Ask somebody who knows about the most successful Aussie punters of all time, and three names will usually come up: Zeljko Ranogajec, David Walsh and Alan Woods.
Woods, one time partner of the betting legend Bill Benter, won hundreds of millions of dollars on Hong Kong racing while never setting foot on a racetrack.
Alan Woods was born in 1945 in Murwillumbah, New South Wales. He was blessed with an incredible mathematical mind, and after high school entered actuarial studies at University. Although his mathematical prowess was off the scale, he was kicked out of school due to rarely attending classes. Woods did eventually end up working as an actuary – and it was there that he got introduced to the prospect of beating the house.
Actuary Turned Blackjack Wizard
Woods worked for an actuarial consultancy that was hired to calculate the house odds on all games at the then-new Wrest Point Casino in Tasmania. He saw firsthand how blackjack had an edge favouring the house… and he believed it couldn’t be beaten.
A keen bridge player, he discussed it with some of his fellow cardmen. Following extensive arguments and a lot of homework, he came to accept he had been wrong about blackjack. If you calculated the ratio of high to low cards left in the deck – the practice known as card counting – you could determine when you had an edge and bet accordingly.
Eventually Woods tired of the constant travel and running from casinos that didn’t want him anywhere near their tables. So he decided to move into another passion: horse racing.
The King of Hong Kong
Well ensconced in gambling circles by this time, Woods met Bill Benter in Las Vegas. The two set about a common goal: developing a system that could predict the outcome of a horse race. Benter, Woods and a third member focused their attention on Hong Kong racing. In Hong Kong, there are only two racetracks a small number of horses. Critically, racing was the only gambling allowed in the incredibly wealthy city. This meant the betting pools were huge.
The team’s early efforts were largely a failure, and after two years their approach of betting on favourites had lost the entire $150,000 starting bank. However, by the third year, they worked out some kinks and the system made a US$100,000 profit. But by this time, each of the men in the team had their own ideas about how they should be betting and developing their model. So they broke up and each went their own way. Bill Benter went on to create a computer model of his own which was ultimately even more successful than Woods.
In the 1987-88 racing season, the first at the helm of his own betting strategy Woods won HK$3 million (AUD$500,000). Three years later he made HK$17 million (AUD$2,800,000). From that point on his success continued to skyrocket. Over the years he built a great rivalry with Bill Benter, which drove both to even greater heights.
Alan Woods: The Playboy
As his wealth skyrocketed, Woods became known for throwing huge parties and living the life of a playboy. Despite this, he rarely left his apartment and virtually never set foot on the racetrack… he preferred to bring the party to him!
Alan Woods passed away in Hong Kong in 2008 after a short battle with cancer, at 62 years of age.
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