He kept winning: The story of Vegas legend Billy Walters (2024)

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) —He revolutionized sports betting and rubbed elbows with casino legends, fearsome mobsters, and law enforcement who were out for him. Billy Walters is one of the highest of rollers, biggest of spenders, and most dangerous sports gamblers.

Describing himself as a hillbilly from Kentucky, Walters rose from dirt-poor origins to the pinnacle of wealth and success in Las Vegas. Born into poverty, his father died young, and his alcoholic mother left him. At age six, he was raised by a hard-working grandmother.

He mowed lawns, delivered newspapers, worked tobacco fields, and spent his days in his uncle’s pool hall, where he discovered an instinctive attraction to gambling before he turned 10. Eventually, Walters became a superstar car salesman, averaging 32 vehicles sold per month. He lost a son, went through a divorce, and was busted for bookmaking before he eventually decided to move west. This was a fateful decision, as years later, the gambling legend was wagering more than $20 million per week on sports events.

“If I were to look back over my life, the reason I’ve had success is because of perseverance, but more importantly, hard work,” Walters said.

What most notably separated Walters from other high rollers? He just kept winning.

The difficulty in gambling huge sums of money on sports events, from NFL powerhouses to obscure college basketball teams to golf matches, isn’t plopping down the cash. It’s winning. And winning. And winning. Walters admitted he had weeks and months where he would lose, but he said he never had a losing year. The sharks of Las Vegas’s sports books would have called that impossible, but Walters said he could make between 30 and 50 bets per week and maintain success. He said no one believed he could do it.

“They felt the juice would prevent you from winning,” he said. “Well, the bottom line was, we could. And the more bets we made, actually, the bigger advantage we had.”

Walters recalled his first trip to Nevada and a fortuitous meeting with two gambling heavyweights: Benny Binion and Kirk Kerkorian. Detailing their relationships in his best-selling book released earlier in 2024, Walters recounted becoming friends and a student of the world’s best poker players. He discovered a talent for high-stakes golf hustles and eventually became associated with the “Computer Group,” a Massachusetts Institute of Technology organization that developed algorithms helping to predict the outcome of football games. The combination of their tech-savvy and Walters’ inherent gambling skills proved to be formidable. Together they revolutionized sports betting and made Walters a wealthy man in the process.

Walters’ rise attracted the attention of Las Vegas rackets boss Tony Spilotro, who tried to muscle his way into the operation. The FBI suspected the Computer Group was a front for the mafia.

“We ultimately ended up being indicted for that,” Walters recounted. “We went to federal court. The truth came out, facts came out, and we were exonerated, but it was seven very difficult years going through that.”

While Walters made all betting decisions, at the peak of his success, nearly a thousand people worked with his betting ring from all around the country, sending tidbits of information.

“Sometimes there would be […] hundreds of bets per day,” Walters said. “I’d get up at 4 in the morning, and we would start betting as soon as bookmakers opened.”

Walters recalled those early hours, which led to late nights, often not going to bed until 2 a.m. It was an operation documented in 2011 by CBS news program “60 Minutes.” Walters called the decision to speak to the program one of the worst decisions he ever made. He said he wanted to stand up for Las Vegas, calling it more trustworthy than Wall Street’s corporate scammers. As a result, the report triggered investigations and an indictment and conviction for insider trading, something Walters insists he didn’t do. At 71, he was sent to prison. It was a five year term he thought may never end.

It did eventually end after 30 months when former President Donald Trump commuted Walters’ sentence on his last day in office. Walters’ attorneys had been lobbying for a full pardon, but he believes that was blocked by President Trump’s friend Steve Wynn.

“I was upset. I’m still upset. I’m upset at what happened to me but I’m more upset about what happens to other people who don’t have the resources to be able to defend themselves,” Walters said.

Walters’ book, “Gambler: Secrets from A Life at Risk” features colorful characters from Las Vegas and features a tutorial that details how to succeed at sports betting. 100 percent of the proceeds go to Walters’ preferred charities, which include Opportunity Village and a program that helps former prisoners integrate back into public life.

A documentary series and a feature film are both in the works recounting Walters’ life.

He kept winning: The story of Vegas legend Billy Walters (2024)
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