When we think of the most legendary gamblers, past and present, names like Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar, Phil Ivy and Archie Karas often come to mind. One name that’s rarely spoken is that of Australian pro Zeljko Ranogajec, but it’s certainly not because he lacks talent.
Zeljko Ranogajec is easily one of the most profound gamblers of our time. He’s said to have taken casinos all over the globe for billions of dollars, using nothing more than a stellar mental capacity for advantage play. Yet he’s often overlooked in the multitude of lists found online and in print relating to the world’s best gamblers.
Maybe his name simply looks too hard enunciate? (It’s pronounced “Jel-koe”, for the record). It’s more likely due to his extremely private lifestyle. But whatever the reason, Ranogajec certainly deserves a place in those indices.
Early Life of Zeljko Ranogajec
Zeljko Ranogajec, photo Craig Greenhill, The Australian
Born in 1961 in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, Zeljko was the prodigious son of Croatian immigrants. A math whiz, he studied banking, financing and tax as a Commerce and Law student at University of Tasmania. During that time, he began counting cards at blackjack as Wrest Point Casino.
He would later marry an employee of that casino, Shelley Wilson, before moving to New South Wales, where he transferred his studies to the University of NSW. He also continued his foray into advantage gambling on the mainland, and eventually dropped out of college to pursue a professional gambling career.
Best Advantage Player of All Time?
Zeljko is said to have turned a starting bankroll of just a few hundred dollars into millions, if not billions. That would explain his subsequent ban from several Australian casinos, including Wrest Point and the Gold Coast’s Jupiters Casino.
With few gambling halls willing to accept his wagers, Ranogajec eventually moved overseas to the United States, where he eventually received the same treatment from US casinos. But when the blackjack tables were off limits, he still managed to win exorbitant amounts of money at any game wherein an advantage could be found.
It’s even been reported that Zeljko won a $7.5 million keno jackpot as NSW’s North Ryde RSL Club in 1994. As the story goes, he actually wagered a lot more than $7.5 million to win that jackpot, but still came out well ahead due to payoffs from smaller winnings he received along the way.
Zeljko even managed to find an advantage through horse race betting. He sought out the largest betting pools, taking advantage of small margins by placing huge wagers. And to top it off, he’s said to have negotiated special rebate deals with bookmakers like TabCorp.
As a result, in 2010, Zeljko Ranogajec was named the world’s biggest gambler, having accounted for approximately 6-8% of TabCorp’s $10 billion in annual revenue.
His action on internet betting giant Betfair that year was said to account for an estimated one-third of that company’s Australian business. That, consequently, attracted the negative attention of the tax administration.
Following Ranogajec’s worthy induction to the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011, fellow blackjack pro Joe Pane described him as “one of the most prolific and innovative [advantage players] of all time.” It’s believed – though unproven, due to the self-appointed secrecy surrounding his financial status – that Zeljko Ranogajec is worth billions.