While New Jersey leaders pursued a quixotic bid to bring legal sports betting to the state for years, there was no larger mainstream local voice amplifying the effort than WFAN sports talk radio host Craig Carton.
The controversial New York radio host also was a champion of online poker, which was legalized by New Jersey in 2013, so casual sports fans looking for entertaining chatter during the morning drive shift were educated on the intricacies of gambling expansion efforts.
Carton also was given a major imprimatur of legitimacy from former Governor Chris Christie, who was a semi-regular on Carton’s show (and a once-a-year fill-in host) and who as recently as March appeared as a featured guest on Carton’s FNTSY Sports Network show Carton & Friends.
But now, those same fans have learned that Carton apparently didn’t just dip his toe into those gambling waters — he effectively drowned his career in it.
Last week’s conviction of Carton for wire fraud, securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraud in an elaborate Ponzi scheme involving concert ticket sales leaves him facing up to 45 years in prison, pending sentencing on February 27. And his fall from grace doesn’t paint a pretty picture of gambling enthusiasts for the public.
Boomer speaks out on former co-host
Carton co-hosted his radio show with former Bengals and Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason.
“This is a cautionary tale of how your life can spiral out of control and affect so many around you, including your own family, the people that you work with, and the people that you try to do business with on the outside,” Esiason said in the wake of the conviction. “Last night there was a moment that where I said, ‘I can’t believe it’s finally come to an end.’ He’s destroyed a lot of people in his wake, and that’s what a gambling addiction can do to you.”
The Borgata in Atlantic City and Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania were among Carton’s favorite high-rolling stops.
“All of us are saddened by the news and we had all held out hope that Craig would somehow find his way out of what he got himself into,” Esiason added. “There are victims in this case. I don’t want to take away in any way, shape, or form what they’ve had to deal with the last 14 months. There were people that were asked to go on the stand.
“Yesterday was the lowest of lows for all of us that have been involved with this, and we can only pray and hope that he and his family find solace in the fact that now it’s come to at least somewhat of an end. … It’s a sad day but there will be brighter days somewhere along the line. We love Craig. He was the light of this radio station for many of us.”
Carton masked it well
Other colleagues of Carton’s added comments that are all too familiar to those who have seen loved ones fall prey to an ego that devoured their lives.
“He was not a bad person,” said show producer Al Dukes. “I don’t think he set out to do any of these things. Clearly he talked on the air that he played blackjack, high-stakes blackjack. I saw him win many, many times, never saw him lose once. And it’s the classic thing of when it’s going good you hear about it and know about it, and when it’s going bad it’s not really talked about. It’s not really a topic of casual conversation.
“One of the things that I always thought was amazing about this thinking back is how his personality and the way he treated people here did not change, so there was no way to know when he was having good days or bad days because he was the same guy every day when he used to come in here and joke around and blast his music and we’d prepare for the show. That’s what I saw every day.”
Jerry Recco, who provided the sports updates on Boomer and Carton, said, “I did not realize the issues were as bad as what they were. I don’t know if ‘enabler’ is the right word, but I feel a part of it in one way or another. Being there for him, having fun with him, having nights at Borgata that were a lot of fun, I do feel a little sense of responsibility that I kind of aided him on a path that was just bad. I didn’t know it was as bad as it was.”
Carton and two partners were found to have lied about access to huge blocks of tickets — many at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn — for events that investors were told would be sold at a large profit. Instead, the trio used the money for their own personal use — in Carton’s case, to help pay off gambling debts.
What’s the takeaway?
This story is not a good one for backers of expanded legal gambling in the NYC metropolitan area. For those less familiar with the world of gambling, much of what they know is built around the idea that it’s possible to fritter away careers and even lives. They’ve seen that side dramatized on movies and TV, whereas stories of careful gamblers who consistently bet within their means get no such attention.
Politicians and lobbyists who oppose gambling expansion repeat the same refrains about the dangers of casinos, sports betting, or online gambling. And when a high-profile figure like Carton gets into this sort of trouble, it amplifies that view — especially when his even more high-profile co-host, Esiason, connects it directly to “gambling addiction.”
To many WFAN listeners, the voice in their entertainment space who talked most about gambling is now facing hard time. And that’s not a good look for those seeking to promote casual wagering as merely a fun sideline.
Photo by Lev Radin / Shutterstock.com
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