LAS VEGAS — When Billy Walters was inflicting damage on sportsbooks during his 36-year winning streak as the top gambler in the country, sports betting was largely in the shadows. It wasn’t until about a year after his conviction for insider trading that the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down PASPA set in motion the rapid expansion of legalization. The next jurisdiction ready to launch a legal sports betting market is Kentucky, Walters’ home state.
Sports wagering gaining mainstream acceptance and the legalization of Kentucky sports betting mean a lot to Walters.
“Sports betting being legalized in the majority of the United States is all very personal to me,” Walters told Gaming Today after his induction into the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame last Friday. “It’s a dream that I’ve always had, and to see a dream come true is all very special to me.”
Later, during his acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame dinner at the Circa Resorts & Casino in downtown Vegas, Walters echoed those remarks, speaking emotionally about the evolution from the days when bettors and bookmakers were looked upon as outcasts and criminals. Walters said he agreed to his first-ever public interview – on 60 Minutes in 2011 – to help dispel this perception of gamblers.
“Billy Walters also gives millions to charities,” reported Lara Logan, who accompanied Walters on a visit to his favorite charity — Opportunity Village, which trains intellectually challenged people to work in Las Vegas. “It’s all close to his heart because he has a son with serious brain damage,” Logan said.
While Walters is still betting, he’s reduced his volume considerably, and his community involvement is a big reason why.
Is he planning on scaling his wagering back up?
“No, not really,” Walters told GT. “In my point in life, I’m really busy. I’ve got a lot of other things that occupy my time. Although I love sports, and I’ll bet sports till the day I die, it’s just a little bit different meaning to me than it was back in those years.”
That’s welcome news for sportsbooks, in Kentucky and elsewhere.
Sports Gambling Hall of Fame: Who’s Next?
Walters on Friday became one of 10 original inductees (five living, five posthumously) in the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame, which is housed near the betting windows at Circa Sportsbook on Fremont Street. The living members are now on the Advisory Board that determines future SGHOF nominees and inductees.
So, who’s on the early shortlist of Walters and fellow inductee Roxy Roxborough?
“You can’t induct everyone at the same time, and I understand there’s a committee, and I understand things need to be discussed, but if Mike Kent isn’t in the Hall of Fame, there cannot be a Hall of Fame,” Walters said. “And I feel the same way about (pro bettor) Alan Dvorkis (known to many as Alan Boston).”
Kent is credited with revolutionizing handicapping with computer-based models.
“I wouldn’t be here tonight if it weren’t for Mike Kent,” Walters said.
“That’s a hard question,” Roxborough said after being asked who he thinks should be next year’s inductees, “but I’d like for us to expand besides Nevada and take a look at people that were in sports betting in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and some of the offshore people, the people that pioneered offshore betting. I think that’s pretty important. We want to be much more inclusive. We just don’t want to be in Nevada (and have) just Nevada members.”
As potential posthumous inductees, Roxborough mentioned Ed Curd, who developed the -110 vigorish that gives bookies the edge over bettors, and Leo Hirschfield, a linemaker during the 1950s.
For those still living, Vegas-based bookmaker Vic Salerno deserves a spot on the wall at Circa, Roxborough said.
“I thought he probably did more to transform the business in Nevada than anybody,” said Roxy. “Not from a bookmaking standpoint, but for technology and franchising books.”
“I accepted the honor to be involved in this Hall of Fame because of the credibility that it brings,” added Walters. “It’s going to be someone who has gone around two turns, 20 years success is a minimum. …
“I’m very honored to be with the people I’m being inducted with tonight. Each and every one of ’em deserve it. And I’m proud to be with them. My goal going forward would be to make sure that we don’t dilute the quality of the people going in the Hall of Fame.”