The life story of William “Billy’’ Walters is inspiring.
From extremely humble beginnings, Walters has amassed a legion of friends and supporters through his gentle charm, amiable demeanor and overwhelming generosity to those in need.
Walters today is CEO of The Walters Group, which has diversified holdings in real estate, luxury golf courses, car dealerships, and a wide range of startups and other industries. He has retired from gambling, but remains one of most iconic sports bettors of all time.
William Thurman Walters was born July 15, 1946, in the small town of Munfordville, Kentucky, where his grandmother raised him in a house with no running water or indoor plumbing. His mother, who was an alcoholic, walked out on her family shortly after his father’s death, when Mr. Walters was an infant.
At age seven, Billy Walters launched his first business when his grandmother, who worked full-time cleaning homes and at a restaurant, helped him secure a $40 loan from the local bank so that he could purchase a lawnmower. He repaid the loan within two years and graduated to his next business venture. He got a paper route, waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day to deliver papers before school.
In addition to her work ethic, Walters’ grandmother imparted her faith and devotion to the community around her to young Billy. A regular churchgoer, she brought Walters to services and/or Bible study on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Walters became a leader in the church youth group, ultimately reaching the level of Ambassador Exemplary.
When Walters was 13, his grandmother passed away. Walters moved to Louisville to live with his mother and her new husband and their stepchildren. His mother relegated him to a room in the basement and charged him $10 per week in rent. Walters’ mother was verbally abusive, and she and her husband often would go on benders and lock themselves in their room for multiple days at a time.
Walters landed jobs at the Davis Doughnut Bakery, where he worked from 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. before school, and a Joe Graves Shell gasoline station, where he worked after school from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Those experiences in his early life shaped the man that William Walters would become. He is hard-working, self-sufficient, and resilient in the face of adversity. But above all, Walters’ childhood taught him the importance of kindness and generosity to those suffering, those less fortunate, or those otherwise down on their luck. An example of Billy Walter’s character: When his mother contracted emphysema in later years, Walters paid her bills and ensured she was comfortable at the end of her life, despite the abuse he endured from her as a child.
From these humble beginnings, Billy Walters went on to become a legendary sports gambler, champion poker player, and chief executive of a business empire with investments in real estate, luxury golf courses, car dealerships, and a wide range of startups and other industries.
Walters first started gambling when he was six years old when his grandmother took him to his uncle’s pool hall. He would play a game of nine-ball for a penny, and in the summers, he worked racking balls and preparing food. Walter’s placed his first sizeable bet at age 10 against a local grocer for $125 on a World Series game between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. He bet on the Yankees, and they lost.
After high school, Walters supported himself and his young family by taking a sales position at McMackin Auto Sales, beginning a career in the automobile sales industry that spanned from 1965 to 1981. He went on to become a sales manager at Stevens Brothers Auto Sales. Eventually, he started his own business, Taylor Boulevard Auto Sales. Walters left the industry to move to Las Vegas to focus on sports betting.
There, Walters became one of the most successful sports gamblers of all time, pioneering the use of computer analytics to handicap games. Separately, he became an acclaimed poker player, winning the No Limit Hold ‘Em tournament at the 1986 Super Bowl of Poker.
In 1988, after retiring from the world of poker and non-sports gambling, Walters and his wife started their own company, growing from just the two of them to some 2,000 employees. Beginning with investments in commercial and residential real estate, The Walters Group also entered the golf industry, purchasing, renovating, operating, and selling golf and country clubs around the United States. In 2000, The Walters Group opened its marquee Bali Hai Golf Club on the Las Vegas Strip.
As The Walters Group was developing and operating luxury facilities, Walters never lost sight of his beginnings and looked for business opportunities that would benefit the community. Walters built a golf course in a rundown part of Las Vegas as part of a city revitalization effort. At the time, Las Vegas golf courses had become so expensive that they were out of reach for many of the city’s residents. An avid golfer himself, Walters developed a course that was accessible and affordable to all and also used the grounds to host clinics for beginners and junior golfers. He also hosted charity events and helped establish the Northern Nevada chapter of the First Tee, a non-profit youth organization that provides educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.
With a reputation as a man of his word who prefers handshakes over contracts, Walters also developed contacts in the world of business, politics and sports.
Generally reticent of the media, Walters agreed to an interview in 2011 with the television news program, 60 Minutes, in the hope it would help the overall image of Las Vegas and to educate the public on legalized sports betting. The resulting program helped cement Walters’ national reputation as an astute bettor and an even more generous philanthropist.
It also attracted the attention of law enforcement, particularly after Walters criticized Wall Street and the regulatory agencies charged with overseeing it.
In 2017, Walters was convicted of insider trading in a case marred by government misconduct. He was sentenced to five years in prison and paid $43 million to the government, despite a recommendation from the U.S. Probation Office that he receive a sentence of 366 days and a $10 million fine. One-hundred friends, ranging from his employees to professional athletes to powerful Washington politicians, wrote letters in support of Walters. You can read more here.
Walters continues to deny any wrongdoing and has appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In October 2020, Walters filed a lawsuit against five former DOJ and FBI officials accusing them of covering up and lying to the federal court about illegal leaks of false information to the media. The case is ongoing.
On January 20, 2021 Walters was granted a presidential commutation. The White House stating, “In addition to his established reputation in the sports and gaming industry, Mr. Walters is well known for his philanthropic efforts and was previously named Las Vegas’ Philanthropist of the Year.”
The act of clemency was supported by former Majority Leader Harry Reid, former Governor Jim Gibbons, former Representative Shelley Berkley, former Clark County Sheriff William Young, former Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, numerous professional golfers including Butch Harmon, David Feherty, and Peter Jacobsen, and former 60 minutes correspondent Lara Logan.
Now in his seventies, Billy Walters says he will continue to work hard and to support those in need. You can read more here.