Convicted bookmakers Edward "Eddie" Wagner, 41, and Danilo "Danny" Starita, 36, couldn't have been luckier if they hit a longshot at today's Preakness Stakes.

The reputed South Philadelphia mob associates walked out of Atlantic County jail yesterday after spending only five months for theft by deception and promoting gambling charges, instead of what could have been a 10-year sentence.

Yet, job opportunities have opened up for the out-of-work bookies just this week - with a couple of caveats, like more jail time, to consider.

On Wednesday, the citywide police vice squad arrested nine alleged bookies in a sophisticated, $2.5 million sports-gambling operation in two locations in West Philadelphia.

It was much bigger than the sports-gambling ring, which Wagner and Starita admitted last January that they ran: The pair took in more than $1,000 a day in wagers during an 18-month run in 2004-2006 in South Philadelphia and Margate, N.J.

But Wagner, a longtime pal of jailed mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, and Starita have to weigh such a job opportunity versus the potential jail time.

Yesterday, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Michael R. Connor sentenced the duo to five years in prison, credited them with five months of time served and suspended the rest. Each was fined $10,000.

If the pair are rearrested and convicted, however, they will have to serve the rest of their five-year prison sentences in New Jersey state prison as part of their plea agreement.

Even though both men have been identified by law enforcement as mob associates, Wagner's attorney, James Leonard, said: "There was absolutely no connection between their bookmaking operation and organized crime. And that's supported by the evidence."

What drove up their potential jail time was when Wagner and Starita claimed to earn $52,000 a year and $70,000 a year, respectively, on a Wells Fargo application for a $185,250 mortgage for a Margate condo, which they paid on time.

They also co-own a home on 17th Street near Hartranft in South Philadelphia.

As part of a plea agreement with Deputy Attorney General Jill S. Mayer, of the organized crime division, the pair forfeited flat-screen TVs, computers and cash seized on April 7, 2006, during March Madness, the height of college basketball season.

"Neither one had a prior conviction," Leonard said. "They were just gentlemen gamblers, free of violence, intimidation and making loans ." *