Zeljko Ranogajec - A Life-Long Gambler
Zeljko Ranogajec started off as an amateur card counter from Australia who would eventually become a multi-billionaire as a result of all of his gambling endeavors. Although blackjack is what sparked his interests early on, getting barred from almost every casino in Australia caused him to look for other sources of income.
He would eventually discover horseracing, becoming one of the world's most successful thoroughbred horse racing bettors. All of his accomplishments didn't come without complications though. To learn more about the highs and lows of Zeljko Ranogajec's life, please continue to read this elaborate biography.
Zeljko was born in 1961 in Hobart, Australia to poor Croatian immigrants. He didn't have very much growing up, so he was able to dedicate much of his free time to studying. He knew that in order to prosper in this life, he had to be willing to put in many hours of hard work. Luckily, the many hours he poured into his school work paid off, as he earned a scholarship to the University of Tasmania.
He majored in Financial Banking and his ultimate goal was to become a lawyer. He later transferred to the University of New South Wales in Sydney, which just happened to be located near by several high end casinos. To make a little extra spending money, he got a part time job at the Wrest Point Casino.
Developing an Interest in Blackjack
He loved the casino's atmosphere and he greatly enjoyed his time there. It wasn't long before he started to play some of the games offered there during his breaks at work. He was especially drawn to blackjack, as he heard that there were special techniques that he could use to almost guarantee himself a win.
Zeljko spent many hours reading up on various card counting strategies, trying each one of them out at the tables. Since he was so mathematically inclined, card counting came naturally to him. It wasn't long before he started to make more money through playing blackjack than he actually made through working. The more success he found at the tables, the less time he spent doing his school work and the less motivated he was to work. He eventually dropped out of college altogether and quit his job at the casino.
He loved playing at the Wrest Point Casino because he knew many of the workers, the playing conditions made counting cards very easy, and he grew fond of one of the casino's full time employees: Shelley Wilson. He made the mistake of playing there too often though and after winning a substantial amount of money, it was inevitable that he would be barred.
He was forced to start playing at Queensland's Jupiter Casino and other casinos in the area, eventually getting barred from each and every one of them too. Despite this major setback, Zeljko was still happy. He had finally worked up enough courage to ask Shelley out, and now they were in a serious relationship.
Although he wanted to spend as much time with Shelley as possible, Zeljko would take frequent trips to Las Vegas to try his card counting talents out there. Towards the end of his blackjack career, Zeljko formed a card counting team; three of his friends from college were a part of it. David Walsh, which we will learn more about later on was one of the members; we unfortunately don't know the other members' names. They were just starting to make money when one of the team members was tragically killed in a car accident. Due to intense grief, the team decided to split up and go their separate ways.
Again playing solo, it wasn't long before the casinos started barring Zeljko left and right, as he simply made too much money at the tables to avoid drawing attention. Another difficulty he ran into was transporting all of his winnings back to Australia each time. He had to hide his money in strange places, and he was constantly worried about getting caught. When airports notice someone carrying a large amount of money, they automatically assume that it's a drug related issue. The last thing Zeljko wanted was to draw attention to himself in that way.
In the midst of all of this craziness, Shelley and Zeljko's relationship flourished. Zeljko gave up his blackjack career and married the love of his life. Although he had quite a bit of money saved up, he knew he would have to find another source of income to support his new family.
Other forms of Gambling
Zeljko wasn't interested in getting a real job, so he again looked to gambling as his main source of revenue. Since he was mostly recognizable at the casinos as a blackjack player, he figured he could still go to most Australian casinos if he played other games instead. He tried almost every table game and slot game available, discovering that his favorite game outside of blackjack was now Keno.
He once set a record for winning the world's largest Keno Jackpot of $7.5 million dollars at the North Ryde RSL Club in 1994. This would be more impressive if it didn't cost him over $7.5 million in wagers to win that amount. For almost a week straight he played Keno, betting an average of about $1 million each day.
Soon almost every casino in Australia knew who he was and how capable he was of making money at their facilities, whether he stayed away from the blackjack tables or not. Since showing his face at the casinos was no longer an option, Zeljko became a recluse and has only been seen a handful of times over the past twenty years.
Zeljko started to do more online gambling, trying out a plethora of different sites but investing most of his time into Betfair. One third of the bets placed in Australia to this website are supposedly placed by Zeljko himself. He also reportedly accounts for over 6% of Australian bookmaker, TabCorp's, $10 billion annual revenue.
