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September 22, 2018

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Crazy day at Atlantic City sportsbook as Mark Wahlberg bets the Eagles, Patriots and … Browns

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Seth Wenig / AP

Actor Mark Wahlberg shows reporters some sports bets he placed at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Thursday, June 28, 2018.

ATLANTIC CITY — It was the first day of sports betting at the Ocean Resort casino in Atlantic City and a customer walked up to Jim Leonard, a vice president of the sports book.

"I got a question for you," said the patron, staring at the board, a vegetable soup-like mix of odds on soccer, baseball, the Super Bowl and the WNBA. "How does this work?"

And so things were a little confused when the sportsbook at Ocean Resort finally opened at about 1:15 p.m. on Thursday afternoon with several dozen people already lined up. When star actor Mark Wahlberg arrived a half hour later, confusion gave way to the usual pandemonium that follows movie stars.

If you are the Ocean Resort, which is trying to revive the corpse that was the failed Revel hotel, the response was perfect.

"I couldn't believe the number of people in line to sign up for a player's card," said Joe Asher, the CEO of William Hill US, the company running the Ocean Resort's sportsbook. "What an unbelievable vibe when Mark Wahlberg came out."

Even Wahlberg wasn't immune to the uncertainty. He showed up, casually dressed, politely waved to fans and then wondered aloud what the line was for Thursday night's Red Sox-Yankees game.

Uh, Mark, that series doesn't start until Friday.

Wahlberg eventually made three bets. He put $100 each on the Eagles (8-1) and Patriots (6-1) to win the Super Bowl and $200 on the Cleveland Browns to win more than five games next season. Wahlberg likes Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. It was a solid bet.

"There's so much excitement and buzz around and it's awesome for Atlantic City and the community," said Wahlberg, who grew up in Boston, and played former Eagles walk-on Vince Papale in the 2006 film "Invincible."

"I usually always bet with the heart," he said, while acknowledging the foolishness of such strategy.

The Ocean Resort is the second casino to open its sports betting operation in AC and the first located on the famed boardwalk. The Borgata, down in the Marina district, opened June 14, a month after the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports wagering outside of Nevada.

"This will be the go-to place on the boardwalk," predicted Atlantic City resident John Mooney, who grew up in Bridesburg. "I don't have to go to Vegas anymore."

Mooney, 73, is the outreach director for Saint Monica's parish in AC. He was at the Ocean Resort handing out cards with the schedules for mass and confessional. Anyone who thinks God and gambling doesn't mix should hear all the prayers being said in a sportsbook at the end of a close game.

The Ocean Resort's full sportsbook won't be complete until early August, so an early parlor was set up in time for the fourth of July holiday. Five tellers were taking action.

Wahlberg was the ceremonial first bettor. But he wasn't the official first guy to bet. That distinction belonged to Eric Johnson, from Point Pleasant.

Johnson, 41, wanted a two-team parlay with the A's and White Sox. He pulled out an inscrutable spreadsheet with numbers that supported his play.

The only problem was that amid all the confusion the sports book didn't open in time for him to get in on the A's game, which started a minute before the window opened. So he settled for a $100 play on the White Sox straight up.

Speaking of decisions, how'd that White Sox bet fare? They lost in 13 innings.

"(Sports betting) was a long time coming to New Jersey," Johnson said. "It's absolutely ridiculous that the federal government wasn't allowing states to choose for themselves. That Supreme Court decision to allow states to choose whether they wanted to have sports betting was 100 percent on the money."

Johnson, 41, teaches high school history, so he has an idea what he's talking about.

"This was the intent of the framers of the constitution -- that states would get to make decisions like this," he said. "That the federal government wouldn't get to be involved in decisions of this nature."