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For a man who once lost his house pitching nickels, Bill Walters has made a good dollar. Walters, 52, a former cardplayer, pool-hall hustler and car salesman from Louisville, moved west 17 years ago to Las Vegas. Though he took home $300,000 for winning the 1986 Super Bowl of Poker, he made his fortune in computers. Walters is a very Vegas version of a software millionaire.
In the early and mid-1980s he and 16 confederates, the Computer Group, developed software that beat Nevada sports books at their own game. By weighing myriad factors mathematically, Walters says, "we found favorable bets." If Indiana, say, was a four-point favorite against Purdue, but the Computer Group program said the Hoosiers were seven points better, Walters and dozens of beards—surrogate bettors—would make simultaneous wagers. That way they could "move the money without moving the line," as big-time bettors say.
During the fall of 1983 and the winter of '84, the Computer Group earned a profit of $4.8 million on wagers of a little less than $42 million. Walters made millions more by placing side bets of his own. (Prosecutors charged the group with gambling conspiracy in '84 and with money laundering last year. The first case ended with blanket acquittals. The second was dismissed.)
Today the man who once gambled away a house (his creditor let him off the hook that time) develops land, malls and country clubs. His latest project is a links-style golf course that opened last month. "American golfers don't know what they're missing," he says, "so we've recreated the old Rembrandts." The Royal Links, 18 near-perfect replicas of famed holes in Britain, cost $32 million to build, more than double the average for a resort course. Except for its cart paths and the weird sight of the Vegas Strip in the distance, it is remarkably accurate: heather and gorse—or similar species better suited to the desert—red phone booths, a small castle for a clubhouse. The low wall at the 10th hole, architect Perry Dye's version of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, was treated with acid to make it look centuries old. The wall alone cost $200,000.
"I've been fortunate, had some successes," says Walters, a one handicapper whose net worth is about $80 million. "This was a chance to do something exactly right." He still bets hundreds of thousands on football while splitting time between business and civic duties. "I don't play hunches," says Walters, who is betting millions that the Royal Links can turn a profit on its greens fees of $195 to $225. That's petty cash in Vegas, where the 1997 Nevada Philanthropist of the Year is as much a pillar of his community as the Corinthian columns at Caesars Palace.
Williams Sisters' Newsletter
Athletes who hate being misquoted can take a tip from the tennis-playing Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. Since December they've been publishing The Tennis Monthly Recap using their laptop computers. Five hundred copies of the January issue, a four-page newsletter, turned up in the players' lounge at the Australian Open. "So much publicity is negative," said fifth-seeded Venus, 18, who was to face top seed Lindsay Davenport in Tuesday's quarterfinals. "Our newsletter is nice."
Venus's January tribute to Steffi Graf, in which she calls Graf "a woman of will, strength, grace, heart and class," is nicer than 17-year-old Serena's critique of Jan-Michael Gambill and Justin Gimelstob. Serena praises both as future stars but writes that the 21-year-old Gambill's "speed, agility and... shot selection need some improvement," while Gimelstob, 22, "has yet to show some real consistency."
Readers looking for a betting angle in the free Monthly Recap got exactly their money's worth in Melbourne. In her Australian Open preview Venus called Serena "the most dangerous unseeded player to ever compete in any draw? But France's Sandrine Testud skirted the danger, beating Serena in the third round.
Katrina Price, 1975-1999