold out by now, the whole city," he said. "Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest party day of the year, and people would have come from near and far to claim Atlantic City as their party place. We're missing a golden opportunity this year."
This year, casinos in Las Vegas expect betting on the Super Bowl to surpass last year's record of $138.5 million.
Drew Leonard, lifelong Eagles fan from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who grew up in southern New Jersey and used to visit Atlantic City twice a month, said he would go to the resort to bet a few hundred dollars on the Eagles, if it were legal.
"Anything that would bring in more people and business would definitely help," he said, predicting Philadelphia will beat New England by a touchdown.
Of course, if sports betting were legal, a sizeable number of people would be expected to come to Atlantic City to place bets regardless of which two teams were playing in it.
Kevin Ortzman, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, which owns three of Atlantic City's seven casinos, said the northeastern U.S. "is probably the biggest driver of sports betting," noting that there are hard-core sports fans who would come to Atlantic City to bet on football, even if it involved the Cleveland Browns.
But the presence of the local market-favorite Eagles would have added some "extreme excitement and vibe" to the game, he said.
Even without sports betting, Atlantic City casinos are trying to cash in on Eagles mania. The Caesars Entertainment casinos (Harrah's Bally's and Caesars) are considering bringing in retired Eagles players to meet and greet customers, and possibly having Eagles-clad cheerleaders on site.
The Tropicana is using green lights to illuminate two indoor fountains, and all last weekend, it sprinkled the recorded sound of an eagle screech from time to time into the overhead music playing in the casino.
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC