Billy Walters, recognized by many as the greatest sports bettor ever, has some bad news for all of the new bettors on the scene.
"With the expansion of sports betting, legalized now in most states in the United States, you have a lot of beginning bettors," Walters said. "Frankly, the way this thing is set up for most of these people, they have no chance to win. I mean, zero."
That's OK. That's part of the reason why Walters wrote a book.
Walters' book, "Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk," will be released on Tuesday. Walters has famously kept his bets and his strategies to himself through more than three decades of beating sportsbooks. "I wouldn’t have put this gambling information in a book 10 years ago for $10 million. I wouldn’t have even considered it," he said in a phone interview. The book shares not only his betting strategy tips, but also wild tales about high-stakes wagers of all kinds, the various characters that have been in his orbit (including Phil Mickelson, whose betting exploits which Walters shares in the book have gotten a lot of attention), his upbringing in Kentucky and the mistakes he made along the way. He goes into detail about doing prison time for his conviction in an insider stock trading case.
Walters is 77 years old and felt now was the time to share his stories. He also said the widespread legalization of sports betting also pushed him to share advice.
"The people getting involved, I want them to understand the good and the bad," Walters said. "I want to give them some basic information if they’re going to do it, so at least they have a chance."
Billy Walters' tips for sports bettors
In chapters 21 and 22 of his book, Walters lays out a "master class" and "advanced master class" in sports betting. The many factors he weighs before betting any NFL game, and the point value he puts on each of those factors, is a highlight of the book.
Walters boiled down his key pieces of advice for new bettors, or even veteran bettors who need some reminders.
"The plan doesn’t have to be that sophisticated," Walters said.
Play at multiple sportsbooks and shop for the best lines: One sportsbook might have the Green Bay Packers at +2.5. Another might have the Packers at +3. That might not seem like a big deal, but finding that difference is the key between winning and losing bettors, Walters said.
Getting the best prices on odds and the most favorable spreads — and also understanding if +2.5 at -110 odds or +3 at -130 odds is the better play, something Walters charts in his book — was one of Walters' key tips for winning.
"If you don’t have multiple accounts, if you don’t shop around for the best price and you don’t understand what the right price is to lay for each half-point, you don’t understand how a point spread compares to the moneyline and you don’t know the true odds you’re laying on some of these bets, you’ve got no chance," Walters said.
Money management and discipline: Walters says in his book that bettors shouldn't be betting more than one to three percent of their bankroll on any bet.
And a big part of money management is not chasing losses.
"We all let our emotions take over from time to time — I don’t do it anymore, but I did when I was much younger — you lose three or four games on a Sunday all at once, and it’s Sunday night and you’ve got no opinion at all but you’re going to double up and catch up and get your money back, and the same thing goes for Monday night," Walters said. "That’s suicide if you do that."
Avoid parlays and teasers: It's hard enough to win when you have to lay $110 to win $100 on straight bets. It's much tougher to win on parlays and teasers (with teasers, bettors can move the spread on multiple games by six or more points but have to win every game to cash the bet). Sportsbooks have shifted the odds on parlays and teasers and that gives the house too big of an edge, Walters said.
"Parlays and teasers are fun bets, and getting a bigger payout than what you bet is fun," Walters said. "But bottom line is, if you’re going to bet on sports and you want to give yourself a chance to win over a period of time, at the current odds you can’t win on parlays and teasers."
Gather as much information as possible: Many years ago, Walters and his group had flight crews collect the sports sections from newspapers left on flights to Las Vegas. That's how they researched teams and injuries.
All that knowledge — injuries is the biggest factor Walters singled out, but he also gauges the morale of a team and how it will play in certain weather, among other factors that are listed in the book — is easier to get than ever.
"I think we’re all equal. That information is out there for everyone," Walters said.
Walters has unique resources when it comes to sports betting. He said he has spent millions on research and development. Walters has had teams of researchers and bettors working for him. That goes back to the "Computer Group" of the 1980s, which was famous in the sports world for using technology to get ahead of the sportsbooks. Walters also has a much more devoted, bottom-line approach to sports betting than just about everyone else.
"To me, betting sports is a business," Walters said.
Even though casual bettors don't have the time, money or connections to replicate that, the most renowned sports bettor in the world says the key factors to winning are simple.
"Don’t succumb to emotion and bet on games because you’re losing. Shop around and get the best price," Walters said. "You’ve got a fighting chance if you do that."
Walters enjoys the changing sports betting scene
The sports betting world has changed a lot in just a few years. When the United States Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting in 2018, it allowed states to put it on ballots. More than 30 states have legalized sports betting.
Walters doesn't pine for the old days, when sports betting was mostly done in the shadows.
"All they did was legalize something people have been doing for years and years and years," Walters said. "To see it legalized today, I think that’s a really good move in the right direction."
It does come with some drawbacks. There have been multiple betting scandals in college and pro leagues. But Walters said he doesn't worry about the integrity of sports going forward. He said bettors help regulate sports.
Walters brought up the famous 1994 point shaving scheme with Arizona State basketball. He said that the first time bettors came to Las Vegas to bet on fixed Sun Devils games, the spread moved and he bet the other side. He lost. He did the same thing the second time Arizona State bettors came to Las Vegas, and he lost again. The third time it happened he was wary.
"The third time I didn’t bet," Walters said. "I taped the game and looked at it and it was obvious what was going on."
Walters said he called the authorities. Several bookmakers did too. The FBI eventually indicted those involved.
"It’s not like Wall Street," Walters said. "You can not hide this.
"If there’s anything out of the ordinary, people identify it immediately."
Walters can identify it better than anyone else. Walters said in his book that his first bet was on the 1955 World Series, which he lost when the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees. That started a lucrative career that has continued to this day. He doesn't have any future bets on college football or the NFL this season, but says that is because he has been in New York doing a publicity tour for his book.
"I'm going to get back home [Las Vegas] here pretty soon and do what I really love," Walters said.