Top 10 Richest Gamblers In The World (That We Know Of)
Most people know that professional gamblers exist, especially what with televised poker tournaments and the like showing these very wealthy players going into battle against each other.
It’s not just famous poker players though of course, gamblers make a living in every corner of the industry except perhaps for bingo and lottery players where blind luck rules the day.
However, with most gamblers preferring to fly under the radar there will be an untold number of people making a living from gambling in one way or another, some making a few grand a month and others doing much better.
It’s the ones doing ‘much better’ that we are interested in today. Making a modest living from gambling is all very impressive and everything, but we want to know who’s made the big bucks.
To that end then, we will be looking at the top 10 richest gamblers in the world, or at least those that we are aware of, because who knows how many secret millionaires could be roaming around the casinos quietly making a fortune.
Remember though, gamblers don’t have to file their accounts so most of the figures here are estimated, and there might be contradictory information elsewhere.
Lastly, while many people who like to gamble have made lots of money doing other things, we are only interested in those who have made the majority of their money from gambling, not those who put their money into property or opened a casino etc.
Zeljko Ranogajec – $1 Billion+
It’s hard to imagine, but Zeljko amassed his fortune with a starting pot of just $600 AUD.
He started out card counting at blackjack, making millions with an aggressive style of advantage play and being banned from almost every casino he visited, before being inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011.
He also bet huge amounts on Keno jackpots, betting so much that his expenses were more than the jackpots he won, although all of the smaller prizes won along the way still left him ahead.
Next came horse racing on the betting exchanges, and because he was betting such large amounts he was granted a 10% rebate. This, along with a sophisticated betting system created with the help of his math buddies in his ‘Punters Syndicate’, gave him significant edge which he exploited successfully.
The amount he has won is speculative, because Ranogajec is quite a private man, although he was investigated in 2011 by the Australian government who wanted to establish whether he should be paying tax on his winnings, and this shed some light.
During this case, he is on record estimating that his syndicate turned over $1 billion per year, and with that syndicate being over 20 years old now, that’s a lot of money he must have amassed.
Ranogajec has played the whole thing down, saying it is all a big exaggeration, but then he would say that, wouldn’t he?
Bill Benter - $1 Billion AUD ($100 million annually)
Like so many others, Benter began his gambling career playing blackjack, and was actually inspired to do so after reading a book written by someone else on this list, Edward Thorp.
In 1977 he began card counting professionally in Las Vegas, but during the next 7 years he had been banned from every casino on the strip, and instead moved onto betting on horse racing with none other than Alan Woods (see Special Mentions at the end of the article).
The pair of them got $150,000 together and moved to Hong Kong where the horse racing scene was strong, and came up with a formula for betting on the horses.
The formula revolved around a number of different criteria such as speed, jockey skill, height, and winning record amongst others, and would reveal when a bookies odds were not accurately reflecting true probability. Benter would then bet on horses whose true odds were not being reflected.
They lost $120k in their first year, fell out, and went their separate ways.
Benter went to Atlantic City where he built up some money by card counting again, and consistently tinkered with his system to improve it, adding or removing variables to test what worked and what didn’t.
Two years later he was back in Hong Kong, and this time he made $600k in 12 months.
From then on it was success all the way, and he still tinkers with his formula today, betting on races all over the world, and gives an awful lot to charity and good causes too. Nice guy.
Edward Thorp - $800 million
This is a name that will be familiar to most readers, and even though Thorp has made plenty of money doing other things too, it was in gambling that he became rich so his place on this list is correct.
A professor and maths genius, he used his computer like brain first to conquer the casinos, and then to conquer Wall St.
It was playing baccarat and blackjack that Thorp made his fortune, and through his book, “Beat the Dealer”, that he became famous. This publication outlined how he had been turning tables on the casinos for years, and shone a light on the practice of card counting which put many other card counters out of business.
Having conquered the casino world and become too famous to realistically carry on playing, Thorp moved onto the world of the stock market, creating several hedge funds where he used his expertise with numbers, statistics, and a knack for spotting price anomalies to do very well indeed.
He invested on a personal level too, claiming to have earned a 20% yield annualised over almost 29 years.
Dan Bilzerian - $200 million
Dan Bilzerian is as controversial as they come. A social media ‘influencer’, TV personality, failed Navy Seal and college drop out, he has spent much of the last decade shrouded in scandal.
Bilzerian’s claims that his wealth has come mainly from gambling are disputed by many, his professional record definitely would not support this claim, but he has played a lot of private poker in his time and won plenty of money, even if much of this has been behind closed doors.
He had an easy start though. His father was a corporate takeover specialist who built a very juicy trust fund for Dan which he was able to access when he turned 30. His father was also convicted of fraud.
He has made unsubstantiated claims about his poker winnings, including a $10.8 million win in a single night, and a claim that he won around $50 million in 2014. In the same year, he also said he doesn’t play professionals anymore, presumably because he kept getting spanked.
He’s doesn’t have the best reputation either, with several legal cases brought against him including:
- 2014 – Accused of kicking a female model in the face in a Miami nightclub.
