Revealed: ‘world’s biggest gambler’ is partner to new racecourse betting firm Britbet
Zeljko Ranogajec’s involvement raises questions over rival to The Tote
Mark Souster, Racing Writer
May 17 2018, 12:01am,
Ranogajec is known as the “Loch Ness Monster” as he is rarely sighted
Ranogajec is known as the “Loch Ness Monster” as he is rarely sighted
An Australian businessman who has been described as the world’s biggest gambler is the controlling figure behind a company that will partner the new betting venture designed to support British racing, The Times can reveal.
Zeljko Ranogajec, a 56-year-old Tasmanian nicknamed the “Loch Ness Monster” because he is so rarely spotted, is one of two main shareholders in Colossus Bets, an online gambling company that is due to launch a new pool betting venture this summer in partnership with 55 UK racecourses.
The new service, called Britbet, is being set up as a rival to the Tote, which was privatised in 2011, and will have a visible presence at the vast majority of Britain’s 60 race tracks from July. It has been presented to gamblers and racing fans as a venture “by racing, for racing”, so that profits will be poured back into the sport.
An investigation by The Times into Ranogajec and Colossus Bets raises questions over whether Britbet chose the best partners to achieve that ambition of securing the deal which generates most revenue for the sport. Ranogajec is thought to have become a billionaire through his gambling prowess around the world using algorithms, sophisticated computer programmes and analytics. Much of his income is derived from the large rebates, often as high as 20 per cent on his bets, that he can command for playing into the betting pools.
“Pool betting” describes the type of betting markets in which all stakes are paid into a prize pot. The bookmaker then takes a percentage of that pot — meaning the bookmaker is guaranteed to make money — and the remainder is divided between all of the punters who placed winning bets.
Pool betting operators commonly offer rebates — where a percentage of a stake is repaid even for a losing bet — to large-scale punters prepared to bet huge sums of money, because they help to keep prize pots sufficiently valuable to be attractive to all gamblers.
When living in Australia, Ranogajec had twice before been able to negotiate legally high rebates with a betting operator in the Polynesian Islands and the Tote in his native Tasmania. The Tote there had to be sold off after it struggled to make a profit.
The Tote in Britain, the previously state-owned bookmaker that was sold to Betfred in 2011, has held exclusive rights to offer pool betting in the UK but that ends this summer, which is why most of the racecourses have established Britbet and plan to offer its service at on-course betting concessions from July.
Britbet announced last year that it had agreed a partnership with Colossus Bets, a London-based company founded in 2012, which would give them a platform to offer their pool betting products online. The Times can reveal today that in doing so, Britbet signed up to a partnership with Ranogajec.
During a 30-year gambling career, Ranogajec has, perfectly legitimately, made hundreds of millions of pounds in profits from horse racing by negotiating rebates of 10 per cent or more with the operators of pool betting services in other countries.
Once he has agreed the rebate, Ranogajec, who employs an army of analysts to identify the best bets, only needs to break even on his wagers and the rebate becomes his profit. If, as has been claimed, Ranogajec bets more than £500 million each year’ following this model would yield him a £50 million annual profit. While large-scale gamblers may be successful in pool betting, it can come at a price to the pool operator.
Ranogajec’s involvement in Colossus Bets — and its partnership with Britbet — will raise questions about the level of rebates the new service will offer, and whether those rebates will allow Britbet to put back into racing as much as it hoped. After an investigation by The Times into Colossus Bets, we can reveal that:
● Ranogajec also uses the name John Wilson. Wilson is his wife Shelley’s surname.
● Colossus Bets has not made a profit in six years, and accrued losses of £17 million over that period. It is only kept afloat by a short-term loan from Ranogajec and another shareholder.
● Ranogajec has been involved in two Tote pool operations in Australia, one of which in Tasmania had to be sold off by its government to stave off collapse.
● He has been the subject of a lengthy investigation in the Australian Tax Office (ATO), with whom he reached an undisclosed settlement in 2012.
● His address in London is a £14.8 million apartment at one of the capital’s most exclusive addresses in Knightsbridge.
● John Wilson is listed in Colossus Bets accounts as a person who has significant control over the business.
● His shareholding is held by an offshore trust in the Isle of Man.
Britbet is due to be rolled out on July 13, and racing fans will want to know whether it will offer high-value punters such as Ranogajec rebates for betting large sums. There has been speculation within the gambling industry that it may even offer rebates of more than 20 per cent.
Colossus Bets has two main shareholders, Ranogajec and Bernard Marantelli, who is listed as the chief executive. Between them they own more than 80 per cent of the company. Ranogajec, using the name Wilson, and Marantelli are listed as the company’s beneficial owners.
Colossus Bets’ most recent accounts, filed in December 2017, reveal that as well as making huge losses, it has a deficit in working capital of £15.2 million and is supported only by short-term loans of £18.7 million, which according to the accounts were due to be repaid by the end of March to its beneficial owners.
These loans had been long term but were reclassified last year, when the company borrowed another £5.2 million.
A decade ago, Ranogajec was the subject of a long inquiry in Australia, where the activities of a collection of high-level gamblers known as the Punters Club, which included Ranogajec, were investigated. They argued that gambling profits in Australia are not liable to taxation.
The ATO said that the club was not merely a group of friends but a highly organised business, betting vast sums which used sophisticated encryption technology to ensure privacy. As such it should be taxed.
When contacted by The Times, the ATO said: “We do not discuss individual cases.”
Once in Britain, Ranogajec and his wife Shelley — whom he met when she was working as a croupier in a casino — moved into One Hyde Park.
Britbet says that when it launches it will offer a range of “exotic and innovative bets” such as “cash out” and guaranteed six and seven-figure prize pools. It has also intimated that it will pay rebates and incentives.
Colossus Bets provides the backroom operation for Britbet through a company called Newfield in the tax haven of the Isle of Man. In its advertising it states that it is a company which specialises in “horse racing and sporting events”. Two of its directors are also directors of Colossus Bets and a trail leads back to Australia and to John Wilson.
Newfield also owns Newfield Australia, which is the holding company for a company called Data Processors. That company lists John Wilson as a director and sole shareholder, and gives his address in Britain.
Dick McIlwain, the former chief executive of Tatts Group, which runs pool betting services in Australia, said he was not surprised that Ranogajec had turned up in Britain. McIllwain rescued the Tasmanian Tote ten years ago after it struggled to recover from paying Ranogajec huge sums in rebates.
“He is so clever he will find some other jurisdiction he can come in through to get favourable rebates,” McIlwain said. “British racing needs to be aware he is not a charity.”
Colossus Bets did not respond when contacted by The Times for comment yesterday.
Full statement from Britbet
‘Colossus Bets provide innovative products, features and have a proven track-record in working with well-known brands.
“We undertook extensive due diligence on Colossus Bets, an award-winning company licensed by the UK Gambling Commission which provides betting products to a long list of licensed betting operators in the UK and overseas. We are obviously aware that Colossus benefits from Mr Ranogajec’s gambling industry experience and financial resources. We are also fully aware that his legal name is John Wilson.
“Incurring significant costs in seeking to establish a network business is quite normal and we are pleased to be partnering with an operator with the financial resources to pursue the ‘by racing, for racing’ Britbet vision of reinvigorating the pool betting landscape and securing revenues for the spo