"The whole time I was in the automobile business, I had been working on a program to handicap sports," Walters said. "I wanted to gamble where it was legal and lawful and you could be a respected member of the community."
Walters told Automotive News that he has stopped much of his gambling in recent years, adding: "That passion I had with gambling has faded. I got burned out on it."
In 2011, Walters was interviewed on CBS' "60 Minutes." An avid golfer -- his handicap today is 10 -- Walters told "60 Minutes" he would bet tens of thousands while golfing with friends. The most he won for a hole of golf was about $400,000. The most he won in a game of golf, he said, was $1 million -- which he lost at a blackjack table later that evening.
In 2010, Walters had won $3.5 million on the Super Bowl, "60 Minutes" reported. Walters told "60 Minutes" that on any Sunday he could have at least $2 million "at risk" on professional football games. A Las Vegas oddsmaker characterized Walters as a "great white," a legendary sports bettor who was respected and feared.
This May, The Wall Street Journal reported that Walters met pro golfer Mickelson in the early 1990s in Las Vegas. The SEC alleges that in July 2012, Walters pushed Mickelson to buy Dean Foods Co. stock based on inside information Walters allegedly had about the spinoff of one of its divisions. Mickelson earned nearly $1 million in profits selling the stock after it surged on the spinoff news, which he used to repay a gambling debt to Walters.
Mickelson has agreed to turn over to the SEC slightly more than $1 million based on his profits plus interest, while Walters faces indictment for allegedly profiting and avoiding losses of $40 million based on "numerous illegal tips he got about the company."
Walters set up Walters Group, a holding company, in April 1988. It owns two golf courses in Las Vegas and other businesses, including his car dealerships.
Walters returned to the car business in 2004 as a passive investor in Glenn Ford-Lincoln in Nicholasville, Ky., about 15 miles south of Lexington.
"The entire time I was out of the car business, I wanted to get back in it," Walters said.
In 2009, he started the Walters Bayer Auto Group with Robert Bayer as his partner. The group's seven dealerships in California represent nine brands: Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Ram and Volkswagen.
In 2012, Walters' other partner, Jared Gaiennie, bought some dealerships in the Southeast from Bayer. Gaiennie and Walters then formed the WG Auto Group. That group owns seven dealerships in Kentucky and four in Georgia representing 13 brands: Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Lincoln, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ram and Toyota.
Walters said he is hands-on in his dealership and business operations "365 days a year." He rotates frequently among homes in Las Vegas; Carlsbad, Calif.; and Lexington, Ky.
"There isn't anything that goes on in our company, that I'm not aware of," Walters said. "I interact with the stores' general managers and with my partners multiple times on a daily basis."
A self-confessed "car guy" who worked as a mechanic in his teens, Walters drives a 2016 Hyundai Equus sedan and a 2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed convertible.
Walters, who has been married for 40 years, has three adult children. None is interested in the car business, so his succession plan includes his partners and some general managers.
The fact that he can help his employees achieve success is partly why he loves the car business, he said: It's "an equal opportunity" field.
"You strictly reap what you sow," Walters said. "You take a guy who comes from where I came from -- if it wasn't for the automobile business, I don't know where I'd be today."