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He prefers being seen as a successful entrepreneur, the friend says, not just a "Las Vegas gambler. But gambling was how he made his name. 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. Walters' big action is unwelcome in many sportsbooks in Vegas, so he relies on his network of "runners" like Rubalcada, who are tasked with placing bets without giving any hint that they're working for someone else.
Meanwhile, an account that's too successful runs the risk of being shut down. That makes a large network a major advantage -- each runner stays under the limit, but the total amount bet on Walters' behalf often exceeds it many times over.
But they can't build out that distribution network. So Rubalcada spent day after day in the dimly lit sportsbook, waiting to hear from a guy nicknamed Wolf, whose urgent messages would arrive shortly before kickoff or tip-off. Rubalcada would instantly punch in bets on an M Resort tablet linked to his account. But in fact, Rubalcada wasn't even always trying to win, though he didn't know it at the time.
Eventually, he grew to understand one of Walters' keys to success: Some of his bets were intentional losers, designed to manipulate the bookmakers' odds. Walters uses the same method on multiple games, often risking millions each weekend. Walters pleads guilty to misdemeanor bookmaking in Kentucky. Walters and his Computer Group associates are charged two weeks before the five-year statute of limitations is set to expire. Walters and his Computer Group colleagues are acquitted of conspiracy and illegal transmission of wagering information.
State agents raid Walters' Sierra Sports Consulting. Walters and three other defendants are later indicted for money laundering. The money-laundering indictments against Walters and his three co-defendants are dismissed by a local judge. Walters, pro golfer Phil Mickelson and investor Carl Icahn are reported to be under investigation for insider trading. Since the days of the Computer Group, analytically inclined professional gamblers have relied on technology as well as research to produce what is called a delta: the difference between the Vegas line and what the bettors conclude the point spread should be.
The greater the delta, the more money a gambler like Walters will bet. Walters' strategy is simply more sophisticated and uses more people, better information and, of course, more dollars bet in far more places than anyone else's, insiders say. The work starts well in advance of a game. Malinsky, who says he worked for Walters on two occasions as a college football handicapper, says he routinely provided Walters quantified evaluations of teams, broken down by color codes and letter grades.
The vast Walters network also includes a guy on the East Coast known as The Reader, who scans local newspapers, websites, blogs and Twitter for revealing tidbits or injury updates. That information is weighed and plugged into the computer alongside other statistical data -- from field conditions to intricate breakdowns of officiating crews. Armed with algorithms and probability theories, the objective is to find the mispriced team, then hammer the line to where Walters wants it.
He will just absorb the information and then make the final decision. He is the coach calling the plays. Asked about Malinsky's descriptions, Walters says, "He has no clue how my operation runs. Unfortunately, David wasn't successful in what he did, and I discontinued the relationship.
Rubalcada, in his position as a runner, didn't know the details of how any bets came together. Rubalcada says he made his way into Walters' world booking tee times at Royal Links Golf Club, a pricey course Walters owns a few miles off the Strip. Rubalcada says he advanced to a job best described as course hustler, setting up on a par-3 hole with his pitching wedge and offering foursomes the chance to wager on who would make it closest to the pin. When Walters' gambling operation offered him a job, Rubalcada saw a chance to make huge money.
Eventually, he began mimicking some of Walters' betting action with his own funds, relying on an inside source to text whether Walters' bets were real or phony moves. He added to his troubles when he attempted to cover the theft by staging a carjacking, which was captured on hotel video surveillance. In the fall, his legal woes escalated when he was jailed for violating the terms of his probation, which included random drug testing and prohibitions on alcohol use and gambling.
Rubalcada, who drank heavily during two ESPN interviews, remains in jail awaiting a spot at a drug treatment facility. After Rubalcada was arrested, one of Walters' attorneys visited the county prosecutor's office -- without prodding -- armed with records detailing how the gambling operation was set up legitimately through a limited liability corporation. The move surprised and impressed authorities, as did the fact that a former Vegas detective was overseeing the group's security arm.
