LAS VEGAS – You know when Billy Walters walks into a room.
The 75-year-old famed sports bettor strolls into the renowned Michael's restaurant at The South Point shortly after 10:00 a.m. on Thursday and immediately draws a crowd. He begins chatting with longtime oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro and Brent Musburger, laughing and sharing stories before they sat down for Walters’ exclusive interview for VSiN, The Sports Betting Network. The whole scene is reminiscent of almost a college reunion … for sports betting legends.
Wearing a maroon shirt and black jeans with dark suede shoes, Walters has a thick head of parted white hair and speaks in a thick Kentucky drawl. He is deliberate in his answers and goes at his own pace, but is rarely interrupted. He’s at ease talking with the bookmakers he used to do daily battle with – a sign of the respect on both sides of the counter.
A few quotes from those bookmakers about Walters:
“He’s the Michael Jordan of sports betting.”
“His research is second to none, and his opinion warrants respect.”
“No one outworks him. Tireless.”
The interview is only the second public one Walters has done in his life, and his first since a 2011 “60 Minutes” piece that served to start de-stigmatize sports betting. Walters recently finished his commuted sentence for insider stock trading in January.
He announces in the interview that Armen Keteyian is writing a book with him on Walters’ life, which Walters expects to be available this fall. The title of the book is “Chicken or feathers.” In Walters’ words, the book’s title is because, “In the gambling world, it’s either chicken or feathers. It’s chicken one day and feathers the next.”
The wide-ranging interview touches on many topics, including his life in Kentucky and early sports betting:
“Since I was a young man, I always had a passion for gambling, but I never had a chance to pursue my passion in Kentucky. I did from time to time, but not on a full-time basis like I would’ve liked … before I came to Las Vegas, I would be on anything that moved. I bet on every type of sporting event there was. I’ve been broke 200 times before I came to Las Vegas.”
The current state of sports betting and if he saw the potential boom after legalization:
“Honestly, I did. But I’m majorly disappointed, because I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of the opportunity. I don’t think people can see the trees through the forest … there’s a lot of positive things about legalization, but as far as bettors are concerned there’s a lot of room for progression in the business.”
On professional leagues’ involvement in sports betting:
“The fact that the leagues have gotten involved in gambling, as far as I’m concerned it’s way, way overdue. Gambling has been going on in sports for a long, long time. I don’t see anything wrong with that part.”
On whether people are using analytics properly:
“A lot of people today who think they understand analytics today, can’t spell analytics. I see a lot of poor coaching decisions and when they’re asked why they made some dumb decision that a gambler would never make in a million years, they say ‘Well, we did it because of analytics.’”
His success as a bettor:
“It’s all about useful information. Everyone has got information, identifying the correct information is sometimes the most difficult.”
And of course, Musburger tried to get a Super Bowl pick from Walters … without much success:
“I do have a strong opinion,” Walters said with a wry smile. “But I could make a case for both sides.”
“Come on my man, which side you leaning,” Musburger laughed, trying to get a little more information. “If I say to you that the Rams defensive line has an advantage over the Bengals offensive line, would you agree or disagree?”
“You gotta understand that I’ve been asked questions by some very well-trained people on certain things … but naturally anyone could see the Rams defensive line has a big advantage over the Bengals offensive line. I’d agree with that.”
After the interview, Walters shakes some hands, grabs his water bottle and heads back out into the bright lights of the casino ... perhaps to make a bet or two on Super Bowl LVI.