In his younger years, there was nothing particularly unusual about William T. (Billy) Walters. But his childhood was no bed of roses. He was born in 1946, the son of a drinking mother and gambling father. After his father died in 1948, his mother abandoned the family, leaving Billy to be raised by his grandmother.
Under the guidance of his hard-working grandmother, Walters learned the importance of a good work ethic. It was the development of this work ethic that would eventually start paying dividends as he began his career as a professional gambler.
At the age of 13, Walters set sail on his own after his grandmother died. He worked hard in a variety of jobs while going to school. Before graduating, he had already married and had a child. The marriage was reportedly short-lived and his connection to his child was minimal. With this inauspicious foundation, there was not much evidence of what was to come.
Successful Car Salesman Turned Gambler
From the mid-1960s through the 1970s, Walters made a small fortune selling used cars. He started by working for others until 1972 when he opened his own lot. It was during this time that his mind turned from a career as a car salesman to the bright lights of Las Vegas, a pilgrimage he would make with his second wife in 1981. It wasn’t his first time gambling but this trip was the beginning of the betting legend he was to become.
Walters had in fact made his first sports bet at the age of nine. His wager on the New York Yankees to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1955 World Series didn’t turn out quite as he wanted, but the gambling bug took its bite. The early years of his gambling career, like many before him, have been characterized as the “losing years.”
While he fancied himself a sports gambler from early on, he actually earned his initial gambling fortune in the casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The mid-1980s were particularly fruitful for both Walters and the gambling syndicate he worked with. Using their ability to identify potential casino game wagering advantages, the syndicate racked up millions of dollars in income while playing roulette and blackjack.
Any attempts that Walters made to lay low as a gambler were set aside in 1986. It was that year that he won $175,000 by claiming the 1986 Super Bowl of Poker, better known as Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker. This tournament was one of the precursors to the internationally renowned World Series of Poker. It put his name squarely on the gambling map.
Sports Betting Prowess To The Fore
In the later part of the 1980s, Billy shifted his focus from casino games to his beloved sports betting. It was the pivotal change in his career and came about when he joined The Computer Group. The Computer Group had developed a software program that analyzed sports data and statistics. The output was used to determine potential odds and point spread weaknesses being offered by Las Vegas bookmakers.
Billy’s decision to join the Computer Group led to what can only be described as unrivaled success as a sports gambler. Over the better part of the last 40 years, he claims to have had only one losing year. That included a 30-year winning streak. During the streak, there were years when he reportedly ran cold for the first few months of a given year, only to recover and win big when the NFL and college football seasons rolled around.
He was a winning machine.
Most of his betting action focused on college basketball and football. He reportedly didn’t dabble much in other sports. Due to his enormous success as a Las Vegas sports bettor, it was often difficult for him to get action on his own. As a result, he would use a network of runners to place his wagers for him.
Over the years, Walters has laid claim to winning as much as $50 to $60 million on a good year. Given the reputed size of bets he has made, those numbers are by no means out of the realm of possibility.
For example, his biggest known win came in 2010 when he won $3.5 million after betting on the New Orleans Saints to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. In January 2007, he put $2.2 million in his bankroll when the USC Trojans defeated the Michigan Wolverines 32-18 in the Rose Bowl. The winnings did not end within the confines of his office. Reports say that Walters has also won as much as $1 million on a single round of golf.
Insider Trading Troubles
As a gambler, Walters was not afraid to test the limits of legality from time to time. It was this mindset that would temporarily bring his gambling career to a grinding halt.
On July 27th 2017, Walters was convicted of insider trading after making illicit stock trades based on non-public information provided by Thomas C. Davis, a board member of Dean Foods. He was sentenced to five years in federal prison and ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $10 million. This was the same case that involved golfer Phil Mickelson.
However, due to the COVID pandemic, he was sent from prison to home confinement in May of 2020 where he finished his sentence in January of 2022. Before leaving the White House, then President Donald Trump commuted Walters’ sentence. The man many believe to be the greatest sports bettor of all time was free once again.
Walters is working on a book about his life and betting career. If it goes into detail on his betting methods there will be no shortage of interest in it. After all, what sports bettor wouldn’t want to get inside the mind of the best to ever do it.