Billy Walters: 'Sports betting requires more skill than poker'

Billy Walters, a man considered by many to be the greatest sports bettor ever, believes he is an underdog to ever see wide-spread legalization of the industry that has helped him make hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Who knows, one of these days, maybe there will be somebody up there that will have the guts to do the right thing,” the 65-year-old Walters told Covers.com in an exclusive phone interview in early February. “But I’m not holding my breath waiting for it.”

In the race for legalization, sports betting is several lengths behind online poker, which has built its case on being a game of skill, instead of chance. Walters is adamant the same case can be made for sports betting. Just like in poker, successful sports bettors must analyze information and use risk management to turn a profit. 

“I used to be a professional poker player,” Walters said, “and, they’re right, if you’re a good poker player, it’s a game of skill. Well, betting sports is much more of a game of skill than poker. I’m living proof that betting sports is a game of skill. I’ve won 37 years in a row. If that’s not a skill, then I don’t know what is.”

(VOTE: Which game requires more skill to be successful -- sports betting or poker? Vote here).

Walters believes online poker will be approved, and that it could lead to legalization of sports betting. But there’s still plenty to overcome, if Americans are ever going to be allowed to place a sports wager as easily as they can bet on a horse race.

“They’ve legalized lotteries, and you can walk into an off-track betting parlor and bet on any horse race in the country,” said Walters. “And why can they do that? Because of the horse lobby; the people who control the horse lobby have a lot of juice; so does the poker lobby, but there is no such thing as a sports betting lobby. I think they’ll get poker approved, and hopefully sports betting will be next. People are doing it, and they’re not going to stop. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The NFL is another huge obstacle in the fight for legalization. The league’s objection is hypocritical, says Walters, because e of how much interest gambling generates for the NFL.

“Does anyone believe that the NFL is naïve enough not to know that if it weren’t for people betting on sports and playing fantasy football that they wouldn’t have 20 percent of the people that are watching now?” Walters pointed out. “If you’re running the NFL and admit what you already know, then why wouldn’t you want to legalize it? That way, people involved in it are licensed and have to undergo background checks, and it’s regulated, taxed and up front. That’s the most positive outcome for everyone involved.”

Sports betting opponents often warn of an increase in games being fixed, like the corrupt NBA referee, Tim Donaghy, and the point-shaving scandal in the mid-90s at Arizona State. Walters witnessed both, but says those types of nefarious activity have been rare throughout his more than three decades in the industry. He chuckles at notions that today’s professional athletes, who make millions of dollars, would risk it to throw a game that might earn them $50,000.

“Now, pro soccer over in Europe … well, let’s just put it this way … it’s not nearly, nearly regulated as say the NFL,” said Walters. “I got to tell you, the NFL, NBA, college basketball and college football are about as square as it gets.

“From a bookmaker’s perspective and a bettor’s perspective, the integrity of the sports betting market is something that we all have in common,” he added. “If it’s compromised, bookmakers are out of business and so am I. So I’m going to do my best to protect it.”

Sports betting ban more ‘ludicrous than prohibition’

Walters is passionate about what legalized sports betting could do for the United States.

The most intense his soft, but grizzled voice got during the interview was after he rattled off all the benefits of legalization, including tax revenue, creation of jobs and consumer protection.

“This is more ludicrous than prohibition,” Walters emphasized. “Prohibition lasted for what 13 years, before they finally realized that this is insanity. People aren’t going to quit drinking alcohol. And people aren’t going to quit betting on sports. The powers-that-be know that; it’s no secret.”

It’s not a shock that the game’s best player supports legalization and regulation. But the level of Walters’ frustration with the system stood out in the interview. He sounded like he’s sick of the hassle that comes along with simply investing in a football game. And it’s hard to blame him.

“We’re still operating under the same laws that were passed 50 years ago when it comes to sports betting,” he said. “There wasn’t any Internet or cell phones then. But we’re still operating under those arcane laws. It’s ridiculous and makes no sense at all.

“In the past 20 to 25 years,” Walters concluded, “I guarantee you that there are more laws being violated in the first two seconds that the New York Stock Exchange opens Monday morning than there will be in all of sports betting in the next thousand years.”

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Posted by Pendo
2 months ago

When? ...When The Fed's not bothered by Bitcoin... ...When the IRS is bothered by large MNEs not paying taxes... ...When Reed & politicos care less for NV's praises...
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Posted by Big35Hurt
2 years ago

There's way too much money made by illegal bookmakers in this country for this thing of ours to ever become legalized nationwide. Those people have more juice than people want to admit to themselves. These are the people that run our country. Don't fool yourselves. It's also the reason that you'll NEVER see marijuana legalized. Exact same reason.....
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Posted by golfwacko
2 years ago

bw would love lagal gambling.millions of more squares driving the lines. more outs. if you worked in a hub in vegas you would know this guy is devastating. the greatest middler ever never know the fake or the desired side till its to late.
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Posted by jerjohns
2 years ago

