Zeljko Ranogajec is one of the most successful sports bettors of our time, accruing his billionaire status through casinos, horse racing and Keno jackpots.
The funny thing is, most people have never heard of ‘The Joker’, who resides in multiple countries, owning an apartment on 1 Hyde Park, London, where an apartment once sold for a world record sum of over US $170 million.
Ranogajec was born in Tasmania, Australia, and like a lot of professional sports bettors, he started at the Blackjack table.
Although Zeljko came from a poor background, a son to Croatian immigrants, his substandard upbringing taught him that no matter how bad the circumstances were, hard works always pays off.
That work ethic earned him a scholarship to the University of Tasmania where he studied taxation, banking and finance.
He later transferred to a university in Sydney where he also got himself a part-time job at the Wrest Point Casino, and it’s no surprise that he enjoyed that job!
During his work breaks he would try out some of the games, particularly Blackjack, whilst learning the art of card-counting on the side.
Next thing he knew, he was making a lot more money through Blackjack than by working at the casino!
‘The Joker’ was faced with a decision between sticking with his studies or moving over to the world of betting, and there’s no prize for guessing what he chose!
Soon enough, Ranogajec was not only banned from Wrest Point Casino, but by every Australian casino, so he reverted to some card-counting trips to Vegas with a team of his college friends.
This was also a successful venture for Zeljko and his team, but unfortunately tragedy struck and one of his teammates was killed in a car crash. Due to the tragedy, the team decided to split.
Another problem with this betting venture in Las Vegas was transporting the money back to Australia, with the fear that airport security would confiscate his funds thinking it was drug money.
He was also barred from a lot of Vegas casinos, which meant a move back to Australia with his wife, who he met whilst working at the Wrest Point Casino, was the way to go.
But he wouldn’t be moving back to play Blackjack, this time, Zeljko would try his hand at Horse Racing and make one hell of a deal in the process!
Zeljko’s biggest breakthrough in the betting industry was the rebate deal he struck with Tabcorp - a diversified gambling entertainment group.
According to a Tabcorp spokesperson, it’s common knowledge that high volume bettors are offered rebates.
Experts in the betting industry estimate that Tabcorp is giving Zeljko a rebate of between 8-10%, which is insane.
So even if he makes a small loss on a bet, once his rebate kicks in, he makes a profit.
Ranogajec himself said; “it’s simple, if you bet $100 and lost $5, but you get a 10% rebate, you still make 5%. You always win, if you bet very large and it’s a pari-mutuel pool, you depreciate it so far that you end up getting under fair odds. If you fix something at $8, you get six, but if you get a rebate it puts you into the positive.”
In 1994, he actually set the record for winning the world's largest Keno Jackpot at the North Ryde RSL Club, winning a massive $7.5 million.
The funny thing was, that it cost him over $7.5 million in wagers to win that! Reportedly, during that week, he bet an average of $1 million each day!
Another fun fact about Zeljko, is that he even managed to send an Australian betting exchange bankrupt, after giving out such huge rebates to the Tasmanian native!
Ranogajecs’ Horse Racing strategy includes using sophisticated betting systems and wagering large amounts on profitable margins (no matter what the size).
To run this betting system, he employs over 300 Australian’s, including analysts, spotters and bettors.
It is believed that with this team, he bets on every single Australian Thoroughbred horse race, staking over $1 billion a year!
Reportedly, he also accounts for 6% of TabCorps annual revenue of $10 billion!
Although he’s winning most of the time, Ranogajec has had his fair share of losers, the biggest coming in the 2005 Melbourne Cup.
Known as the race that stops a nation, Zeljko was sure that Makybe Diva could not win the cup for a third year in a row.
Going through all of his statistical analysis, ‘The Joker’ came to the conclusion that the best bet was against Makybe Diva.
Unfortunately, Makybe created history that day and Zeljko lost tens of millions of dollars in a split second!
One of Ranogajecs’ relatives publicly stated that Zeljko is a multi-billionaire, but you would never hear that from the man himself, who keeps a very low profile.
He even uses an alias name, John Wilson, a combination of his common first name and his wife’s maiden name.
Ranogajec was once caught up with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), where he also managed to keep his dealings undisclosed.
He was found guilty of funding businesses with gambling profits and not paying taxes, but the ATO and Zeljko settled on a sum that remained completely anonymous.
Nowadays, it’s still very hard to get a read on his activities, although he his reportedly very charitable.
‘The Joker’ was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011.
Check out our other articles in the 10 People Who Got Rich On Sports Betting series:
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