In professional gambling circles, the ‘Computer Group’ is a name synonymous with big-time betting in Las Vegas. Most associate legendary gambler Billy Walters with the Computer Group. Behind the scenes, however, it was another man who developed the strategies that ultimately led to their incredible levels of success. His name is Michael Kent and he is, without doubt, one of the true pioneers of computer-based betting.
Michael Kent: From Westinghouse to Las Vegas
Back in 1972, Michael Kent had no idea he was going to revolutionise the gambling industry. By day he worked for electrical conglomerate Westinghouse. His role was to use computers to help develop nuclear submarines.
On the weekend he was an avid softball enthusiast. He played for the company team and together they had won several championships. Being the analytically-minded person that he was, Kent wondered why they were so successful. So he set about trying to analyse the team’s data and use a computer to examine the strengths and weaknesses.
Given the limited data, Kent needed a larger challenge. So he turned his attention to college football. In the US, college football has a huge following and at the time there was plenty of data… but it was all in hard-copy guides, newspapers and even libraries. So Kent had to build a data set first. before trying to build a model that could predict football winners.
Kent’s first efforts were on beating the point spread. He discovered that there were a number of factors that contributed to a teams spread. They included home or away games, number of first downs and of course, the strength of the lineup. Once confident in his model, he started placing small bets of his own while continuing to develop and improve the model in his spare time.
For the next seven years, he fine-tuned his computer strategy until he finally quit his job at Westinghouse and decided to become a full-time professional gambler. Of course, to do this he had to go to where the action was… Las Vegas.
Enter Dr Ivan Mindlin
Kent headed to Vegas and spent much of his time compiling available data and then running his models, which would give him a list of money lines for the upcoming games. The rest of the time was spent locating the weakest lines in casinos and placing bets.
As things progressed, Kent became increasingly anxious about his betting activities. He was wagering large sums of money on a daily basis and so was carrying a lot of cash around. That made him feel uncomfortable and, at times, like he was being followed.
It was around that time that Kent met Dr Ivan Mindlin through a mutual friend. Mindlin was a surgeon with a propensity for gambling. At the time he owed some bookies $100,000 and was looking for a way to promptly pay off the debt.
So when Kent asked Mindlin to combine forces, it felt like a good fit. Kent was able to handle the numbers, while Mindlin was able to use his gambling network to place bets. It was 1980 and it was the very beginnings of the Computer Group, as it became known.
The group grew in the following years. Focused on crunching the numbers, time Kent didn’t realise just how large the operations were getting. The pair had agreed to split the profits 50/50, and Mindlin had free rein to place bets in any way he saw fit. The group quickly expanded and at various times had a network of bettors all across the country. Members included other famous gamblers such as Billy Walters.
During one famous run in 1983, the Computer Group bet $23 million and made a profit of nearly $3 million.
The group’s fame began to spread, with Mindlin taking credit for the efforts. He also started placing bets with less than respectable sources, including bookmakers with ties to the mafia.
Tax and legal troubles
The criminal connections that Mindlin had cultivated had caught the attention of the authorities. Unbeknown to Kent, the FBI started to look into the workings of the Computer Group… and saw some things they didn’t like.
Kent realised that Mindlin hadn’t been the honest operator that he thought, and got a lawyer of his own. He ultimately filed a civil lawsuit against Mindlin for half a million dollars. He also cooperated with the FBI investigation and was granted immunity for any wrongdoings.
At the same time, Kent had naively never paid taxes on any of his winnings. Proceeds from gambling are taxable in the US and Kent was also looking at a hefty tax bill from the IRS. He and his wife went to court to fight the IRS, but ultimately lost the battle.
The end of the Computer Group
The legal battles were really just the final nail in the coffin for the Computer Group. Mindlin had never been totally honest with Kent and that saw them part ways.
Michael Kent went on to found another sports betting group with his brother, however he has since retired from professional gambling.
While certainly not the most famous name to come out of the Computer Group, Michael Kent was without doubt the brains of the operation, and one of the pioneers of computer-based gambling.
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