- 2014 – After a stunt for Hustler magazine went wrong leading to a broken ankle for porn actress Janice Griffiths, Bilzerian was sued for $85,000.
- 2014 – Arrested on bomb making charges that were later dropped.
- 2015 – Pleaded no contest to a misdemeanour charge of failing to extinguish a fire in the open, and was fined $17,231.50.
- 2020 – Sued by a former employee for wrongful termination. Apparently Bilzerian didn’t like being told that using company funds to pay for his lifestyle wasn’t on.
He gets involved with movies from time to time, but this has also led to court. He invested $1 million into the Mark Wahlberg film, Lone Survivor, in exchange for 8 minutes of screen time and at least 80 words of dialogue. However, his role was edited to under a minute and just a single line of dialogue, so he ended up suing the production. He flirted with a few other movies between 2014 and 2016, but since then has just appeared as himself once or twice.
Billy Walters - $100 million
Once dubbed the most dangerous gambler in the world, Billy Walters has made millions doing everything from playing casino games to sports betting.
He started off as a car salesman, earning the equivalent of $400,000 a year today by relentlessly pursuing business opportunities and working 80 hour weeks, but even as a successful businessman he enjoyed a bet.
He had been gambling his whole life, and mostly unsuccessfully up until his late 30s, having twice lost over $1 million in Las Vegas. He was still a wealthy man though, and in 1986 his luck changed when he took $2 million to the roulette tables in the Golden Nugget, and walked away with $3.8 million after a 38 hour session.
Around the same time, Walters was also part of a group that used computers to analyse sports results, and his success here led him to quit casino betting to focus on sports, where he had a 38 profitable years out of 39, including a 30 year winning streak.
He was so successful that he had to place bets through a system of runners so that bookies would not know it was actually him doing the betting, and has said that in a good year he could make $50-$60 million.
His wealth used to be considerably more than the $100 million in the heading, but he was arrested and jailed for insider trading in 2017, given a 5 year sentence but only serving 4 years of it before he was pardoned by then President, Donald Trump.
Phil Ivey - $100 million
An absolute legend in poker circles, Phil Ivey is the richest professional poker player in the world.
He won 10 World Series of Poker bracelets in just 14 years, and also became the youngest player to hold 10 bracelets when he won number ten in 2014, aged 38.
His other achievements in the game are countless, and in 2017 he was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame.
As well as playing in competitions and tours, Ivey also plays online and was part of the initial design team for Full Tilt Poker which is now part of Poker Stars. He has won millions online as well as in the flesh.
While he has seen nothing but success with poker, he has been much less successful in court.
He unsuccessfully sued Full Tilt for breach of contract in 2011, and has been successfully sued twice by casinos who have accused him of cheating. The first was Crockfords in London, who accused him of edge sorting in 2012 and refused to pay out the £7.3 million he won playing Punto Banco. His appeal was also unsuccessful.
The second case came in 2014, and the Borgata was the casino accusing Ivey of cheating, again by edge sorting. They used the same sort of cards as Crockfords, and Ivey had apparently identified a manufacturing defect that he could exploit.
Once again, the courts ruled in favour of the casino.
Ivey went quiet for many years, but declared an interest in the WSOP 2021, although he never actually competed.
Chris Ferguson - $80 million
As a computer scientist, Ferguson became known for his calm mathematical approach to the game and his knowledge of game theory. He would train using computer simulations he designed himself.
Ferguson’s net worth might well have been much higher had he not been caught up in the Full Tilt scandal in 2011, after which he more or less disappeared for over 5 years.
Having been a much loved face on the poker circuit since the early days, and given the nickname ‘Jesus’ because of his long hair and beard, Ferguson was one of the founders of Full Tilt in 2004, promoting it for many years.
However, when the business went under he and the other founders were accused of withholding information and misleading customers over the safety of their funds while lining their own pockets.
Many players kept their entire bankroll in their Full Tilt accounts, and for some this was hundreds of thousands of dollars which was, unbeknownst to them, unprotected.
After the fall out Ferguson went very quiet, although he did resurface to play in the WSOP 2017, during which he won his 6th WSOP event bracelet, and his first in 14 years. He came back in the following years too.
It didn’t go down well, and even though most players from Full Tilt had been reimbursed there were calls for him to be removed from the competition, but he got his head down a quietly played on. This seems to be his intention going forward too.
Doyle Brunson - $75 million
A true OG of the professional poker scene, Doyle Brunson had a career spanning 50 years in which he won 10 WSOP bracelets, 4 of which were won in consecutive years, wrote several books, and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. He was also the first person to ever win $1million from poker.
Brunson had been on track to become a professional basketball player before a knee injury scuppered his hopes of sporting success. After his injury he played poker to win the money for his medical expenses, but it was a game of 7 card stud with workmates during which he won more than a months’ salary that ignited the spark.
He quit his job soon after to play poker professionally, although he competed mainly in illegal games run by criminal organisations and even had a gun pulled on him and a few beatings.
The following 5 decades included many many hands of poker won, many many dollars won, and even a battle against cancer which he also won. Not only that, he even has two Texas hold’em hands named after him
He officially retired from the game after a competition in 2018, aged 85, coming 6th and winning $43,963 in his last ever game.
