Kentucky’s Billy Walters Chronicles ‘Wild And Crazy Life’ As Major Sports Bettor

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Kentucky’s Billy Walters Chronicles ‘Wild And Crazy Life’ As Major Sports Bettor
© USA Today

Kentucky native Billy Walters, regarded as the “greatest gambler ever,” has a new book out, exploring his rags-to-riches story and experiences with high-stakes sports betting.

The book, “Gambler: Secrets From a Life at Risk,” also looks at Walters' prison sentence on a federal insider-trader conviction (later commuted by then-President Trump) and a troubled relationship with professional golfer and fellow heavy bettor Phil Mickelson. Along the way Walters avoided a serious threat from a Las Vegas mobster.

“I lived a wild and crazy life,” Walters recently said on CBS News. “My editor likes to say they don’t make people like me anymore.”

Hall Of Fame Gambler

Raised by his grandmother in a one-bedroom rental in Munfordville, Kentucky, Walters, 77, began betting as a preteen and spent time during his younger years in his uncle’s pool hall, sharpening his skills.

Later, Walters was convinced of bookmaking in Kentucky but then moved to Las Vegas, where he achieved financial success, despite highs and lows.

Poker player Billy Baxter said Walters is the “greatest gambler ever (and) the most successful person, by miles, that ever was involved with gambling.”

In August, Walters and Baxter were among eight others inducted into the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame’s inaugural class at Circa Resort in downtown Las Vegas. 

Phil Mickelson Feud

Walters’ relationship with Mickelson recently was in the news again, focusing on a revelation in the book that Mickelson bet more than $1 billion on sports over three decades.

"The only other person I know who surpassed that kind of volume is me," Walters wrote.

Mickelson even asked Walters to place a $400,000 bet for him on his own Team USA in the 2012 Ryder Cup to beat the Europeans, according to the book. Walters said he didn’t place the bet but doesn’t know whether anyone else handled it for Mickelson. The golfer has since denied betting on the event.

The two parted ways after the golfer refused to testify on Walters’ behalf in the insider trading case, ESPN reported. Walters was convicted and sentenced to five years in federal prison. He served 31 months and was released in May 2020.

Mickelson’s attorney told the Wall Street Journal the golfer’s testimony would not have made a difference in Walters’ case since the conviction had nothing to do with the relationship between the two.

Walters sees it differently.

"Phil Mickelson, one of the most famous people in the world and a man I once considered a friend, refused to tell a simple truth that he shared with the FBI and could have kept me out of prison," Walters wrote. "I never told him I had inside information about stocks and he knows it. All Phil had to do was publicly say it. He refused.”

In the recent CBS News interview, Walters said he does not forgive Mickelson. Walters’ daughter killed herself while he was behind bars.

“If I hadn’t been in prison, I know my daughter would be alive today,” Walters told the news network. “There’s no way I could ever forgive him.”

These days, Walters continues to be involved in charitable work, including efforts regarding prison reform and assisting those with developmental challenges.

Mobster’s Deadly Threat

Walter’s book also details a shakedown attempt decades ago by mobster Tony “The Ant” Spilotro.

Spilotro was the Chicago Outfit’s overseer in Las Vegas from the early 1970s into the ’80s. During that period, mobsters controlled street rackets in Las Vegas and extorted gamblers and bookmakers.

In June 1986, Spilotro and his brother, Michael, were beaten to death by other underworld figures in the Chicago area and then buried in an Indiana cornfield. Chicago Mob bosses supposedly were fed up with Tony Spilotro’s high profile in Las Vegas, covered extensively in the media over the years.

The 1995 Las Vegas movie “Casino” focuses on that era, with Joe Pesci portraying a character based on Spilotro.

In Walters’ book, he wrote that Benny Binion, who operated the Horseshoe casino in downtown Las Vegas, told him that Spilotro was the one person in town “you don’t want to cross.”

“He will insist you pay tribute to him,” Binion said. “If you don’t ante up, he’ll hurt you or have you killed.”

Later hearing that Spilotro wanted to meet with him, Walters left Las Vegas the next day for about six months, according to USA Today, only returning after Spilotro was killed.

"The fact of the matter is, I would have never come back if the situation hadn't changed," Walters said.

Kentucky Launches Legal Sports Betting

In an ironic twist, Walters book was released this year on Aug. 22, less than a month before sports betting becomes legal in Kentucky, where he once was convicted for bookmaking.

Starting at 10 a.m. ET on Sept. 7, bettors will be able to place legal sports wagers inside licensed horse tracks across the state. The sport betting launch happens on the same day that the NFL regular season kicks off, with the Detroit Lions visiting the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs for a Thursday night game.

On Sept. 28, Kentuckians will be allowed to place legal bets on mobile devices (cellphone apps and computers) from anywhere within the Bluegrass State. Mobile betting begins on that date at 6 a.m. ET.

Pre-registration is also available at a number of Kentucky betting apps, that have been approved by the State. 

For more information about the upcoming betting launch, you can check out our page on sports betting in Kentucky.


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Larry Henry

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