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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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