LOL Wonderwomen. Kinda like when Prohibition ended and the Anheuser Busch's went underground to avoid paying taxes. That's obsurd! Actually, there are many gambling sites going on record stating they'd welcome legalizing on-line gambling because it would send profits through the roof. If I told you I'd make you an extra $5 mil next year but I get $1.5 mil back (taxes) do you really think you'd say no and go 'underground'?
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Posted by David_Payne
2 years ago

Smart post ... Legalization and regulation is a win-win for everyone involved except maybe local bookies, IMO. Appreciate you contributing to the discussion.
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Posted by Hirschfelder
2 years ago

David, re: fantasy sports. The NFL in particular know that there are very few bad consequences in fantasy. You are taking a player to do something. Tim Donaghy wouldn't call a foul because he had a player in his fantasy team. In gambling you are betting on something not to happen, taking a team to cover is the same as taking the other team not to cover. But the NFL is not stupid, they know who the people are that are watching a game that is 26-6 in the 4th. Take away gambling and watch the ratings collapse. Player status is for gambling, the leagues just don't admit it publicly
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Posted by David_Payne
2 years ago

Spot on again, Hirsch -- If the only argument the NFL has against legalization is an increased risk of game fixing, well, then we should have little trouble proving that wrong. Legalization would actually limit that because of the added regulation. Good luck this weekend -- DP
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Posted by Jaymaxx
2 years ago

Nice article. Always interesting in seeing what Billy has to say about sports gambling.
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Posted by keys2theroc
2 years ago

good read
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Posted by wonderwomen
2 years ago

its just like legalizing pot. If they do than everyone will grow there own so they do not have to pay taxes. Home break ins would increase dramatically. Government makes more money if its medical. If they tax sports betting income betters will go to a place where income can not be traced. I would never want to report my sports betting income.
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Posted by wonderwomen
2 years ago

there are thousands of undercover sportsbetting websites that pay no taxes. what would happen if they legalized it? You really think these sites are going to pay taxes when they havent been for the past 15 years. They will just make better websites that can not be traced. All cash. All the money would move to black market and tax paying websites will be hurting. This is just my opinion. If its aint broke dont fix it.
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Posted by stvnbck6
2 years ago

i spoken to bw about this many times, there is only one reason why bw would want this, that is to keep the FBI of his ass, he has to do a lot of cloak and dagger stuff to get his "coin" where it needs to go, this would give him an ability to move more freely financially speaking. and then and only then can he give the high hard one to the mafia. "Freedom baby is never having to say your sorry"
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Posted by tomnolan
2 years ago

here is the bottom line. just get it done all ready. i am sick and tired of flying to vegas every football weekend!!!!!!!!!!
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Posted by cd2010
2 years ago

Great article, thanks for the advice Billy.
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Posted by netsmx
2 years ago

interesting interview David, i live in Mexico and this is paradise for sports bettors, ill love to make business with you....
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Posted by stats1
2 years ago

waste of an article!!! u really think billy wants gambling legal???
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Posted by David_Payne
2 years ago

Sorry I wasted your time, and yes I feel like BW was gambling legalized and regulated.
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Posted by David_Payne
2 years ago

@Hirschfelder: While trying to respond to your post about the NFL, I accidentally deleted it. My bad. I agree with your point, but don't understand why the NFL is fine with people betting individual player statistics (fantasy) but not the outcome of the game.
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Posted by rball747
2 years ago

The future best investments will be legal sports hedge funds in the usa it is just a matter of time now. Some of the best cappers here will become very wealthy in time working for the sports hedge funds to come. There are legal sport hedge funds in england now and more to come.
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Posted by Hirschfelder
2 years ago

And every single one of them has failed, most recently Centaur Galileo
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Posted by Snookslayer
2 years ago

Legalizing sports-betting is obviously the right thing to do, but how does it help small-time gamblers? There's no taxes now and small accounts don't really worry about not getting paid. I can see why big-time gamblers with serious money in their accounts would like the extra security, but how would legalization benefit the small-timers? If legalized, sports-betting sites would probably pay taxes, which I assume they'd pass-on to customers in the form of higher juice. Taxed winnings and higher juice -vs- more security. Is that the only benefit?
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Posted by Hirschfelder
2 years ago

False. Competition will drive prices to small vig, especially if exchanges are legal too. Not every book is like those myths in Vegas.
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Posted by the-profit
2 years ago

Master of the obvious. Maybe the biggest gambler should spearhead the Lobbying effort.
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Posted by David_Payne
2 years ago

I thought that too, but then began to think about if I would want to take on something like that when I'm 65 -- especially if I had the kind of coin BW has.
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Posted by houseman
2 years ago

Thanks for the interview Billy!!! Love to be a runner for you.
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Top Response

Posted by houseman
2 years ago

"Thanks for the interview Billy!!! Love to be a runner for you."