Billy Walters’s bestseller conjures the ghost of the Computer Group and ‘Interference’

September 13, 2023 10:15 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
September 13, 2023 10:15 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

Controversial betting legend Billy Walters’s bestseller, Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk, remains the sports book of the summer. Now that the National Football League season has begun, it’s likely to stay there all the way to Super Bowl LVIII.

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One writer who read the book with particular interest is investigative reporter and author Dan Moldea, who you might say is a legend in his own right. For decades, Moldea’s intrepid efforts have documented the undeniable dance of American business and politics with organized crime in its many permutations.

Back in the late 1980s, Moldea began digging into the troubling associations of NFL players and owners to illegal gamblers and bookmakers, many of them directly associated with mob families from across the country. The result was Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football, a tough and thoroughly documented reporting effort that included interviews with dozens of sources, from the street to the front offices of the NFL.

The blowback from the book’s publication was immediate. The generous reviews were quickly eclipsed by a bull-rush job from the league’s innumerable friendly reporters. Moldea’s documentation and first-hand reporting were shoved out of bounds despite the league’s historical ties to big sports gamblers and bookies.

Moldea was scoffed at by the league’s so-called security experts when he predicted sports betting would spread well outside Nevada’s legal and regulated books.

The NFL could stiff-arm Moldea, but Walters writes in his new book that the publication of Interference did more than interfere with his action as the leader of the Computer Group betting ring. It embarrassed the Department of Justice into pressing the gambling case to indictment after it appeared to have been shelved by the FBI.

The Computer Group was an enigma from its start in the early 1980s with Walters, Dr. Ivan Mindlin, and an array of characters and investors, including some top Las Vegas business moguls. The arc of success and controversy of the Group was accurately documented by Moldea.

Despite all the trouble he’d courted, Walters says Interference generated one of the biggest headaches of his life. The anecdote is detailed in an aptly titled chapter, “Two Steps Forward & Back to Court.”

“Author Dan Moldea reprised the story of the Computer Group investigation and inferred [sic] that no one was indicted, because Merv Adelson, the head of Lorimar-Telepictures, was involved with the Group. Adelson’s then-wife was television star Barbara Walters, who happened to be best friends with Nancy Reagan, the wife of President Ronald Reagan, a connection questioned but never reported by Moldea due to a lack of documented evidence. 

“That said, a Justice Department source cited in the book told Moldea: ‘The problem is that the Justice Department knows it’s an organized crime operation, with some embarrassing links to major celebrities in the worlds of sports, politics, and entertainment. This whole investigation has been stalled for political reasons.’”

As Walters tells it, the book “did not sit well” with officials at Justice and inside the Organized Crime Strike Force. Six months later, the FBI came to Walters’s home and took into custody not only him, but his wife Susan as well. The fight was on.

Although Walters prevailed in court, the Computer Group saga defined him for many years, even as he grew his wealth in a variety of other business endeavors, such as golf-course developments (some helped with largesse from local government) and auto dealerships.

Walter survived multiple investigations over the years, before being convicted of federal securities violations related to insider trading in 2017. After serving a portion of his five-year sentence — he was also hit with a $10 million fine — Walters’s sentence was commuted by then-President Donald Trump.

When Moldea learned of Walters’s version of events, he took to his MOBOLOGY column on Substack and added his own insight into the Computer Group story and Walters’s place in the pantheon of sports betting.

“I will note that I conducted an exclusive interview for my book with Dr. Ivan Mindlin, the mastermind and founder of the Computer Group, and that I was subpoenaed and deposed under oath during the group’s civil case in 1990, while federal prosecutors prepared for their ill-fated RICO trial,” Moldea writes.

“Also, my book, Interference, was targeted by the FBI’s notorious Book Review Section, because of this and other cases in my book in which I had alleged that federal investigations were suppressed or killed.”

The question was whether the Computer Group’s involvement in a national sports betting operation capable of moving betting lines and laying off from Salt Lake City to Baltimore was up to something else. Although a trial went in Walters’ favor, in the America of the 1990s, the Computer Group invited the heat it received.

Obviously, a lot has changed since then, with the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, and Walters has emerged like Jonah from the whale — not only a survivor, but a gambling legend with a shiny bestseller.

“Life could not have been sweeter, until August of 1989 when an investigative book called Interference stirred the pot in our gambling game,” Walters writes.

Pardon Moldea for blushing a little. Interference didn’t reach the bestseller list, but I think Walters made an old investigative reporter’s day.