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Rich but not famous – Zeljko Ranogajec, one of the world’s top professional gamblers

In the annals of professional gamblers, Australian Zeljko Ranogajec stands very high—perhaps the largest bettor in the world, responsible for $1 billion annually, primarily on horses. The bets have made him a multibillionaire.

In the ranks of people with identifiable markers of fame, though—like a recognizable face or public appearances—Ranogajec (whose first name is pronounced Jelko, according to the Sidney Morning Herald), wouldn’t rank among the top 100, anywhere. Perhaps not even among the top 500. Indeed, as The Daily Telegraph notes, he has never appeared on any “Richest Australian” list either, although he is thought to be one of the country’s richest.

Ranogajec is said to be ferocious about guarding and maintaining his privacy. Indeed, one of the nicknames he goes by is the “Loch Ness Monster”, in a reference to the extremely rare sightings that have made him virtually unseen and unknown by the public.

The most frequently reprinted photographs of him show him in profile, with a baseball cap perched on his head—which ultimately makes him look much like many other youthful looking middle-aged men with brown hair.

And unlike many of the world’s famous gamblers, who are larger than life (fellow Australian Kerry Packer, say, who was a huge force in Australian business as well as the gambling world), very active in their communities (American Bill Benter, who leads the gambling community in Hong Kong), or talk openly (if sparingly) to the press (Alan Woods, who invited a reporter to his compound for drinks and dinner), Ranogajec actively maintains his secrecy and his privacy. Indeed, one of his associates told The Daily Telegraph “If he knew I was talking to you about him, he’d never talk to me again.”

Early Days

Well, let’s get to know him a bit. As a person, first. Ranogajec was born in 1961 to Croatian parents who had immigrated to Australia. He studied at the University of Tasmania and the University of New South Wales. However, like Benter and Woods, he was a math whiz AND bitten by the gambling bug. As a student, he hit the casinos intent on using sophisticated mathematics and a photographic memory to memorize blackjack cards.

He won big. And the casinos didn’t like it. He ended those early days tossed out of at least two Australian casinos and one in the U.S.

But he liked it. He ended his college days and became a gambler full-time.

Betting on the margins to win

What is the secret of Ranogajec’s gambling prowess? It may lie in a conspicuous early success. He bet on a A$7.5 million pot in Keno in the mid-1990s, at that time a world record. He won. Several stories say that he likely bet A$7.5 million to win—but also had a number of smaller bets placed in a number of places, so rather than his winnings just pulling even with the amount of his bet, he ended up winning a nice amount handily.

He then switched to, and still bets primarily in, horse racing.

People who speak on the record about his method note that he bets massive amounts on small margins (the old Keno experience, writ larger) and searches relentlessly for liquidity. Ranogajec is believed to scout the betting world for large pools of cash—as much cash as possible. He and his associates then place bets on the small margins—and bring in, the Sydney Herald thinks, 1% to 2%.

His team is anything but intuitive—they use sophisticated math programs, computers, and videos to scout the gaming world.

The system has made both Ranogajec and his associates rich. David Walsh, one of his closest partners, has an art fortune of A$100 million, and Ranogajec has bought real estate worth at least A$21 million in Australia.

The purchases are not done through his name, but through a name that The Morning Telegraph speculates is a pseudonym using his wife’s maiden name. When caught and confronted by The Daily Telegraph, Ranogajec said “I’m not interested in talking to a reporter . . . no offence but it doesn’t do any good at all.”

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