Zeljko Ranogajec was born in Australia in 1961 to a family of Croatian immigrants. In early childhood he showed an interest in mathematics, and by 12 he was presented with a toy roulette wheel, on which he immediately began to conduct his first experiments.
This early interest in gambling stemmed from the fact that his father was a frequent visitor to Wrest Point, Australia's first legal casino.
Zeljko started playing for money in early adulthood. In 1978, he enrolled at the University of Tasmania, where he studied taxes, banking and finance. While there he made friends with a group of students who shared his interest in gambling. However, he never finished his studies, choosing to focus completely on games of chance.
In the early 80s, Zeljko and his friends spent all their free time at the Wrest Point gaming tables. He even met his future wife Shelley there, working in the casino.
One of Zeljko's closest friends is David Walsh, whose current fortune is estimated at $ 200 million. He is now the owner and founder of the largest private museum in Australia – MONA (Museum of Old and New Art).
The group first specialised in blackjack. “We actually risked nothing”, – Walsh said in an interview – оnce we developed a winning strategy and were convinced that it worked in practice, luck ceased to play any role in our results. Mathematically, we couldn't lose.
However, this couldn’t last long even in the 80s. The unusually large wins quickly caught the attention of casino owners. At first, Ranogajec and his partners were only inically banned from Wrest Point, but by 1984 they’d been blacklisted from all casinos in Australia.
In 2011, Zeljko was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. One of the most successful and one of the principal innovators among the advanced players, – states his short biography, – he started his career several decades ago with only a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket, but has won hundreds of millions on blackjack and other games. Many call him the biggest gambler in the world.
Walsh recalls that the end of the 80s was the most difficult period for their company. They moved to Sydney and flew to play in Korea, but the group's profits plummeted.
In the early 90s, the team moved to Las Vegas, where they also managed to make good money from blackjack. But American casinos reacted to their activities much faster, and the tour was short-lived. Zeljko suspected that they’d no longer be able to play blackjack and began to think over alternative options for the future.
The team returned to Australia and turned their attention to horse racing and keno – the Australian lottery, which is considered one of the most unbeatable games for ordinary players.
They started hunting for jackpots. In 1994, Zeljko and his partners won a jackpot of $7.5 million. At that time, it was a record for Australia. When the prize money reached a certain level, Ranogayets and his assistants began to bet about $ 1 million per day. This went on for a whole week until they got the coveted prize. In the end, they spent more than $ 7.5 million on tickets, but still maintained a decent return due to winning a lot of medium and small prizes. With an almost unlimited bankroll, over time they were able to buy up to 90% of all keno tickets. Gambling experts estimate that of 44 jackpots drawn in Australia in one year, the Ranogayets syndicate won 40 of them.
At some point, the number of employees of the syndicate, which received the name "The Punters Club", grew to 300. Financial analysts, programmers, mathematicians, professional players and other highly specialised operatives worked for Zeljko.
But the main profit came from betting on horse races. Here they also closely followed certain strategies that allowed them to win huge amounts of money. They bet on events with maximum liquidity, where there was already a lot of ordinary players’ money in the draw, they used a "very sophisticated" betting system of their own, they bet very large sums on events with minimal margins... But the most profitable factor was exclusive agreements with bookmakers which gave Zeljko decent cashback. Because of this, a major scandal erupted in Australia when the press learned that a leading Australian bookmaker, TabCorp, returned the Zeljko syndicate in the region of 8-10% for each bet. In the aftermath, representatives of TabCorp refused to comment, limiting themselves to the standard phrase, that "discounts and bonuses for the largest customers are common in the industry." By the end of the 2000s, TabCorp’s annual betting turnover was estimated around $ 10 billion, and 6-8% ($600-800 million) of that came from the Ranogayets syndicate.
The Punters Club also collaborated with smaller bookmakers. When one of them refused to pay $2.5 million in cashback, Zeljko took them to court. At the hearing, he had to answer the judge's questions, and this was almost the only public speech Ranogayets made in his entire life.
“It's very simple,” he explained to the judge. – Suppose we bet $100 and lose 5% on each bet. But the office returns us 10%, that’s our profit, even after a loss, it’s always 5%.
Ranogayets admitted that the syndicate had an annual turnover of $1 billion at that time. Over the course of 3.5 years, they made $52 million in American racing alone. And only 15% of this amount was brought to them directly by bets, everything else was cash back from the bookmakers.
Due to the activities of the Punters Club, in 2012 the state bookmaker Tote Tasmania almost went bankrupt. All their profit went to cashback, which averaged 10.5%. Tote Tasmania was saved from complete ruin only by the fact that it was bought for $103 million by another holding.
In 2008, Zeljko and 18 of his main partners in the syndicate were themselves brought to trial. The Australian tax authorities calculated that, taking into account fines, they owed the state about $600 million. Ranogayets himself from 2004 to 2006 declared income of $736k. But in reality, according to the Australian Internal Revenue Service, he earned $36 million. The difficulty was that winnings from bets and other gambling games weren’t taxed under local laws. The state tried to prove that Zeljko and his colleagues ran an illegal business. The case went on for several years and in 2012 ended in an agreement behind closed doors.
After that, Zeljko finally went into the shadows, which is why he acquired the nickname the "Loch Ness Monster" and now handles all business through an extensive network of employees. There are reports that he moved from Australia to England, and now lives in the Isle of Man. On his closed Instagram page, there’s a signature:
Perhaps the biggest gambler in the world is gradually moving down the list of the richest people in Australia (now in 188th place). You could read some stories about me. And some of them may even be true.
The list of the richest people in Australia is traditionally compiled by the Australian Financial Review newspaper. This year, they estimated Zeljko Ranogajec’s fortune at $ 610 million.