In the world of gambling and gaming, New Zealand and Australia have produced some truly remarkable individuals. From poker legends to horse racing aficionados, these individuals have left an indelible mark on the world of chance and strategy. In this article, we delve into the intriguing stories of eight outstanding gamblers who have achieved fame and fortune in the Australasian region and beyond. From the medical doctor turned poker maestro, Lee Nelson, to the enigmatic figure of William 'Bully' Hayes, each individual has a unique and captivating journey that has made them icons in their respective fields. Join us as we explore their remarkable lives and contributions to the world of gambling.
1. Lee Nelson
Lee Nelson, originally hailing from New Zealand, is a name that resonates deeply in the poker world, particularly in the Australasian region. Before delving into the intricate world of poker, Nelson had a noble medical career, practicing as a doctor. His transition from a career in healthcare to becoming a poker maestro is as intriguing as inspiring. With over $2.5 million in earnings, he not only tops the all-time money list for New Zealand but also holds a comfortable lead over his nearest competitor. His foray into the literary world is as successful as his poker career, having penned books on both his professional expertise, "Prostate Cancer Prevention and Cure," and his poker strategies, co-authoring the well-received "Kill Phil" and "Kill Everyone" poker series. The blend of his medical background and poker acumen is further exemplified by his establishment of a wellness retreat in New Zealand, focusing on the holistic elements of food, exercise, and meditation.
Nelson's poker achievements are nothing short of remarkable. His crowning glory came in 2006 when he triumphed in the Crown Australian Poker Championship, claiming the main event. His poker prowess extends beyond the traditional Texas Hold'em, as demonstrated by his victory in an Omaha event at the Aussie Millions. The World Open and an ANZPT main event in Melbourne also feature in his impressive list of victories. His contributions to the poker world were formally recognized in 2009 when he was inducted into the Australian Poker Hall of Fame. His ability to navigate and conquer tables laden with the game's top professionals, like Daniel Negreanu and Antonio Esfandiari, is a testament to his strategic acumen and deep understanding of the game.
Lee Nelson's indelible mark on the Aussie Millions Poker Championship is a narrative of consistent success and fond memories. His 2006 victory not only brought him a substantial monetary reward but also provided the capital necessary to realize his dream of establishing a wellness retreat. Named Split Apple, this retreat is nestled in the picturesque environs of Nelson, New Zealand, and has garnered global recognition. Nelson's connection to the Aussie Millions extends beyond his triumphs; it's a testament to his sustained excellence and love for the game, as evidenced by his numerous final table appearances and ongoing participation. His poker journey is punctuated with strategic acumen, reflecting his deep understanding and analytical approach to the game, qualities he has imparted through his co-authored books. As he dons his iconic Hawaiian shirt - a token of good luck and a symbol of his unique journey - Nelson continues to be an emblematic figure in the poker realm, his legacy intertwined with the prestigious Aussie Millions.
2. William 'Bully' Hayes
William 'Bully' Hayes, born William Henry Hayes sometime between 1828 and 1832 in Cleveland, Ohio, emerged as one of the 19th-century's most enigmatic figures. Of possibly Irish descent, his early life was shrouded in mystery, but what is known paints the picture of a man of striking presence. With reddish-brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and a commanding baritone voice, Hayes's physicality was as imposing as his personality. His father, Henry Hayes, worked as a bargee, but little is known of his mother. His seafaring life began in the United States Navy in China, though he was dismissed in 1846. By the mid-1850s, Hayes had gained not only his master's ticket but also a reputation as a bilker, vamooser, and undischarged bankrupt. In 1857, he married Amelia Littleton in South Australia, but this union bore no children, and soon after, Hayes's life would take a tumultuous turn.
Stranded and penniless in Sydney after the loss of his ship, the Ellenita, Hayes found himself in Darlinghurst gaol in 1860. Upon release, he joined a vaudeville troupe and sailed to New Zealand, arriving in Dunedin in 1862. Here, his life took on a theatrical flair, as he opened his own hotel and theatre, the Prince of Wales. Drama ensued both on and off stage when he seduced Rosetta Buckingham of the Buckingham Family entertainers, causing a scandal that involved a barber, a bet, and the revelation of Hayes's missing ear - a punishment for past cheating at cards.
Despite personal and financial turmoil, including the tragic drowning of Rosetta and her family, Hayes continued his maritime ventures. He remarried in Christchurch in 1865, possibly bigamously, and fathered three children. His life at sea was marred by allegations of 'blackbirding', gun running, and piracy, drawing the ire of both British and American authorities. Even after a stint in a Manila gaol, Hayes's nefarious activities continued unabated until his violent death in 1877 in the Marshall Islands, ending the life of a man as notorious as he was captivating.
The legacy of William 'Bully' Hayes is a tapestry woven with threads of truth and fiction. Acknowledged as a shrewd entrepreneur and skilled mariner, his courage and resilience were matched only by his propensity for deception and illegal dealings. His life was a saga of daring adventures, scandalous liaisons, and unapologetic roguery, making him an enduring figure in the annals of maritime history. In a time of ruthless trader captains, Hayes's story stands out, a testament to the complexity of the human spirit and the indelible mark one man can leave on history.
