Armen Keteyian: Kentuckian and Sports Betting Legend Billy Walters ‘An American Original’

Armen Keteyian: Kentuckian and Sports Betting Legend Billy Walters ‘An American Original’
Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk, Billy Walters’ much-anticipated autobiography, hit shelves on Tuesday, and while his allegations regarding Phil Mickelson’s gambling habits have generated much of the buzz, that’s only one part of the book.

Walters devotes the first seven chapters to his life in Kentucky. With Kentucky sports betting on the horizon, it's only right we cover this story. 

He grew up raised by his grandmother in Munfordville, only to move to Louisville in his teen years. He stayed in Louisville for over 20 years before he and his third wife moved to Las Vegas.

There are also two chapters Walters calls a “master class for sports betting,” which are meant to help readers improve their wagering acumen.

Helping him tell his life story is Armen Keteyian, a noted journalist and author who worked with the Kentucky native over the past three years to produce the book that was No. 3 on Amazon’s new releases list Wednesday night and No. 4 on Apple’s top books chart.

That included hundreds of interviews with Walters and trips to Kentucky. Those trips to Munfordville, Louisville’s South End and elsewhere, Keteyian said, served as a great backdrop as Walters recounted his stories.

Keteyian on Wednesday spoke with BetKentucky about the book.

“He’s the most interesting person I think I’ve ever met in my life on a lot of different levels because he’s lived so many different lives,” Keteyian said of Walters. “By my count, probably five or six different lives during the course of his 77 years.”

‘Billy’s Bigger Story’

Over his 40-plus year career, Keteyian’s work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, 60 Minutes, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and The Athletic. He’s written or co-authored several acclaimed books, including a 2018 biography on Tiger Woods.

“I didn’t really need to write another sports book at this point in my life,” Keteyian said. “So, I was attracted to Billy’s bigger story.”

It’s a complex tale that mixes personal struggles, hardships, gambling and business successes, philanthropic ventures and prison time.

Walters’ hardscrabble beginning led him to mow yards at age 7 and become a paperboy a couple of years later. While still a boy, he becomes a pool hustler at his uncle’s place.

After he moves to Louisville, Walters works two jobs while in high school and becomes a teenage dad. After graduating, he made $56,000 in commissions selling cars – in 1966.

“He’s always been an incredibly hard worker,” Keteyian said. “There’s some drive in Bill that’s just unique.”

But there’s a dark side, too. Walters admits in the book he was not the best husband or father, especially as he battled alcoholism and a gambling addiction. There have also been run-ins with the law. In 1982, his bookmaking ring was busted by police. Facing serious charges for running one of the largest operations in the state, Walters was advised by his attorney to move out of the Louisville area if he wanted to keep gambling.

That led to him moving to Las Vegas 40 years ago. He survived inquiries into his wagering activities, but federal authorities were finally able to prosecute him on insider trading charges. Walters was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. That sentence was commuted by then-President Trump in January 2021, less than a year after he was granted home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To this day, Walters still proclaims his innocence over the conviction and has said Mickelson, who was once Walters’ gambling partner and friend, could have helped his case if he testified.

Learn More: BetMGM Kentucky Bonus Code For Launch

More On Phil?

Given the details Walters provided in his book, Keteyian said there was fact-checking to painstaking detail. He personally reviewed each page three times. Walters went through it about a dozen times as the manuscript was being prepped. Keteyian’s researcher for the book reviewed it, as did defamation attorneys and Walters’ personal lawyer.

“It was vetted more than any book I’ve ever worked on, and I’ve worked on some pretty big ones,” Keteyian said.

While Walters is critical of federal law enforcement in the book and how they went after him on the insider trading charges, his stories about Mickelson have garnered the most attention.

And, according to Keteyian, there could have been more in the book about the pro golfer, who Walters said wagered more than $1 billion and allegedly wanted to bet on a Ryder Cup in which he played. Mickelson, an admitted problem gambler, has denied Walters’ Ryder Cup claim.

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” Keteyian told BetKentucky. “I think Billy was very discreet in terms of Phil’s personal life and not going there, dealing straight with their relationship. We have some pretty staggering numbers about Phil’s self-admitted addiction. We could have done much more than that because we have those numbers, and there was a lot of discussion as to how many of those numbers we would put in there.

“In the end, we ended up, I think, with four or five that that are pretty staggering.”

Coming Back Home

As he puts it in the final chapter, Walters’ story is coming full circle. Walters and his wife Susan are building a new home in Louisville, and Kentucky he said will become “a permanent part” of their lives.

“He’s an American original,” Keteyian said. “There aren’t that many left in this day and age.”

It also seems fitting that as Walters looks to spend more time in Kentucky, the state is finally embracing sports betting (an activity that has flourished underground here for decades) and will be the home to many of the best Kentucky betting apps. On the same day Walters’ book was released, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved licenses for seven tracks and nine operators.

Gambler, published by Simon & Schuster, is available in hardcopy and ebook formats. Walters also narrates an audio version of the book. is your home for the best Kentucky sportsbook promos. Be sure to bookmark us and stay up-to-date on the latest deals.



Steve Bittenbender

Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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