People go to gambling halls and online casinos for many different reasons. For most people, casino games are about having fun and being entertained – and experiencing the thrill of winning, of course. Some people, however, have a very specific purpose: to become fabulously rich. Now you’d be a fool to think you can just log into a casino online, stake your life savings and leave the room wealthy. The chances are that you’ll just lose everything you’ve got – unless, that is, you are like the select few who know what they are doing. If you are like them, you’ll be using science to discover the laws that make profitable gambling a reality. Need some inspiration? Let’s take a look at some of the world’s wealthiest scientific gamblers.
Conqueror of Vegas and Wall Street
Born in Chicago in 1932, Edward E. Thorp was born a scientist with an enquiring mind: “Pranks and experiments were part of learning science my way. As I came to understand the theory, I tested it by doing experiments, many of which were fun things I invented. I was learning to work things out for myself, not limited by prompting from teachers, parents, or the school curriculum. I relished the power of pure thought combined with the logic and predictability of science. I loved visualizing an idea and then making it happen.”
After doing a PhD at UCLA, Thorp went on to work at MIT. It was the Computer Age and he had access to the room-sized IBM 704 computer. He used it to create a formula for winning at roulette and invented a wearable computer with a tiny speaker that would tell where the odds were in his favor on the roulette board. Thorp was also the first person to use a computer simulation to work out a winning card-counting scheme that he put to the test in Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Las Vegas. He went on to write Beat the Dealer, still considered the ultimate guide to card counting. He also developed the “Thorp count” method for backgammon.
After conquering Vegas, Thorp turned to the world’s biggest casino – the financial market. His knowledge of probability and statistics helped him to use winning hedge fund techniques. Today he is worth an estimated $800 million.
Nags to riches
Born to successful entrepreneur parents in Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia, in 1945, Alan Woods was introduced to card games at an early age. He was so good at playing cards that his parents realised he had a natural talent for mathematics. He enrolled to study math at university but dropped out after only one semester. He soon ended up in trouble, losing a lot of money on slot machines at the local casino. Years of counting cards at blackjack and betting on horse races followed. It was only when Woods teamed up with fellow card-counter Bill Benter that he hit the big time.
Realising that nobody was using computers to improve their odds at the racetrack, Woods and Benter decided to build their own computer. They took a scientific approach and developed a program that calculated a horse’s chances of winning by factoring in things like what track the race would be run on, the weather conditions, and the horse’s form in previous races. Woods came up with many of the algorithms himself. The computer helped Woods and Benter become the most successful syndicate in horse racing history.
The secretive billionaire
Zeljko Ranogajec is another fabulously wealthy gambler whose fortune is based on science, but because he chooses to keep out of the limelight, the exact nature of his techniques is not known. The child of Croatian immigrants to Australia, Ranogajec swiftly realised that the best use of his mathematical gifts was in gambling. After dropping out of university, he used his math skills and photographic memory to win at blackjack. Casinos hated the way he turned hundred-dollar bets into seven-figure wins and banned him, so he turned to horse betting instead. Nobody knows exactly how much money he’s got, but he is said to be a multi-billionaire with outlays of a $1 billion a year.
Zeljko, also known as John Wilson, doesn’t work alone. His gambling syndicate, known as “the Bankroll”, employs mathematicians, data analysts, computer scientists and racing observers. When the algorithms spot an advantage, the syndicate moves in and cleans up.