Bill Benter Wins HK$118 Million on Triple Trio in Hong Kong: Left Unclaimed

Sha Tin Racecourse

Sha Tin Racecourse, Location of the Triple Trio – WiNG, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a whole lot more to Bill Benter’s story than this one bet – but it is certainly his most famous.

Benter was a maths and data genius who had started out as a card counter in Las Vegas, but after being banned from every casino in town, he was forced to look for another way to make his money.

So he turned to horse racing, and began building a algorithm packed with data that could predict the outcome of a horse race by analysing information and comparing it with previous outcomes.

This is something Benter developed for decades, tweaking and improving it as time went on, as well as adding new contributing factors to the workings so that every possible outcome was covered. This ranged from what the horse had eaten for breakfast, how long since their last race, when they last changed trainers – there were more than 120 factors per horse.

He focussed his efforts in Hong Kong, where horse racing was big business and pool betting was popular. However, due to his continued success, he was banned from phone betting. The organisers didn’t want regular punters to know that this American man was winning their money using a computer for fear they would all stop betting altogether.

Benter could still place bets manually though, so long as he kept a low profile, by using the automated betting terminals. It was laborious, and it carried more risk since the person placing the bets would need to manually feed betting slips into the machine and have mountains of cash on hand to pay for wagers, but it was possible.

Then, in 2001, the Triple Trio jackpot reached unprecedented highs of more than HK$100 million ($13 million American), and Benter couldn’t ignore it.

Triple Trio Jackpot

Hong Kong Jockey Club Betting Office

Betting Office in Hong Kong – ATR50, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Triple Trio was a bet wherein punters had to accurately predict the first 3 finishers in 3 different races during the day. It’s not dissimilar to a trifecta, except there are three of them in one, so it was an incredibly difficult bet to win with more than 10 million possible outcomes.

The pot had rolled over 6 times since it was last won, so everyone was talking about it, and Benter went to his computer to do a few calculations.

He knew that there were consolation prizes as well as the main jackpot, and if he didn’t end up winning the jackpot, these would soften the blow of making the 51,381 bets he planned to place. The bet was costing HK$1.6 million in total, and he was only betting on the outcomes that his algorithm told him to.

After the final race was won, Benter looked at his computer screen and saw 36 winning lines on his screen, and one of them was the big one.

The 35 consolation prizes on top of the jackpot would pay out HK$118 million ($16 million American). Remember, this was back in 2001, so it would have had the same purchasing power of around $30 million today.

Benter had found the winning betslips, he had them in his hand, but instead of cashing them in, he took a photograph and locked them in a safe. In his mind, it would be “unsporting” to collect the money, and he knew that all unclaimed prizes were donated to charity.

He was already a very rich man, having banked hundreds of millions in his gambling career so far, and the fact that his algorithm had won was enough for him.

However, the news of such a large unclaimed prize caused something of a media storm, with rumours circulating that the winning bettor must have had a heart attack and died after realising they had won.

Benter wrote anonymously to the Hong Kong Jockey Club and explained what he had done, ending the mystery, and going down in legend as leaving the biggest winning bet in history unclaimed.