Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Following a day in San Diego promoting his new book, Billy Walters sits in the office of his Southern California residence and can finally take a breath.
The buildup to the release of his tell-all autobiography “Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk” has been a learning experience. As he went through the first rounds of editing, publishing company Simon & Schuster told him he had enough material to publish four books, let alone one.
What started as a 600-page manuscript was trimmed to 384. The 77-year-old’s book comes out today and highlights numerous parts of his life — how he became the world’s most notorious sports bettor; growing up from humble beginnings in Kentucky; and how an insider-trading case involving pro golfer Phil Mickelson led him to prison and his daughter to suicide.
Why do this now?
“I’m not getting any younger,” Walters reasons.
Walters says he feels this book has something for everyone. Beyond appealing to the novice sports bettor or the champion handicapper, Walters says he hopes readers will relate to the other aspects of his life.
Walters grew up in Munfordville, Ky., a small town about an hour south of Louisville where the population was 1,673 as of 2021. He was raised by his grandmother and says he got into sports gambling at 9 years old.
He took the money he earned from his paper route and placed his first bet on the 1955 World Series, picking the New York Yankees over the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a $120 bet. He lost.
Since then, Walters says he has more than made up for it, including winning $3.5 million by picking the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
The book details many of Walters’ tactics to becoming a successful sports bettor — knowing which trends to look for, considering all the variables that could affect a football game, like home-field advantage and the weather .
“I wanted to make sure that when I wrote the masterclass sections that I wrote it primarily for the average better, and that’s who it’s for,” Walters told the Sun. “There’s something in there for the most accomplished of bettors.”
Walters said that he wouldn’t have sold this information 10 years ago if he was paid $30 million, but the advancements and progress made in legalized sports betting have softened that approach.
The development of sportsbook apps and the ability to bet in multiple states — not just his residence Las Vegas — opens up the possibilities for what’s to come in the future.
Walters also writes about his relationship with Mickelson, saying the pro golfer asked him to bet $400,000 on the 2012 Ryder Cup, on his behalf while Mickelson was a member of the United States team.
Walters had an eight-year friendship with Mickelson, the six-time major winner on the PGA Tour, that also bloomed into a five-year betting partnership. The excerpt from Walters’ book highlighting Mickelson’s extensive gambling was released Aug. 10, including the claims about the Ryder Cup.
Walters compared the situation to Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader who was banned from baseball in 1989 while betting on baseball games as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
“I thought he lost his mind, and I told him so,” Walters said of Mickelson. “I don’t know if he didn’t (bet on it) or he did. Prior to that, he never mentioned anything about betting golf, and he never mentioned anything about betting golf after that. I think he just got carried away in the moment, but (him calling me) undoubtedly happened. There’s no question that it happened.”
Mickelson released a statement to Golf Digest the following day saying that he never bet on the Ryder Cup.
“While it is well known that I always enjoy a friendly wager on the course, I would never undermine the integrity of the game,” Mickelson said.
The relationship between Walters and Mickelson reached a breaking point in 2017 when Walters was sentenced to five years in prison for using nonpublic information to commit insider trading related to Dean Foods, a Fortune 500 company and the largest processor and distributor of milk in the United States.
Mickelson was mentioned to have owed Walters $2 million in gambling debts, and he made $1 million in trade shares with Dean Foods. But Mickelson never testified in court on Walters’ behalf.
“Bottom line was, it was real simple. All Phil had to do was come forward, do nothing more than to testify and tell the truth, as he told the FBI on two previous interviews,” Walters said.
Walters added that if he had never gone to prison, his daughter — who committed suicide from an opioid addiction while Walters was incarcerated — would still be alive.
“Although she had her issues and problems in life, we always talked and I was always able to address whatever issue she had,” Walters said. “But I had no communication with her, I couldn’t talk to her, and she took her life. I’ll never be able to forgive Phil for that.”
It’s just one part of the book, Walters said, but he felt it was important to add his relationship with Mickelson to set the record straight on the perception of the case. He said the way the case was presented in the public eye is “not 100% factual.”
Walters was fined $10 million in addition to his sentence, but was released in 2020 from a Pensacola, Fla., prison by way of a coronavirus release program. He was ordered to serve the rest of his sentence via home confinement in California, but his sentence was commuted by former President Donald Trump in January 2021.
“At the end of the day, when you read my book, you’re going to determine whether I’m a straight-up guy or not a straight-up guy, or whether I have credibility or I don’t have credibility. Credibility comes from telling it like it is,” he said.
Walters said he tried to find the positives while serving time at Federal Prison Camp, Pensacola. He said he served as a mentor to inmates and helped teach them skills they could use when released.
When Walters returned home, he made it a goal to establish vocational schools in prisons. Working with former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Walters put $1 million up to launch schools in Nevada to teach inmates trades of electricians, plumbers and drywallers.
“I was devastated to see the impact prison had on them,” he said. “These men, the closer they got to release, I would spend more one-on-one time with them. None of them wanted to go back to prison, but all of them deep down were afraid they would go back because they had no work skills outside of it.”
Walters was honored in April for his philanthropic work with Hope For Prisoners, an organization that helps incarcerated people with job training, with the organization’s Champion for Hope award. Walters contributed part of a $4 million donation to launch a driver’s license vocational school at Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs.
“People in there who truly want to change their lives and deserve a second chance, they’re going to be able to get a job skill set while they’re in prison,” Walters said. “When they come home and have a job waiting for them.”
Walters said no one really knows if they’ve lost freedom until they truly have lost it.
He’s continued to adjust to life outside of prison. His wife of 47 years, Susan, was his rock throughout that time, he said.
One of their two sons, Scott, had a brain tumor at 7 years old and has been “intellectually challenged” for most of his life. Now that he’s home, Walters has turned focus on taking care of his son.
As for what’s next, that’s to be determined. Walters will let his book do the talking for now. He’ll likely enjoy the coming football season and place a wager or two.
He might not be getting any younger, but he’s got plenty to look forward to.
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