Zeljko Ranogajec & David Walsh
Few people outside the gambling world know the name Zeljko Ranogajec. In stark contrast his best friend and business partner David Walsh has gained notoriety for his efforts away from the casino and racetrack. Together they have grown one of the most powerful gambling operations the world has ever seen, although little is known about the inner workings.
Having met in Tasmania, Walsh and Ranogajec began their gambling journey at Wrest Point Casino through a group of like-minded friends, intent on beating the blackjack tables. Walsh who was borderline Aspergers, with an incredible mind for mathematics was a natural fit with the charismatic and business savvy Ranogajec.
Prior to starting their punting journey, Walsh worked at the ATO after finishing a degree in mathematics, while Ranogajec studied to be a lawyer and was working at the casino. As their skills grew they moved to Sydney to pursue more opportunities. However casinos Australia wide quickly caught on and refused to take their action.
How it started
Walsh and Ranogajec were beating the casinos in the early days by counting cards. They gained an edge by tracking the ratio of high and low cards as more and more hands were played in each shoe. In Blackjack, tens and aces have the most value. If a shoe is dealt out and a lot of smaller cards (2s to 6s) have been seen, that means there is a higher probability of landing a blackjack, which pays out better odds. Card counters become advantage players and incur the wrath of casinos.
As their skills at the tables developed the duo also got involved in working in a blackjack team and pooling their bankrolls in a betting syndicate of sorts. By working as a team, they had the ability to stay under the radar for longer and turn over more money. However, their betting eventually got to the point that they were no longer welcome at Australian casinos, so their attention turned to other forms of advantage play.
After building a bankroll well into the millions, Ranogajec and Walsh turned their attention to horse racing. They focused on all manner of ways to build systems with an edge. Their focus has always been largely on generating rebates and turning over significant size on the totes, both worldwide and in Australia.
Many totes cater to large punters by offering a rebate on bets that are lost. Rebates range from 2-10% and they are enough to turn an unprofitable betting strategy, into a powerful one. The systems they deployed involved both statistics and video form analysis and are reported to account for 6-8% of the TABs revenues.
One of the major focuses of the betting operations was the betting exchange Betfair. The team not only placed outright bets on all manner of sporting events but also developed systematic strategies that capitalized on market mispricing in almost every event that was available to be bet on. Specifically, they looked for markets that were framed below 100%, based on the available odds and they could quickly take up those opportunities.
As operations grew, so did the scope of what was now a gambling business. To gain better and more accurate data that wasn’t widely available, Ranogajec outsourced many operations to contractors and at the same time set up a multi-million dollar office in Pyrmont. They reportedly use a network of spotters, analysts and bettor’s to both get bets on and gain the most accurate data available.
It was reported that in 1994, Ranogajec started visiting the North Ryde RSL Club in New South Wales, trying to take down a $7.5 million jackpot. He eventually won the jackpot, but not before he spent a decent portion more than that on wages. It was said that he managed to make a profit thanks to a number of smaller prizes along the way.
While Ranogajec was heavily focused on building his gambling empire into a billion-dollar business, Walsh was focused on another great passion of his – art. Over the years Walsh had obtained a wide-ranging art collection and in 2011 officially opened a museum that featured much it. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is based in Hobart and is the largest privately owned museum in Australia.
The museum boasts over 400 artistic works from Walsh’s private collection and is now one of the main attractions in Tasmania. To fund the museums and its operations, Walsh took an $80 million dollar loan from Ranogajec.
For nearly 30 years the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has been looking into the gambling operations of Ranogajec and Walsh. In Australia, gambling is considered to be a hobby and as such is free from taxation. Some of the early investigations by the ATO confirmed that, but in more recent years the sheer size of their operations and the fact that it operates like a business has opened them up to the tax man.
It was reported that the ATO was seeking to reclaim more than $900 million from the betting operation in back taxes. Ranogajec and Walsh were prepared to pay in the order of $50 million. At the time Walsh suggested to the media that he would be forced to shut down MONA if the ATO kept on pursuing them.
MONA had become one of the largest tourist attractions in Tasmania and became a key bargaining chip in negotiations. Ultimately Ranogajec and Walsh settled with the ATO for an undisclosed sum. Even Walsh appreciated the irony as he had started his career many years earlier working for the ATO, who ultimately nearly ended it.
Given the highly secretive nature of their betting operations, more is speculated about Ranogajec and Walsh than is known. Estimates of their net worth is just a guess, and employees of 7 years like Aaron Barby never even crossed paths with Zeljko.
What is known though is that together they formed one of the most innovative and impressive gambling operations the world has ever seen. For many years they were able to do it under the radar, until ultimately they become so big and so successful that they could no longer avoid the spotlight.