A 40-year winning streak is almost unheard of in the gambling industry, but this amazing feat helped Billy Walters become a Las Vegas legend.
Walters’ hundreds of millions of winnings have enabled him to build an empire that includes multiple mansions, golf courses, hotels, property development, car dealerships, a $20 million private jet and various other business interests. He is currently serving a prison term for securities fraud, but that shouldn’t detract from his remarkable betting success. Walters has been described as the Michael Jordan of the sports betting world. One Las Vegas oddsmaker called him:
“the most dangerous sports bettor in history.”
Billy Walters didn’t succeed right from day one, in fact he went broke many times. As a younger man he described himself as a gambling addict and compulsive loser. The hard lessons from losing are a very common experience amongst gamblers who ultimately become very successful.
“I know what every sucker thinks, because I used to be one. I can assure you that every successful gambler I know has been through some monumental failures on his way to getting there.”
Walters has surrounded himself with sharp minds and employs an array of experts in the roles of consultants, statisticians, mathematicians and computer programmers to help him compile, analyse and ultimately profit from huge amounts of information.
Many years ago Walters even employed people to co-ordinate with the Las Vegas airport cleaning crew to gather used newspapers from all the incoming flights. A team of readers would then analyse all of this information that most of the linesmakers and general public were not aware of.
“If you value something at ten, then you’re a buyer at eight and a seller at 12.”
But this concept of value is very different to how most bettors operate. They are very keen to bet on their chosen team and will do so without giving enough thought to whether they’re actually getting good value. ‘Bet odds not teams’ is a well-known but under-appreciated betting maxim.
The Walters team produces their own lines and only bet when they are different to the market. Returns are enhanced by their wagering approach since the bigger the discrepancy (ie. the Expected Value or Positive Expectation), the bigger the bet. This strategy is in line with a money management approach known as the Kelly Criterion.
Walters has incredible confidence in his own numbers and looks to exploit his advantage the most when that estimated edge is the biggest. But success isn’t about making one big bet. Walters never lets it all ride on one game, instead he spreads out his bankroll across many games where he has a positive expectation
Simply tossing a coin will get you a 50% record betting against the spread. But to be profitable at the standard odds of -110 you need to be hitting at a 52.4% winning percentage. For all of his work and success, Billy Walters winning strike-rate is ‘just’ 57%, but that’s enough of a margin to generate a big edge on the sportsbooks. The sheer volume of his bets and the ability to optimize his bankroll management has enabled him to amass hundreds of millions in profits.
Billy Walters may win every year but he has plenty of losing days, weeks and even losing months along the way. He understands and allows for variance.
The edge that came from reading all the small-town newspapers died when the internet arrived. That is just one small example of how almost everything evolves.
“I probably had to re-invent myself 25 times in the last 20 years. If I hadn’t re-invented myself, I would have been out of business. That goes for anyone in any business. There’s going to be constant change of any industry you’re in and if you don’t change with it and you don’t change ahead of it, you become like a dinosaur; you become extinct.”
So Billy Walters adapts his approach to stay ahead of the game, but he still believes that the fundamentals of gambling success remain the same.
“The game of handicapping sports is really the same game as it was 40 or 50 years ago. It’s much more competitive now, and the numbers are much better than they were in the 80s, but it’s still the same game. It still comes down to evaluating information.”
A feel for the market is also exceptionally important.
“The computer whiz kids who are involved in sports today don’t have a clue, I mean a clue, about how to bet their money. They don’t have a feel at all for which way the line is going to move. There is a big difference in knowing how to bet and when to bet your money in sports. It is almost as important as handicapping is.”
“A lot of people have a difficult time stepping back and doing a re-valuation and deciding ‘I was wrong’. A lot of people want to continue on in denial until they’re completely broke.”
Billy Walters’ success shows that it is actually possible to succeed in the betting world. It’s not easy, but he is living proof that it is definitely possible.