However, in 2021 he made a surprise return to the WSOP aged 88, although it wasn’t exactly a glorious return, since only an hour after he sat down he busted out.
Johnathan Duhamel - $34 million
Duhamel is a hero for Canadian players after becoming the first person from the Great White North to win the WSOP Main Event in 2010 aged just 23, and winning 2 more bracelets in 2015.
He also plays online a lot at PokerStars, who are also his sponsors.
He was born in Quebec into a middle class family, and worked from the age of 13 picking strawberries because his parents wanted him to understand the world of work and the value of money. Naturally then, he dropped out of college to pursue professional poker instead.
He has had success with many different versions of poker, but no limit hold’em is his real strength.
Sadly, his success led to him being targeted by robbers in 2011, who burst into his home, tied him up and beat him for information on valuables. His WOSP bracelet was taken, as was some cash and a Rolex given to him by PokerStars.
The robbers were found and prosecuted, but sadly the WSOP bracelet had already been sold. It was actually found a few months later in the streets in Montreal, but it had been damaged beyond repair.
He continues to compete and donates a generous proportion of his winnings to various different charities.
Tony Bloom – £1 Billion+ (Estimate)
Only last on the list because it isn’t possible to accurately estimate his gambling winnings, Tony Bloom is a poker player, sports bettor, property investor, stock market trader, and football club chairman.
While it is not known how much of his doubtless millions of pounds came from gambling, we do know that he won more than £2million playing poker for fun before quitting his job to compete full time, so gambling was something of a launchpad for everything that came next.
He started his gambling life using a fake ID to bet on the amusement arcades in his hometown of Brighton, before getting a degree in Mathematics from the University of Manchester and going on to be a city trader before quitting to take up poker professionally.
He had money finishes in 11 different WSOP, as well as in tours and on the European circuit, and was a regular on the Late Night Poker TV show. His cold-blooded style of play earned him the nickname, The Lizard.
He went on to found Starlizard, an infamous betting consultancy firm which uses data, analytics and tech to make big sports bets for rich clients. The minimum buy in to use the firm’s services in £2 million.
He also owns race horses, and however much he has earned from betting, it was enough for him to buy Brighton and Hove Albion football club as a bit of a side project.
One of the most enigmatic gamblers alive today, Tony Bloom has been called ‘the cleverest man to ever make a bet’.
They might have defied the odds in the casino but not even the most successful gambler will live forever.
It does seem unfair though to be left of an article about mega rich gamblers just because you have passed on, so special mentions must go out to the following players.
Alan Woods – $670 million AUD
Known as the Playboy Punter, Alan Woods was an Aussie who lived a Hugh Hefner inspired lifestyle in Hong Kong, sharing an apartment with a number of young women and enjoying all the luxury his riches could afford him.
Described as a contradictory genius whose mathematical ability was off the charts but who couldn’t pass exams, Woods started off badly in gambling, regularly backing losers at the race track.
However, after hearing about card counting he turned to blackjack in 1979 not long after splitting from his wife, and had quickly amassed around $100,000 in winnings.
The love affair with blackjack only lasted for a few years though, and in 1982 he headed to Hong Kong where he worked with Bill Benter as described above, and his Playboy lifestyle began.
The partnership didn’t go well but just like Benter, Woods continued to develop his formula and ended up with a winning system, and even worked alongside number one on this list, Zeljko Ranogajec, also known as The Joker.
He would regularly bet up to $2 million on a race, but his bets and where they were made was always kept a secret, with a select team employed to help him run his business.
Woods died aged just 62 in 2008, leaving behind a fortune of £275 million, but no one could ever accuse him of living a boring life.
Kerry Packer - $6.5 Billion
Another Aussie who died young, Kerry Packer was 68 when he passed away, but he had spent those 68 years as a media tycoon and gambler, and also happened to be Australia’s richest man.
He couldn’t have had a much better start though, since he inherited his fathers $100 million estate, which may lead you to ask why he has made this list of people who made their fortunes from gambling?
Well, since he holds the title for the biggest gambling loss in British history, it felt appropriate to include him. In 1999, Packer lost $28 million over a 3 day gambling spree in London. On another occasion he lost £19 million playing blackjack at The Ritz, and a further £15 million during a separate session when he took over 4 roulette tables at a London casino and played them all simultaneously.
On the other hand, he once won $33 million AUD in one sitting at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and would regularly win as much as $7 million a year from gambling exploits, and this was won during his days off and holidays.
A famous story about Packer goes that he grew tired of an Oil Tycoon loudly talking about how much he was worth. The reported figure was $60 million, to which Packer pulled out a coin and said “I’ll flip you for it.”
He was also known to make $100,000 bets on behalf of the dealers, meaning they kept the money if the bet won, pay off mortgages of casino staff members, and he tipped the ambulance crew that saved his life $1million each after a close call in 1990.
He was a good loser too. When he lost money at the casino, he would make the first move when it came to paying up. Almost all other losing high rollers had to be chased up, reportedly. What’s more, his requests as a high roller were minimal.
This gives you some idea of who Kerry Packer was as a gambler.