Sunday 22 March 2015

Billy Walters

I've written about Billy Walters before. He has one home (he has several) close to that of Mrs Cassini's parents, and plays golf at a club where an acquaintance is the club professional, so I hear second-hand stories about him, but his story is an interesting one anyway for many of us given that his success appears to be down to data analysis rather than access to inside information. 
Here's a timely article from ESPN:  
On a mid-September night, Ezekiel Rubalcada swaggers through the doors of Las Vegas' M Resort Spa Casino. He moves to the half-moon-shaped bar overlooking the sportsbook, catching up with old friends. He exchanges high-fives and playful F-bombs with a couple of bartenders, then makes a raunchy pass at a brunette waitress who escapes in a near sprint.

For 38-year-old Rubalcada, being at the M is a pleasing trip down memory lane, a visit to his primary workplace throughout 2010 and 2011. Back then, he had nearly $1 million in his account at the M. Dressed in slacks and a sport coat, he would saunter in and bet six figures a week on NFL and college games. He was, M Resort staffers say, one of the sportsbook's "bigger guys" -- a high roller who could afford to bet very, very big.
But he wasn't that at all.
In fact, Rubalcada was a faceless grunt in the most successful gambling enterprise of all time.
The divorced father of two says he was paid $1,200 a week by an outfit called ACME GroupTrading to sip vodka tonics or Bud Lights until a man he'd never met called or texted him on his small Nokia phone. The voice would tell Rubalcada, known as Lubbock, how many thousands of dollars to place on which games -- immediately. But the ultimate orders came from the greatest and most controversial sports gambler ever: William T. "Billy" Walters.
For almost four decades, Walters, now 68, is thought to have bet more money more successfully than anyone in history, earning hundreds of millions of dollars. Federal and state investigators sniff around his operation regularly. Scores of bettors and bookies have tried to crack his methods so they can emulate him. Even Walters' employees, like Rubalcada, have tried to figure him out so they can win alongside him. Walters has outrun them all.
What's clear, according to dozens of interviews and thousands of pages of legal documents, is that Walters beats the odds everywhere -- in the stock market, real estate, criminal proceedings and his true wheelhouse, sports gambling. His talent brought him from a life of poverty in rural Kentucky to one of wild success. He owns a fleet of car dealerships, several high-end golf courses, a private jet and fabulous homes in places like Palm Desert and Cabo San Lucas.
Walters, according to interviews, is both kind and a bully, charming and scheming. He maintains an opulent lifestyle but also gives lavishly to charity as well as to presidents, governors and city council members. Among everyone who knows him -- from employees to bookmakers to politicians and investigators -- he elicits admiration, fear, jealousy and consternation in nearly equal measures.
Walters doesn't want to talk much about any of it. Over a period of several months, he begs off numerous interview requests from ESPN, saying his lawyers want him to keep quiet because of the latest investigation against him. Last spring his name appeared in headlines next to those of pro golfer Phil Mickelson -- a friend and occasional golf partner -- and billionaire investor Carl Icahn as targets of a federal insider-trading investigation. Walters has denied wrongdoing, but the case remains open.
In one phone call, he rails about his distrust of the media. Another call ends with a referral to his attorney. In late January, he answers a few questions and agrees to a fuller interview if ESPN agrees not to ask him about the insider-trading case or write about allegations that he once provided information to an FBI agent. ESPN declines the offer.
Walters repeatedly voices frustration over what he says are draconian laws that drive a massive market of betting dollars to poorly regulated offshore locales. "Why don't we license this thing?" Walters says. "Why don't we regulate it? Why don't we keep the bad guys out? Why don't we generate some jobs?
"Everybody in this country bets on sports," he continues. "If you were to take away the office pools, fantasy pools, people betting on sports, I guarantee the [TV] viewership would be cut in less than half."
Even when there isn't an FBI investigation looming, Walters isn't willing to talk much about his work. One of the few times he got close -- in a fawning 60 Minutes profile in 2011 -- he spoke only in general terms. He's been more open about his background: He was born to a poor teenage mother in southern Kentucky and raised primarily by his grandmother until she died when Billy was 12. He started placing bets as a young boy and lost all his savings -- $75 -- betting on the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the '55 World Series. In the early 1980s, he left two failed marriages and a car salesman gig behind in Kentucky and, after a misdemeanor gambling conviction, headed west with a tiny bank account and a heavy drinking habit.
After arriving in Vegas, Walters connected with the people who would help him turn his gambling habit into a career. In 1980, Dr. Ivan Mindlin and Michael Kent had formed the now-legendary Computer Group, which pioneered the use of computer algorithms for sports betting. Mindlin was the self-indulgent frontman, a surgeon-turned-gambler. The technology was run by Kent, a mathematician who developed nuclear submarine technology. By the early '80s, the Computer Group had burgeoned into the first national network of sports bettors, betting hundreds of thousands a day. The collective's gamblers, handicappers and investors began earning millions.
Walters was inexperienced, but Mindlin was impressed with his moxie and recommended his hiring to Kent in 1983. Walters was tasked with exploiting the weakest betting lines with bookies, then eventually with moving millions every week in exchange for a cut of the profits. "I gave birth to him," Mindlin says.
After a few years, Walters quit drinking for good and morphed into a member of Las Vegas' influential elite, developing golf courses, subdivisions and industrial parks. According to Jack Sheehan, a longtime Vegas pal, Walters fancies himself an across-the-board genius whose business acumen stretches far beyond betting. He prefers being seen as a successful entrepreneur, the friend says, not just a "Las Vegas gambler." Walters says sports betting now occupies less than 7 percent of his time.
But gambling was how he made his name. "I can tell you nobody has ever approached sports betting with as much analysis, as much technical capability, computer analysis," says Sheehan, who is writing a biography on Walters. "And he has a work ethic that is just ridiculous. If you and I had $300 million, we might play golf five days a week. Or be on a beach with three gals in bikinis. Billy works as hard today as he did when he was a used-car salesman in Kentucky."

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