In the world of gambling, bankrolls come and go. Players hit winning streaks, often followed by much worse losing streaks. But for prolific advantage blackjack player Zeljko Ranogajec, downswings seem to avoid him like the plague. He’s successfully wagered 6- to 9-figures on just about every gambling activity with an advantage to be found. After being kicked out of just casinos from Australia to Las Vegas, Zeljko was honored with an induction to the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011
Zeljko (pronounced “Jel-ko”) was born in 1961 in the Tasmanian capitol city of Hobart, Australia. The son of Croatian immigrants, he didn’t have much growing up. His prized possession was an exceptional level of intelligence; one that he’s used to his advantage all throughout his life.
After completing his secondary education, Ranogajec immediately went on to the tertiary level, enrolling at the University of Tasmania. His studies included banking, finances and taxation, with the eventual goal of becoming a lawyer.
He also discovered the wonderful world of casinos at that time, frequenting the Wrest Point Casino where he was making easy money by counting cards at the blackjack tables. His regular visits to Wrest Point had other benefits, too. Zeljko fell in love with one of the casino’s full-time employees, Shelley Wilson, who would eventually become his wife and business partner.
A short while later Ranogajec transferred his studies to the mainland, joining the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He was doing so well at the blackjack tables, however, that he became rather well known by the managerial staff at all of the casinos throughout Australia.
Finding himself respectfully refused service at every blackjack table he attempted to play, Zeljko was forced to make a huge decision. He could continue to follow his original dream of becoming a lawyer at UNSW or drop out of college to pursue his new passion for advantage gambling. You can probably guess which one he chose.
Ranogajec left college and—for a time—the blackjack tables behind and began targeting the horse racing scene. He’s maintained purposefully clandestine wagering activities for over 25 years, making it difficult to say how much the mathematical wizard has won on the ponies. Still, it’s been estimated by close sources that Zeljko spends $1-$2 billion on race track bets throughout Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the UK and US each year.
Although Zeljko is generally unable to play blackjack himself, having been banned from casinos worldwide, that hasn’t stopped him from earning untold millions at the tables. According to fellow Blackjack Hall of Famer Arnold Snyder’s BlackjackForumOnline, Ranogajec is responsible for running one of the “most sophisticated and profitable blackjack teams in Australia and continues to deploy his teams in innovative plays in casinos around the world.”
Zeljko wins Record $7.5 Million Keno Jackpot
The mathematical genius’s abilities to find an advantage in a multitude of gambling opportunities extends far beyond that of the average bettor. In 1994, Zeljko Ranogajec was visiting the North Ryde RSL Club in New South Wales, where reports indicate he spent “significantly more than $7.5 million” in wagers to unleash a record-breaking $7.5 million jackpot, but still managed to make a profit due to winning a multitude of smaller prizes along the way.
Ranogajec Leads Team to $17mm Melbourne Cup Payout
In 2009, Zeljko and his team of horse race bettors headed to Sydney for Australia’s most prestigious racing festival, the Melbourne Cup. The story was told by Ranogajec’s gambling partner, David Walsh, another Tasmanian who he’d befriended in college.
Walsh had established the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, but the cost of maintaining the facility had risen significantly to around $5 million per month. Unable to afford the upkeep, Zeljko suggested they “go crazy on the Cup”.
Walsh said his group of bettors did just that, and walked away with “$16 or $17 million”; more than enough to pay the bills and keep MONA up and running.
Tax Collector Comes Knocking, Time to Move On
Over the years, Zeljko Ranogajec received the news on several occasions that his gambling activities were being audited. In 2008, and in year’s prior, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) took notice of his exorbitant bets and winnings, but always found that Ranogajec was not conducting his wagers as part of a business.
Traditionally speaking, the Australia government does not tax gambling winnings. Such activities are considered a hobby, not a business, thus bettors are generally permitted to keep whatever they win. The law states that the assessment of gambling winnings is not based on the scale or frequency of gambling, either, but rather if the gambling is being conducted ‘as a business’.
In 2011, the ATO came knocking again after Zeljko helped fund Walsh’s MONA project with their huge win at the Melbourne Cup. Because the winnings were used to fund a business operation, the ATO completed its audit in September of 2012, declaring that the wagering wizard owed millions to the tax office relating to winnings between 2004 and 2011.
In October, a settlement was reached between the ATO and Ranogajec, but the amount he was forced to pay was never exposed as the records remain sealed to this day.
Immediately following the debacle with the ATO, it was reported that Zeljko relocated himself and his business to the Isle of Man, a tax haven where he will never again have to worry about collectors seeking a portion of his untold wealth.
Blackjack Hall of Fame Induction
Ranogajec has always maintained a very secretive lifestyle, and specifically requested that BlackjackForumOnline, one of the premier periodicals on the subject of professional blackjack players, not publish any specific details of his casino endeavors. Thus there is very little information available regarding his exceptional blackjack team or the amount of money he’s won at the tables—at least not yet.
What we do know is that he’s one of the most profound blackjack advantage players and card counters of all time; a distinction that earned him his rightful place in the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011.