They were better set up legally than your average business, let's put it that way. In the sports gambling world, where the house takes a 10 percent cut, bettors need to win Any additional wins represent pure profit -- and when hundreds of thousands of dollars are wagered on a single game, lots of it. Walters gets those extra 2 percentage points and sometimes much more.
He has boasted that he has suffered only one losing season in 39 years, and past criminal investigations provide a snapshot of his success. The raid against the Computer Group revealed that the syndicate won an eye-popping More recently, an unsuccessful money-laundering case in found that Walters was consistently winning as much as 58 percent a week, sources told ESPN.
This year, Walters says, he expects to break even. Another myth about professional gambling is that every big bet is made in Vegas. Placing bets outside Nevada is a legal gray area and, as a result, a subject on which those close to Walters refuse to shed much light. But multiple sources estimate that only a small fraction of Walters' bets are actually placed there. The remainder, they say, happen either at offshore gambling sites or, to a lesser extent, through a network of bookies, many of whom have had relationships with Walters for decades.
Sources say Walters' operation has become more active in offshore sportsbooks, in Europe and in the emerging Asian market. A raid on Walters' office found more than 40 telephones, from which authorities said more than 12, long-distance calls a month were placed to illegal bookmakers in the U.
Walters was indicted three times for money laundering in connection with the investigation, but the charges were dropped before trial. Today, sources say, the headquarters of Walters' international operation is located outside the United States. The last known location was in Panama, according to sources, after earlier offices were based in London, the Bahamas and Tijuana, Mexico. Mastronardo, who says he worked for Walters from to , calls his former boss a genius.
But he also witnessed what he saw as a dark side -- Walters could be cunning and openly malicious, he says. Mastronardo, who has also dabbled as a bookie and worked in the Caribbean as an offshore sportsbook operator, says he and 20 or so underlings moved bets for Walters from Philadelphia before he moved to Las Vegas to work out of Walters' headquarters in exchange for a 25 percent cut of the winnings.
Holding court in his airy fifth-floor beach condo in Boca Raton, Florida, Mastronardo, 59, looks fit and tanned, like he just walked off the golf course. But any day now, he will settle into a federal prison for a nine-month stay, the price for pleading guilty last year to illegal gambling and racketeering charges in connection with his post-Walters operation.
While many former associates fear speaking openly about Walters' business, Mastronardo says he has little to be afraid of. Talking about his past work helps ease some of the pain and embarrassment he's caused his family after more than 15 arrests, he says, adding that he's sought counseling to overcome his shame.
Mastronardo, an All-American wide receiver at Villanova and 10th-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in , says he first met Walters in the s while playing in a golf tournament for high-rolling gamblers hosted by Jack Binion, who owned a large casino in Vegas.
Nearly two decades later, he says, the connection paid off when Walters asked him to move games. One of Walters' major advantages, Mastronardo says, is his focus on smaller college games, which don't attract much action and thus often aren't researched as deeply by bookmakers. Billy's art was to keep that game close to 7 and bet as much as you can without the world finding out about it.
One memorable night, Mastronardo says, he was at dinner with Walters and his wife when Walters began asking about a basketball game. Now you can bet in foreign markets. Some he bets in the casino. Some he bets offshore. Some he bets in different markets. So he uses the market however he wants. But the art was that he could bet a game for a lot of money and nobody would know about it. But there were reminders that Walters could also be ruthless.
Federal agents stopped him before he could leave the bustling McCarran airport terminal and began pressing him to turn over the money, which they suspected was earned illegally. Mastronardo managed to get a message to Walters through Fats, a driver sent to the airport to pick him up.
The reply from Walters was matter-of-fact: "Tell John good luck. After several hours of questioning, agents accepted Mastronardo's defense that he was a professional gambler and allowed him to leave with the money. But the next morning, after Walters got his cash, he issued Mastronardo a warning: "He says, 'Johnny, you know the rules, right? If I don't get the money, it means I didn't receive the money. It means you are on the hook. That is the way it is. Years later, when Mastronardo was operating an offshore sportsbook, he believes Walters planted a whale -- betting parlance for a high roller -- to hit his business.
