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Legal gambling on the Super Bowl? Maybe next year, Philly

So, wanna put some money on the Eagles? Sports bets are still under the table in the U.S., but by next year's Super Bowl, wagering could be legal.

After celebration —  as these Eagles fans did on Broad Street near Shunk in South Philly after Sunday’s victory over the Vikings — comes Super Bowl wagers and bets.
After celebration — as these Eagles fans did on Broad Street near Shunk in South Philly after Sunday’s victory over the Vikings — comes Super Bowl wagers and bets.Read moreElizabeth Robertson

The morning after the Eagles' NFC Championship win, Philadelphia native Ben Fileccia proposed a friendly Super Bowl wager with colleagues from his company's Boston office.

The terms: If the Patriots win, Fileccia will send his New England counterparts two pounds of scrapple, a dozen soft pretzels, three packages of Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, one pound of Taylor pork roll, and a box of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets, with a cheesesteak thrown in.

If the Birds win, the Bostonians will send south a Dunkin' Donuts gift card, a bottle of Irish whiskey, a pack of Parliament Lights, Neil Diamond's greatest hits on vinyl, an economy-size box of Boston baked beans, and a box of assorted cannoli from Mike's Pastry. "You can have Mark Wahlberg too," Fileccia's colleague added, "but we keep Matt Damon."

As the game approaches, "I feel extremely confident that I will be eating baked beans the first week of February," said Fileccia, a Doylestown resident and manager for Reserve, a restaurant table-management platform. "I usually don't make many bets, but it was just too easy this year with my coworkers in Boston."

Across the city and the country, similar bets are undoubtedly being placed — along with other, perhaps more costly, ones. For the 2017 Super Bowl, Americans spent an estimated $4.7 billion on wagers, according to the American Gaming Association.

Only about $200 million of that was believed to be spent legally, though. With full sports gambling outlawed everywhere but Nevada, football fans mainly stick to office pools, family bets, and, for some, illegal offshore betting and bookies.

But a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision on sports betting, in a case brought by New Jersey, has advocates and lawmakers nationwide dreaming of a profoundly different landscape in time for next year's Super Bowl — and mulling what might have been with this year's game.

"With a team in our commonwealth in the Super Bowl … who knows what that windfall would have been for the coffers of the commonwealth had sports betting been legal leading up to the Super Bowl here in a couple of weeks," said State Rep. Rob Matzie (D., Beaver).

If the Supreme Court rules in New Jersey's favor, sports betting could be in full swing in Pennsylvania and Jersey by the time the Eagles are playing Super Bowl LIII. (Oops, did that just jinx it?)

Pennsylvania would be one of the first states to get on the books. In the expansive gaming bill passed in October, legislators provided a provision to authorize sports betting with the hope the state would be first in line if betting became legal federally.

Matzie, who inserted the sports betting language into the bill, said when it was passed that he hoped Pennsylvania would be positioned to offer sports betting sometime in 2018.

He said Tuesday he remained optimistic that the Supreme Court will repeal the federal law — though it won't be in time for Eagles-Patriots.

"I think if it was in place, you'd see a lot [of] people heading down to the casino to place a wager on the Super Bowl," he said.

The amount wagered on Super Bowls has been increasing in recent years, and the trend is expected to continue, said Sara Slane, American Gaming Association senior vice president for public affairs.

"The consumer demand certainly has not diminished under [the federal law]; if anything, it's flourished," said Slane. "If the federal law was out of the way today, what I would expect you would see is a lot of money being placed on the Eagles victory, for sure, through either some of the local casinos or on an interstate mobile platform."

Aside from "friend-to-friend" wagers, most illegal bets get placed via offshore websites or bookies, Slane said, and people often don't even realize the bets they're making are illegal.

The December hearing in the Supreme Court case, Christie v. NCAA, left gambling advocates hopeful the justices might overturn the federal ban on sports betting.

New Jersey argued a states-rights approach, saying the federal law violates the 10th Amendment, which gives the states any power not given to the federal government or withheld from the states by the Constitution.

If the justices agree, the federal law could be repealed. (There's another option: The court could allow New Jersey to offer sports betting at casinos and racetracks but the federal law would stand.) A decision could come as early as March.

In Las Vegas, sports books favored the Patriots by about six points as they opened at the end of Sunday's championship game. In Atlantic City, would-be oddsmakers longed for legal betting.

"We would have been totally sold out by now, the whole city," City Councilman Marty Small told the Associated Press. "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."

In 2017, Mississippi enacted a law like Pennsylvania's to allow the start of sports betting if the Supreme Court gives the OK, and Connecticut passed a bill requiring the legislature to make regulations for sports betting if the federal ban is overturned and the state legalizes it. There are currently 24 sports betting-related bills under consideration in 13 states, according to an American Gaming Association tally.

"The momentum for legalized sports betting is greater than it's ever been," Slane said. "If the court rules [in New Jersey's favor]… you're going to see a huge shift in how fans are consuming sports."