In the hours before Donald Trump went from being “Mr. President” back to being just another alleged sex offender and tax fraud, he went on a pardoning binge.
In among the hundred-and-forty-odd folks who got pardons or commutations, one stood out in particular. We all expected to see the names of Trump’s cronies like Steve Bannon, William Henry (a Republican politician) and Hillel Nahmad (the owner of the 51st Floor of Trump Tower) on the list. Even Lil Wayne and Kodak Black aren’t surprising, given Trump’s love of fame.
Billy Walters, on the other hand, is a little unexpected. Sure he’s a Florida-based businessman with dodgy dealings under his belt, but he’s also a legend of the gambling community. Apart from the request for a pardon he doesn’t seem to have had much to do with Trump before.
Perhaps we are looking at the product of a backhander. Or perhaps Trump — who has the lowest rate of pardons of any president but Bush — just sympathized with Walters’s white-collar crimes. Either way, Walters’ commutation was a joyful occasion for some of the oldsters in the poker world who remember him as a sports-betting god.
Doyle Brunson tweeted about Walters saying “I see Trump pardoned our old buddy Billy Walters. I think that was a legitimate pardon because Billy was railroaded on what they sent him up for.” (Walters actually had his sentence commuted rather than receiving a pardon and so will retain his criminal record.)
The most successful gambler in the world
Billy Walters has a reputation for winning. It didn’t start that way — he lost his first bet — but after losing every penny he had over and over, he finally got smart. In 1986, he identified a wheel bias at the Golden Nugget and ran up a profit of $3.8 million, a record at that time, before they politely showed him the door.
Around that time he joined the notorious Computer Group, a crew of numbers geeks who used computers to find profitable lines on sports betting. At one point (according to him), they ran a profit for twenty-nine out of thirty consecutive years.
Despite the murky world of semi- and extra-legal sports betting that he ran in, it wasn’t gambling that put him afoul of the law. According to Walters, golfer Phil Mikkelson lost $2 million to him in unspecified gambling debts. Mikkelson couldn’t pay, and so offered Walters some non-public information about a restaurant company.
The court’s story runs a little different, citing six years of insider trading with info from Tom Davis chairman of Dean Foods Co, and another golfing buddy of Walters.
The conviction for insider trading got Walter five years in a minimum-security prison and a $10 million fine. He also had the $43 million he made off the deals confiscated.
There were only a few months left on Walters sentence when Trump put his scrawl on the commutation yesterday. And Walters was serving the last of that sentence out under house arrest. It all feels like very little, very late.
Featured image by Gage Skidmore sourced from Flickr