But after about three weeks, the man was winning so often that Mastronardo shut down his account, suspecting Walters had smartened him up. But it is all fair in love and war," Mastronardo says, shaking his head. And he is very cunning. He is kind of like a boxer you don't like personally but you respect his skill. Tiger Woods in his prime.
He was mentioned by name at least times during the three-week trial, the majority of mentions from prosecuting attorneys. Also stipulated was that Mickelson had accrued and repaid similar gambling debts in the past to Walters. The government argued that Mickelson's text and phone communication with Walters in July was tied to Dean Foods information Walters had been hearing from Davis, the former board chairman.
On July 30, Mickelson purchased 3, shares of Dean Foods in an account under his and his wife's name. He purchased another shares in trust accounts for his then-minor children. Federal investigators found the trades were Mickelson's first Dean Foods stock purchases, though it was revealed that as early as Walters himself held four million shares of Dean Foods stock.
Walters said he researched and knew the inner workings of the company as well as anyone, and by the summer of the stock was vastly undervalued and a "free roll" -- gambler's parlance for a wager with limited downside and a huge upside. Information that he knew was going to happen, he knew that the money would come back around, and that's exactly what it did. Walters' attorney, New York-based defense counsel Barry Berke acknowledged his client previously shared sports and stock tips with Mickelson.
He scoffed, though, at the notion of Walters passing along inside information to his celebrated, now ex-friend. Mickelson's gambling past has been well-documented. For example, in , Outside the Lines reported Mickelson's connection to an illegal offshore gambling operation. Gregory Silveira, a California-based agent for the offshore site, subsequently pleaded guilty to money laundering charges and remains incarcerated at a federal prison camp in Arizona.
Mickelson's camp describes him as a victim in the Walters insider trading case, though his personal attorney, Cohen, declined to say why. Phone calls were not returned by Washington, D. In Walters' mind, Mickelson held the key to his freedom, if he had just explained to jurors what had really happened. Essentially denying he got any tips.
He had denied that to the government. In my judgment, it would have helped us. I can't say, 'Oh, that means we absolutely win or anything, but it would have made someone else's credibility an issue. And it just adds up. Walters' lawyers are expected to present oral arguments as early as May before a three-judge panel representing the U. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, seeking to overturn his conviction -- or, at the very least, allow for a new trial. The appeal alleges government misconduct, arguing that the trial judge did not allow an evidentiary hearing and that the key witness, Davis, perjured himself at trial, and the government knew it.
A decision is possible before the end of the year. Davis initially told investigators that he and Walters did nothing wrong, but after cutting a deal for a reduced prison sentence, Davis told a different story in court. He told of having provided Walters non-public information about Dean Foods over a lengthy period of time. He told of passing along such information as earnings projections, operating plans and specific company transactions.
As he became more indebted, Davis added: "[Walters] became more demanding of information. As part of his deal with the government, Davis pleaded guilty to 12 criminal counts, including securities and wire fraud, obstruction of justice and perjury. With Davis facing at least 10 years under federal sentencing guidelines, prosecutors recommended he not be imprisoned due to his cooperation, but the presiding judge sentenced the government's star witness to two years in prison, labeling Davis "a phony, fraud and a crook.
Davis helped the government finally get its man after decades of trying, yet not without a government black eye suffered by the FBI and Justice Department, both of whom have taken reputational hits of late. Federal documents show the case against Walters, which at the time focused on billionaire investor Carl Icahn and well-timed trading in Clorox stock, was dormant in when the lead FBI agent who had investigated the matter began leaking secret grand jury information to New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporters.
It was Walters' attorneys who raised the specter of the government leaking grand jury materials to the media, alleging the leaks were orchestrated to bring exposure to a case going nowhere. Details from the illegal leaks were published the year before Walters' grand jury indictment and included specifics on trades being examined and records being analyzed, the identity of those approached by the FBI as well as supposed targets of investigation.