Turning His Attention to Horseracing
One form of gambling that Zeljko became very passionate about over the years was horseracing. Zeljko even developed his own highly sophisticated betting system that has allowed him to find great success on the racetrack. Although many elements of this betting system are top secret, we do know that it involves betting extremely large amounts of money on small margins and understanding how to chase liquidity.
Although the Melbourne Cup is Zeljko's favorite race to bet on, he finds the time to place wagers on every single thoroughbred horse race in Australia. Zeljko has hired several specialists that can accurately analyze the statistics on all of the different thoroughbred horses. Zeljko makes as accurate bets as possible, based on the horses' previous and projected performances. He also developed a computer program that helps maximize his overall profit.
The various strategies he developed have been proven to be profitable over the years, as he often brings in over $1 billion dollars on average per year. Although it seems as if Zeljko is successful more often than not, there have been several instances where he has made some poor judgements when it comes to knowing which horses are going to win.
For example in 2005, Makybe Diva was projected to win the Melbourne Cup for the third year in a row. After running several analysis tests and taking the track's condition into consideration, Zeljko determined the best move to make would be to bet against Makybe. Statistically speaking, he should have had no problem winning this bet. Not everything in horseracing can be calculated down to an exact science though, as Makybe indeed won the race, causing Zeljko to lose tens of millions of dollars in a matter of seconds.
Whether he is winning or losing, chances of running into Zeljko at the racetrack are slim to none, as he goes out of his way to avoid seeing people. He has bookmakers place his bets for him at all of the thoroughbred racetracks, and although he claims to have attended some of the races, he has never actually been seen.
According to The Australian, "Besides horse racing, he bets on sport, lotteries and the stock market. Ranogajec has spent millions of dollars trying to find a legal way to "beat" lotto and has studied the stock market, looking for behavioral patterns and ways to manipulate share prices to his advantage under certain conditions." When it comes to gambling, there's hardly anything this man hasn't tried.
Tax Audit Time
There was more than one occasion when the Australian Taxation Office took an interest in Zeljko's gambling expenses, always being surprised to find that he wasn't doing anything illegal. That was until 2011, when it was discovered that Zeljko helped fund the MONA project with the money he had won from betting on the Melbourne Cup.
The trouble for Zeljko started back when his old friend, David Walsh, asked for help with his latest investment: the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Maintaining this museum was way more expensive than the two men had anticipated, costing nearly $5 million dollars per month to operate. Desperate, they gambled away a portion of the museum's profit in order to make up for the business's financial losses. The first year they won almost $16 million dollars by betting on the Melbourne Cup, so they decided to bet on this race each year to help the business grow.
In Australia, it's illegal to use gambling winnings to fund a business operation without any taxes being paid, and it turns out that Zeljko had been doing this for several years. It had gone unnoticed in previous audits, so the taxes he owed had been accumulating since 2004. Needless to say, he owed millions of dollars in back taxes and there was no way to escape this debt. It only took a few months for Zeljko and the Australian Tax Office to reach an agreement, with the exact amount of money Zeljko owed remaining a secret.
Although little information has actually been released on Zeljko's business endeavors, it has been confirmed that he owns Minefield Investments, Paziti Holdings, and Razson Pty Ltd. These businesses were thoroughly investigated during this latest tax audit, and none of them were found to be laundering money or doing anything illegal. Zeljko moved the headquarters to all of his businesses down to the Isle of Man in 2012, as the taxes there are practically obsolete. He processes almost of all his financial transactions from there to avoid getting further taxed from the Australian Taxation Office.
Zeljko doesn't spend of all his money on himself, as he actually gives millions of dollars away to charities each year. He regularly gives to the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, which purchases essential medical equipment for children's hospitals who are struggling financially. This foundation has been around for over twenty-five years now, and it strives to make a difference in the lives of children.
Zeljko and Shelley own a luxurious beach house on Balmoral Beach in Sydney, Australia and a large mansion in Mosman, Australia. In both locations, the neighbors claim that they have never actually seen Zeljko in person. Some of the neighbors even say that they have never heard of him before; this is probably because he sometimes goes by the pseudo name John Wilson to avoid being exposed.
Zeljko is often referred to as "The Loch Ness Monster," because of how seldom he's seen. Rumor has it that he and his wife have actually moved to England, but their life is so private that no one knows for sure. The last time anyone reportedly saw the lovely couple was in 2011, when Zeljko was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
The members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame spent many months trying to decide who should be their next inductee. Bob Nersesian and Zeljko Ranogajec were the top contenders for the award, Zeljko winning by only two votes. Zeljko's initial success and love of gambling can be directly traced back his early experiences with blackjack. Although he no longer plays the game, he's still remembered for being an incredible card counter.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: July 2016
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