Legendary Las Vegas gambler and controversial golf course developer Billy Walters was sentenced this week in a New York federal court on 10 charges related to insider trading.
Walters’ stock-tip for Dean Foods of Dallas netted him $32 million in profits and another $11 million in avoided fines. Now he’s scheduled to serve 60 months in federal prison.
Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith has written about Walters for some 30 years. Last year he profiled Walters in Desert Companion magazine. Walters grew up very poor and, with an acumen for sports betting, accumulated a fortune.
In 2013, revenue from Walters’ various businesses, which include auto dealerships and golf courses, was estimated at around $500 million.
The judge overseeing the case in U.S. District Court, P. Kevin Castel, is quoted as saying “Billy Walters is a cheater and a criminal, and not a very clever one … The crime was amateurishly simple.”
Asked why Walters would risk reputation and potential jail time for more money—when he is already very wealthy—Smith said Walters views risk differently than most people. And betting on the stock market isn’t the same as sports betting.
“What you have is a guy who has a lot of gamble in him,” Smith said. “He’s a guy who’s been gambling. He’s known as a sports bettor who gets the best information, gets the best number, then makes his decisions.
“Now, when you’re betting stock … whether that game is as solid as any sports book in Las Vegas, I’d trust a guy behind the counter at a sports book before I’d trust the stock market.”
Smith also noted that Walters is a complex man whose life and interests cannot be summed up by this conviction.
“There’s (also) the Opportunity Village side,” Smith said. Opportunity Village is a non-profit that supports people in southern Nevada with intellectual disabilities.
Smith added there is “an easily identified line of giving” that Walter has had with Opportunity Village. So for everything else that Billy Walters is, the bottom line is he has been an angel to Opportunity Village.”
Smith believes that’s why Judge Castel sentenced Walters to five years in prison, when prosecutors were asking for 10.
John L. Smith, Nevada Public Radio contributor
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