Former U. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, initially denied the leaks ever took place, dismissing the allegation to the judge as "baseless. At the time, Walters' attorneys argued unsuccessfully to have the case thrown out. The government's leaking of information and subsequent reaction to it remains a significant part of Walters' appeal. Bharara did not respond to messages left for him with the NYU School of Law, where he's currently an adjunct professor.
Chaves' attorney, Sean P. Casey, declined comment. From the start, Walters and his camp butted heads with the government over what they perceived as grandstanding by Bharara, who declined Walters' offer to self-surrender when it became clear he was going to be charged with insider trading. Instead, a security staffer rushed into Walters' office late one morning in the spring of , telling Walters about two armed, plainclothes law enforcement-types lurking about the Bali Hai clubhouse.
Walters later strode into the clubhouse restaurant for lunch and eyed a woman, whom he perceived to be a federal agent, with a holstered gun. He alerted his attorney. Walters has been trying to surrender himself for two months. You have people surveilling his business. Can he surrender himself? They were running surveillance, and they were going to arrest me the following morning, real early. So, when he called them, they panicked, and they came down, and they arrested me.
Marriott in Summerlin, a casino-resort on the western outskirts of Las Vegas. He was arraigned the next day, though not before Bharara -- once dubbed the "Sheriff of Wall Street" -- held a media conference in New York. Supreme Court contemplates making his livelihood legal in the United States -- something once unthinkable. From prison, Walters responded favorably to the possibility of legalization while emphasizing the need for uniform and proper regulation by individual states that get into the game.
Based on personal experience, he said that state regulations should ensure customers will be treated equally -- sportsbooks should not be allowed to close the accounts or dramatically reduce the betting limits of successful players, as occurred with Walters in Las Vegas. Walters wrote, through his attorney: "There are a number of benefits -- jobs, taxes, allowing Americans to engage in an activity that is already taking place legally [in Nevada and offshore sites].
License the people involved to keep out the criminal element. In a ESPN The Magazine profile, Walters voiced frustration over what he said were draconian laws that drive a massive market of betting dollars to poorly regulated offshore locales. 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. Attorney Richard Wright said his client, Walters, had to set up an elaborate business to bet domestically and internationally.
And in order to operate in the rest of the world, he had to go completely to [Panama]. It was just like he was in Nevada and then he moved out to Panama and did the same thing from Panama, where he could bet in England, Australia, Ireland, everywhere. Under a legalized system in the United States, his attorney said, Walters could have operated his gambling business far more cheaply and put his employees to work domestically.
And Walters suggests with a potentially larger gambling market, he could wager greater sums and win even more money. He could understand the government probing complicated, multimillion-dollar transactions, but not uncovering anything approaching a crime, in his mind. So, he didn't see the verdict coming. He hadn't prepared his family. He hadn't prepared his employees. He was flu-ridden when he was convicted on all 10 counts last April, after four hours of jury deliberation.
He headed to a home in California a beaten man. I'd been going to court every day, getting up early, staying late, and going through quite a bit of tension. I was in my office, in a recliner. I think for two days it was almost like those two days didn't happen. And then after that, I snapped out of it and realized what it was. I had to get up and go to fighting. I have a new hand. I have to take the set of facts and the circumstances I have today.
I got to look at the potential outcomes of it. And I have to be realistic with it. That is what my life is going to be. It is just that simple. Because of my son and my interaction with the handicapped and mentally challenged people, I think I have a pretty good handle on things as far as perspective is concerned. I go over to Opportunity Village [Walters is a major benefactor of the Las Vegas-based nonprofit serving adults with intellectual disabilities] and see people there who through no fault of their own have been dealt the rottenness hand in life.
They come over there every day. They work. They make no excuses. You ask them how they are doing, and I never heard a negative word out of one of them in 25 years. It is not a good situation. It is clearly something I never dreamed would happen. And what has happened and the way it happened is as bad as it gets, but I do have a perspective.
This will end. I don't know when it will end, but it will end. My life will go on. And I don't have anything I can't recover from.