3. Sosia Jiang
Sosia Jiang is a remarkable New Zealand poker player whose career has seen her achieve over $1.4 million in earnings. Her journey into the world of poker began with a series of significant victories that showcased her strategic brilliance and determination. In 2017, Jiang secured her largest career cash by winning the PokerStars Championship Macau High Roller, earning a substantial HK$3,870,000 ($498,073). She continued to shine in the poker world, triumphing at the Sydney Championships High Roller in 2018 with a prize of A$266,000 ($197,536) and cashing in the Triton London $100,000 Main Event for $245,345 in 2019. Despite recognizing the role of luck in her success, Sosia Jiang is distinguished by her exceptional skill and strategic prowess.
Born in Inner Mongolia and immigrating to New Zealand at the age of 7, Jiang's family faced the challenges of adapting to a new culture and life circumstances. Her parents worked tirelessly to provide her and her brother with opportunities for a better future, believing that education and hard work were the keys to success. Jiang's journey from her early days in New Zealand to becoming a prominent poker player is a testament to her determination and dedication. She pursued a rigorous academic path, earning degrees in commerce and Asian studies before pursuing a graduate law program. It was during her corporate career in Hong Kong that she was introduced to poker, and she quickly discovered her passion for the game.
Sosia Jiang's ascent in the world of poker reflects her commitment to excellence and her ability to excel in a male-dominated field. She dismisses stereotypes related to gender and emphasizes that poker is a game of skill and strategy open to anyone willing to put in the effort to improve. Jiang's success is not just attributed to luck but to her deep understanding of tournament strategy, mathematical acumen, and the ability to analyze the complex interplay of variables during a game. Her story serves as an inspiration, demonstrating that with hard work, determination, and a love for the game, anyone can achieve greatness in the world of poker.
4. Thomas Ward
Thomas Ward is a renowned poker player hailing with a remarkable career in the world of poker tournaments. Throughout his poker journey, Thomas accumulated winnings exceeding USD 515,255 solely from poker tournaments, not including cash games. His impressive track record spans over 65 poker tournaments, establishing him as the 16th-best poker player in Scotland and ranking him at #5097 globally. His most significant cash prize came from winning over USD 175,831 in a single live tournament ast the IPT European Poker Tour in London.
One notable achievement in Thomas Ward's career took place on May 12, 2023, when he participated in the €75 No Limit Hold'em - Warm Up 20k Banco Casino Masters Warm Up event in Bratislava, Slovakia. He secured the 7th position, further solidifying his reputation as a competitive player in the international poker scene. Thomas has participated in poker tournaments worldwide, from the United States to Europe and even online.
However, one of the standout moments in Thomas Ward's poker career occurred when he participated in the World Series of Poker No-Limit Hold'em Main Event on GGPoker. In this historic online poker tournament with a massive prize pool of US$27.5 million, Thomas Ward achieved a remarkable 4th-place finish, earning him an astonishing US$1.35 million (NZ$2 million). This victory marked a career-best for him and solidified his status as one of the top poker players globally. Ward's incredible success in this tournament underscores his skill and dedication to the game, making him a notable figure in poker.
5. Lloyd Williams
Lloyd J. Williams, born on May 7, 1940, is a prominent Australian businessman and property developer with a deep-rooted passion for thoroughbred horse racing. He is a well-known figure in the world of gambling, both as a successful gambler in horse racing and as the founder of the renowned Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex in Melbourne, Australia. Williams' educational journey took place at Xavier College in Melbourne, where he laid the foundation for his future endeavors.
In 1994, Lloyd Williams made history by establishing the Crown Casino, which has since become an iconic gambling establishment not only in Australia but also on a global scale. Crown Casino stands as Australia's largest casino and ranks among the largest single casinos worldwide. Although he initially founded the casino, Williams later sold a majority of his interests to Publishing and Broadcasting Limited and other entities linked to the Packer family in 1999.
Beyond his business ventures, Lloyd Williams is best known for his remarkable achievements in thoroughbred horse racing. He has earned the distinction of being the owner with the most Melbourne Cup victories, with a total of seven wins, including titles in 1981, 1985, 2007, 2012, 2016, 2017, and 2020. Williams and his wife, Suzie, have established themselves as dominant forces in the sport. Their dedication to thoroughbred racing extends to a 120-hectare stable located outside Melbourne.
In addition to his contributions to the gambling and entertainment industry, Lloyd Williams has been recognized for his philanthropic efforts. In 2002, he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his role in creating a program that allowed troubled teenagers to learn to sail as part of their rehabilitation. As of May 2023, Lloyd Williams' net worth was estimated at A$990 million, affirming his standing as a successful entrepreneur and a significant figure in Australian horse racing and gambling.
