The most successful gambler in the world (probably)

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The most successful gambler in the world (probably)

This is the story of Zeljko Ranogajec, a businessman and a professional gambler. His sports betting and casino success have made him a millionaire and a rock star of the gambling industry.

Zeljko Ranogajec is the name that appeared in the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011. The biography article describes the man as ‘ of the most successful and innovative advantage gamblers. He started his career several decades ago when he had just a couple of hundreds in the pocket but managed to win hundreds of millions. Many people call him the world’s greatest player’.

Zeljko Ranogajec was born in Australia in 1961 to a family of Croatian immigrants. He was into math since the early school years, and when, at the age of 12, little Zeljko got a toy Roulette as a present, he started experimenting with it. You can say that the interest in gambling ran in that family: his father used to frequent Wrest Point – the first legal casino in Australia.

Our hero started gambling for real money in his early twenties. In 1978, he entered a university in Tasmania to study taxes, banking and finances. Even though Zeljko never graduated, in his Alma Mater he bonded with a group of students who shared his fascination – gambling.

At the beginning of the 80s, Zeljko and his friends used to spend all their time at the gambling tables in Wrest Point. He also met his future wife Shelly there – she was working as a croupier at Zeljko’s life-defining casino.

Initially, the group dedicated their wits and passion to Blackjack. Here is what David Walsh, one of Zeljko’s closest friends, said about those days in an interview:
– We weren’t risking anything. As soon as we worked out a winning strategy, tested it, and proved effective, Luck stopped playing a role at a casino table and influencing the results. Mathematically, we couldn’t lose.

Today David Walsh is a founder and owner of the biggest private museum in Australia – the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). His capital is estimated to total $200 million.

However, the Blackjack lucky streak couldn’t go on for a long time in the 80-s: all the significant gambling winnings were never overlooked by casino owners. First, Wrest Point shut the doors on our group of friends. By 1984 they had been blacklisted by all the other Australian casinos.

Walsh recalls that the late 80-s were the worst times for them. They had to move to Sydney and fly to Corea to gamble, but the company’s profit was still noticeably decreasing.

At the beginning of the 90-s, the team moved to Las Vegas. They started making good money there playing Blackjack, but the American casinos responded much faster than the Australian ones: the tour didn’t last long. Zeljko had already started speculating that Blackjack was no longer an option and figuring out a new plan.

The team returned to Australia and shifted their attention from their favourite ‘21’. They didn’t choose to go for Roulette or slot machines. They didn’t get hooked on online pokies, even the most addictive ones like Starburst pokie in Australia… Instead, they focused fully on horse racing and Keno – the lottery-like game with very unfavorable odds.

The team started hunting down jackpots. In 1994 they set an Australian record by snatching $7.5 million. They had been betting about $1 million per day for the whole week until they struck it lucky and got their long-desired jackpot. Even though they had spent more than $7.5 million, they were still in the black, thanks to the smaller cash prizes they were winning during the week. The team had an almost unlimited bankroll, which gave them a chance to buy up 90% of all the Keno tickets. According to some Australian gambling experts, out of the 44 jackpots raffled off one year, the Ranogajec’s team won 40.

At some point, the number of employees working for Zeljko and his friends – a group called ‘Punters Club’ – reached 300 people. Financial analysts, programmers, mathematicians, professional gamblers, and other experts were all a part of the dream team.

Zeljko and Co gained the largest chunk of their profit from horse racing. As always, they concisely followed a set of rules that ensured real-money winnings. They would bet on the events with high liquidity and a large cash pool coming from regular gamblers. The team would use a ‘sophisticated’ original strategy and place very high wagers on the events with minimal profit margin… But the key factor of Zeljko’s success was exclusive cashback agreements with bookmakers.

That last item of Zeljko’s strategy led to a scandal that spread all across Australia. The media found out that the leading Aussie bookmaker company TabCorp had been returning 8%-10% from every Zeljko’s bet. A TabCorp representative claimed that ‘Discounts and bonuses for regular clients are a common practice in the gambling industry’. Other than that, he gave no comments on the matter. By the late 2000s, the annual bet turnover at TabCorp had reached $10 billion, where 6-8% of the capital ($600 – $800 million) had belonged to Ranogajec’s team.

Punters Club also partnered with smaller bookmaker companies. When one of them refused to pay Zeljko the $2.5 million cashback, he took it to court. Answering the judge’s questions during the hearing was nearly the only public speech the Australian Gambling King has ever given.

– It is simple, – Zeljko explained to the judge, – Let’s say we bet $100 and lose 5% of every wager. But the cashback we are going to get is 10%, which means our profit, even after we lose, is always 5%.

Ranogajec admitted that the annual turnover their company was earning at that moment was $1 billion. The Dream Team made $52 million off the American horse racing, but only 15% of that amount had come from betting, the rest had been the bookmakers’ treats.

That was, actually, the answer to everyone who was wondering how to become a professional gambler and live a luxurious life. How related is it to gambling itself? Is it just about business, diplomatic skills, and wits? We’ve listed the facts, and you decide what to think about all that.

In conclusion, let us mention five other facts from Zeljko’s success record.

1. An Australian state bookmaker company Tote Tasmania almost went bankrupt because of the Punters Club and their doings.

2. In 2008 Zeljko and his partners went to trial: according to the Australian Tax inspection, the Dream Team owed $600 million to the government. Nobody knows exactly how the trial ended in 2012: the decision was made behind closed doors.

3. The Australian Taxation Office estimated Zeljko’s income to be $36 million.

4. After the trial, Zeljko retreated into the shadows and got a new nickname – the Loch Ness Monster. Some people believe he moved to the UK and now lives on the Isle of Man.

5. Zeljko has not stopped running the business up until today.

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