I-Team: Gambler Billy Walters arrested on insider trading charges

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A high-rolling Las Vegas sports gambler is free on bond after being indicted for insider trading.
Federal prosecutors in New York unveiled the charges Thursday, saying gambler and businessman Billy Walters made more than $40 million in stock deals based on inside information.

Walters is probably the most successful sports gambler in history. He’s known in Las Vegas, not only for his mastery of the point spread, but also for generosity with charities and contributions to political campaigns. He’s often in court, and he always wins, but he’s facing a tough fight ahead.

“Yes, I am a serious recreational bettor, and I have been fairly successful over the years,” he said during an interview in 1999.

Fairly successful is putting it mildly. Walters has wagered and won tens of millions of dollars over the years betting sports. He’s parlayed that into a golf course empire and real estate dealings.

He has done so well, 60 Minutes aired a profile of his lavish lifestyle, and it might have been that flattering profile that put him in the crosshairs of federal lawmen.

“Here’s a guy who seems to win at everything he does. Maybe that whetted their appetite to say, let’s see if we can win against him and turn this all-time winner into a loser,” said Walters biographer Jack Sheehan.

Sheehan has known Walters for years and wrote a definitive biography of a man he says is the most successful sports gambler in the world. The book was never published, but Sheehan says he’s had many out-of-the-blue inquiries about it, probably from lawmen who were investigating Walters in the wake of the 60 Minutes profile.

Preet Bharaha, the U.S. attorney in New York, held a news conference Thursday to announce Walters is accused of insider trading.

“Walters placed enormous bets. The bets were never a gamble at all. They were sure things,” Bharaha said.

The indictment alleges Walters was given inside information by the chairman of Dean Foods, the country’s largest milk producer. According to the indictment, that information allowed Walters to earn more than $40 million over a five-year period.

Businessman Tom Davis was also charged, but is cooperating with prosecutors. Also involved is famed golfer Phil Mickelson, a friend of Walters. Lawmen say Mickelson also made nearly $1 million on a stock tip given to him by Walters. Mickelson has agreed to pay back the money and is not being charged.

It isn’t the first time Walters has been accused of crimes. He was hauled into Nevada courts three times for alleged gambling offenses. Each time, he prevailed.

Sheehan says it is telling that prosecutors would hold a news conference in New York to announce the indictment, a clue that lawmen may think Walters is a major target.
“He’s never been convicted of anything,” Sheehan said. “He’s an easy guy to go after for government officials. Let’s just say he’s a hard guy to catch. I think the smart money in Las Vegas is betting on Billy to win again.”

Walters is charged with conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud. He was arrested Wednesday in Las Vegas, appeared in federal court Thursday afternoon and is free on a $1 million bond. Walters and his Las Vegas attorney Richard Wright declined to comment for now.

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