ATLANTIC CITY — Bettors were in casino sportsbooks early Sunday putting money on the line for Super Bowl 54, and many were glued to the big screens there later that night, in heartbreak or triumph.
At Ocean Casino Resort, Frank Ciulla was betting on the Kansas City Chiefs, which were a 1½ point favorite over the San Francisco 49ers. And he bet the two teams would score more than the over/under of 54 total points.
“I think this is gonna be a great game. ... I’m favoring Kansas City. I like Pat Mahomes; he looks good,” said Ciulla, 69, of Manchester, Ocean County. “Of course he’s got to go against the San Francisco 49ers’ defense, but I think it’s gonna be a great game.”
He also bet on a few parlays and prop bets — “longshots” he called them — including that one of the team’s scores would land on 47, 48 or 49, a bet that comes with 100-1 odds.
“I’m not a big big gambler. I bet with my head, not over it,” Ciulla said. “It keeps me interested in the game. ... You gotta have something on it to make it interesting.”
Ciulla was just one of legions of sports fans and gamblers that staked a spot in the sportsbooks Sunday, a sign of the boon that legalized sports betting has been for gambling houses in Atlantic City since it became legal two years ago. Some of those wagering on the Super Bowl put down serious money.
At Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, sportsbook supervisor Tommy Leonard said he’d seen a number of bets in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. They expected a crowd for the game, as the sportsbook area had been updated with 45 TVs and a bar.
“Yesterday we had a lot of people in here, it was one of our busiest days of this early year so far,” Leonard said. “I was not here for the Super Bowl last year, but it was very busy. But we didn’t have that bar part yet, so we’re expecting it to be a lot busier this year.”
For those in South Jersey with money to spend and a hunch about Sunday’s outcome, Atlantic City is the only game in town, making Super Bowl Sunday a chance for casinos to clear serious revenue.
The gambling industry’s trade association, the American Gaming Association, estimates $6.8 billion will be bet legally and illegally on the game. It says 26 million Americans plan to make a bet, up 15% from last year. And a survey by the online bookmaker DraftKings found 78% of respondents say they’re more likely to watch the whole game if they have a bet on it.
That holds true for Phil Levonchuck, 76, of Ventnor, who was at the DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts Casino Hotel with his wife Ellen, 73. Ellen is pulling for the 49ers, but Phil didn’t think they can compete with the Chiefs’ speed. He said his $50 bet on Kansas City will keep him engaged in the game.
“I wouldn’t give a damn about the game normally. Just another game, you know,” Levonchuck said.
Others came from out-of-state to make a weekend of the game and the sportsbooks. Max Kolbrenner, 68, of Stamford, Connecticut, placed bets at Ocean with eight coworkers on a team-building trip. He bet $550 that the 49ers would win, and he bet on a prop bet, that 49ers tight end George Kittle would be the game’s MVP, a bet that came with 7-1 odds.
Kolbrenner limits his betting to the Super Bowl.
“That’s the only thing I bet,” Kolbrenner said. “I like the Super Bowl parties. We used to go to Las Vegas every year, and now we’ve been coming here the last two years.”
There may have been more bets for the Chiefs in Atlantic City, owing to the proximity to Philadelphia, where Kansas City coach Andy Reid was coach from 1999 to 2012.
“A lot of people like the Chiefs,” said Hard Rock sportsbook supervisor Leonard. “A lot of people are Andy Reid fans because they’re Eagles fans, and he’s now the Kansas City Chiefs coach, so I think that has a big part to do with it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.