With HOPE for Prisoners honor, gambler Walters continues improbable comeback

March 29, 2023 8:39 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
March 29, 2023 8:39 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

Anyone who knows even a little about Billy Walters’s life story can understand why he might appreciate the importance of second chances.

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It would be more than fair to say that the life of the sports-betting legend, high-stakes gambler, golf-course developer, philanthropist, and felon for insider trading has had its share of potholes, fender-benders, and detours.

On the one hand, he’s given millions to Opportunity Village, a nonprofit that for decades has provided services for adults in southern Nevada with intellectual disabilities. On the other, he’s been the target of multiple criminal investigations associated with his gambling activity and served more than half of his five-year sentence for conspiring to commit insider trading. He was granted clemency in the final hours of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Reams of news copy have been written about Walters’ legal run-ins and his lucrative deals with southern Nevada’s local and regional governments. His political friendships weren’t limited to councils and commissions. Prior to his sentencing in the federal case, U.S. Senator Harry Reid submitted a letter on Walters’s behalf calling for leniency.

If the story ended there, it would be a remarkable tale. But unless I miss my guess, he’s embarked on a mission to rehabilitate his reputation and remind the fast-changing sports-betting world that he still has plenty of life on his fastball.

Even more intriguing is the fact he’s doing it all in Las Vegas in the heart of legalized gambling.

He’s already received what can only be called the star treatment from the sports-handicapping and betting experts at the VSiN network against the backdrop of senior gaming-industry leader Michael Gaughan’s South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa.

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Walters has an autobiography set for publication later this year, Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk.

Now he’s about to be honored by HOPE For Prisoners, the Nevada-based nonprofit that provides an array of long-term support for the formerly incarcerated. Earlier this year, HOPE announced it was receiving a “substantial gift” from Walters that would be dedicated to the creation of a new Las Vegas training facility to be called the “Billy and Susan Walters Center for Second Chances.”

HOPE offers an 18-month reentry program that has received support from the private and public sector. That includes the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, and state Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation.

HOPE founder Jon Ponder, who also knows something about second chances, enthused about Walters at the time of the announcement, “His passion to impact other justice-involved members of our community is commendable and we could not be more thankful that he has chosen to support the mission of HOPE for Prisoners.” 

The center is designed to assist former prisoners with vocational training, education opportunities, job connections, substance-abuse and mental-health counseling, and much more.

As if that weren’t enough of a reminder that Walters is back, he’s being honored by HOPE for Prisoners at its “A Night of Second Chances” gala April 19 at Resorts World Las Vegas.

For the uninitiated, Resorts World is located right there on the Strip, the place where not so many years ago, casino sportsbook bosses were extremely reluctant to accept Walters’s money. Some, in fact, were instructed not to let his money get anywhere near the betting window.

For more than two decades, a generation of prosecutors and law-enforcement investigators chased Walters with a “hope for prison” for the high-rolling sports gambler who was as adept at playing politics as he was handicapping and moving the betting line on NFL games.

It appears that’s all in the past now.

If the gambling fraternity gave awards for Comeback Player of the Year, there wouldn’t be much competition in 2023.