Zeljko Ranogajec ‘The Joker’: Biggest Bets, Wins and Losses

Zeljko Ranogajec Big BetIn the world of sports betting and gambling, Zeljko Ranogajec is a ghost.

There are many high stakes bettors who prefer to keep their betting activity under wraps, but few go to the lengths that Zeljko does to keep out of the limelight.

That wasn’t always the case though.

Zeljko was born in Hobart, Australia, to Croatian parents, and started his professional life studying for a Commerce and Law degree from the University of Tazmania, where his education covered subjects like banking, finance and taxation.

University was also where his journey with gambling began, because he discovered casinos, and more specifically, blackjack. This was back in the 1980s, and Zeljko quickly picked up a talent for card counting, ultimately dropping out of university along with his good friend, David Walsh, to focus on gambling full time.

For most people this would have been a terrible decision, but Ranogajec quickly developed into one of the best advantage players in the world, working alongside other famous gamblers like Alan Woods, and eventually being banned from every casino in Australia and many in America too. It was around this time that he was given the nickname, “The Joker”.

He was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011, such was his reputation in the game.

One of his legendary moves came in 1994 when he won a record $7.5 million Keno jackpot, calculating that although he would need to spend more than $7.5 million to win the jackpot, the smaller prizes won along the way would leave him ahead once everything had been tallied up.

It is horse racing though, where Zeljko Ranogajec really made his name, and where he has wagered the majority of his money since the mid 1990s.

Tabcorp Rebate Scheme

TabcorpTabcorp is the largest gambling company in Australia, and as such, they knew very well who Zeljko Ranogajec was – and how much he spent on his bets.

They obviously wanted his business, so a rebate deal was struck in which Tabcorp would give Ranogajec a certain percentage back of whatever he spent.

The Joker was able to structure his bets in such a way, that so long as he bet the right amount on the right bets, he would come out ahead.

In a rare public appearance (he was in court so couldn’t say no), he explained:

“It’s simple. If you bet $100 and lost $5, but you get a 10% rebate, you still make 5%. You always win. If you bet very large and it’s a pari-mutuel pool, you depreciate it so far that you end up getting under fair odds. If you fix something at $8, you get six, but if you get a rebate it puts you into the positive. “

It wasn’t just Tabcorp that he struck this kind of deal with either.

Tote Tasmania was a pool betting company that also had dealings with Ranogajec. I say ‘was’, because the company went bust in 2012 thanks to having to pay out so much money to a syndicate that Zeljko was running. The state owned Tote had no money left, and in the end were forced to sell their brand to Tabcorp.

Horse Racing

Colossus Bets LogoIt is horse racing that has been the main focus of Zeljko Ranogajec’s betting career, although other sports have featured too.

It is thought he is responsible for 33% of all Aussie horse racing betting on Betfair Australia.

The most important thing for him though, is that there is an opportunity to pool bet, otherwise known as pari-mutuel betting, and horse racing is where this type of betting is most prevalent. This is because his betting strategy is to wait until a betting pool becomes mathematically attractive, and then pounce on it.

After falling out with the Australian Tax Office over whether or not what he was doing was classed as a business, in 2011 Renogajec relocated his family to the UK. He bought an apartment at what was the world’s most expensive address at the time – One Hyde Park.

Once here, he set up a number of companies, the two most important of which were:

  • Newfield
  • Colossus Bets

Newfield is an international horse racing event specialist (used to analyse and bet on racing), and Colossus Bets is a pool betting website.

The plan for Colossus Bets was much bigger though, and due to his resources the company was able to create an arrangement with a consortium of 55 British racecourses whereby they would provide pool betting services instead of the Tote.

However, Zeljko had used an alias, John Wilson, to set up Colossus Bets, and when his true identity became known, the deal collapsed. Colossus Bets is still running though.

Zeljko Ranogajec Biggest Bets

Although the full details of his bets aren’t known, there are one or two instances on record of Zeljko Ranogajec either winning or losing some anxiety inducing amounts of money.

During the Melbourne Cup in 2005, he bet against Makybe Diva winning the race for a 3rd time in a row. Of course, the horse went on and made history by crossing the line first, a Zeljko lost more than $10 million in a single race.

The thing is, his betting strategy is so secretive and complex that he may well had had hedges and rebates involved, so we don’t know what the real damage was, it may have been far less, but on the face of it at least he lost a fortune.

A few years later though, during the 2009 Melbourne Cup, David Walsh has stated that the pair won between $16 – $17 million betting on the race. Who knows what the stakes were, but they probably didn’t feel too significant to Walsh and Ranogajec.

He uses a sophisticated betting system and employs more than 300 people to run it, including analysts, spotters, and bettors. He is believed to bet on every single Australian horse race throughout the year, staking over $1 billion annually.

While still based in Australia, Zeljko and David Walsh would often bet at the TAB in their favourite pub, The Vulcan, in Sydney. In the land down under, most pubs and hotels have betting offices inside them, and they take a commission for any money made there.

Well, over the course of a single year, the pair gambled more than $64 million from The Vulcan, and in the end, they decided it was in their best interests to just buy the pub and claim the commission for themselves. It was, unsurprisingly, the pub with the highest commission earnings in Australia.