6. Zeljko Ranogajec
Zeljko Ranogajec, a renowned businessman and professional gambler, has earned a place among the wealthiest gamblers globally due to his remarkable success in various forms of advantage gambling, most notably horse betting and blackjack. Born on May 22, 1961, in Hobart, Australia, to Croatian immigrants, Ranogajec's journey into the world of gambling began during his studies at the University of Tasmania, where he initially pursued commerce and law. His fascination with blackjack led him to become a skilled card counter at the Wrest Point Casino. It was there that he met Shelley Wilson, who would later become his wife and business partner. Zeljko's passion for gambling eventually led him to drop out of university and fully immerse himself in the world of advantage gambling and optimum blackjack strategies (not the ones you would use yourself on a great online blackjack site for New Zelead gamblers).
Ranogajec gained prominence for his incredible talent in blackjack, turning a meagre starting bankroll into millions of dollars. His partnership with Alan Woods in the 1980s further solidified his reputation as one of the most innovative advantage players of his time. However, as his success grew, so did the bans from casinos across Australia and later the United States, earning him the nickname "The Joker." Zeljko's induction into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2011 stands as a testament to his exceptional skills in the game.
In addition to blackjack, Zeljko Ranogajec made a significant impact in horse racing betting. He employed a sophisticated strategy that involved identifying betting opportunities with high liquidity, using a highly sophisticated betting system, and securing deals with bookmakers for substantial rebates on his bets. His success in horse racing betting had a significant influence on the Australian bookmaker TabCorp's revenue and the operations of Betfair in Australia. Ranogajec also organized an extensive network of spotters, analysts, and administrators, indirectly employing over 300 people.
Despite controversies surrounding his success, including disputes with the Australian Taxation Office, Zeljko Ranogajec's net worth continued to rise, and he appeared on financial rich lists in Australia. Despite his immense wealth and influence in the gambling world, Ranogajec has maintained a low profile, rarely giving interviews and often operating under various aliases to protect his privacy. His incredible gambling career remains a fascinating and enigmatic chapter in the world of professional gambling.
7. Alan Woods
Alan Woods (1945 - 26 January 2008) was an iconic Australian and Hong Kong professional gambler and mathematician known for his remarkable contributions to the gambling world. Woods' journey began in Murwillumbah, New South Wales, where he grew up in a family involved in various businesses. Initially, he pursued mathematics at the University of New England but left before graduating. Woods' exposure to gambling was limited until he discovered poker machines and horse betting during his college years. While he started as a losing player, his passion for gambling eventually led him down a path that would make him one of the most significant gamblers in the world.
Woods' gambling career took a significant turn in 1979 when his wife left him. He focused on blackjack and quickly made a name for himself. His success led him to Las Vegas and later to casinos across Europe, Australia, and Asia, where he continued to amass substantial winnings. In 1982, Woods transitioned to horse betting in Hong Kong, where he met and collaborated with fellow gamblers Bob Moore and Bill Benter. Together, they developed a pioneering computer model based on mathematics to select race winners, which proved highly successful and generated significant profits. Despite their success, the partnership eventually dissolved in 1987. Woods continued his gambling career, working with Zeljko Ranogajec in Manila and further solidifying his reputation as one of the most prominent figures in the world of gambling.
Alan Woods was not only a legendary gambler but also a family man, having been married to Meredith and raising two children, Anthony and Vicky. His political views shifted over the years, transforming from a conservative perspective to a more liberal one. Tragically, Woods' life was cut short when he succumbed to appendiceal cancer on 25 January 2008. His contributions to the field of gambling, particularly in the realms of blackjack and horse betting, continue to be remembered and celebrated by enthusiasts and professionals alike.
8. Kerry Packer
Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer AC was a prominent Australian media tycoon, widely recognized as one of the most influential media proprietors of the twentieth century in Australia. Born on December 17, 1937, in Sydney, Australia, he came from a family deeply involved in the media industry. His father, Sir Frank Packer, controlled Australian Consolidated Press and the Nine Network, laying the foundation for Kerry's future endeavors. Despite struggling academically, possibly due to undiagnosed dyslexia, Kerry Packer's life took a pivotal turn when he inherited control of the family's business empire, valued at A$100 million, after his father died in 1974.
Under Kerry Packer's leadership, the Packer family company, Consolidated Press Holdings, played a significant role in the Australian media landscape. The company owned controlling interests in both the Nine Network and Australian Consolidated Press, which later merged to form Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL). Packer's business acumen extended beyond media, as he ventured into gambling and tourism, notably with the Crown Casino in Melbourne. His influence in the Australian business world was immense, with politicians from both sides courting his favor.
One of Kerry Packer's most notable achievements was founding World Series Cricket, which led to a confrontation with cricket authorities but ultimately secured broadcasting rights for Australian cricket. He was also known for his astute investments and business decisions, including his famous sale and repurchase of the Nine Network. Despite his success, Packer faced controversy, legal challenges, and even allegations of tax evasion throughout his career. His legacy extends beyond the business realm, as he was involved in philanthropic endeavors, including donations to the Ambulance Service of New South Wales and his contribution to organ transplantation awareness. Kerry Packer passed away on December 26, 2005, leaving behind a lasting impact on the Australian media landscape and business world.
This article was published on November 2, 2023, and last updated on November 1, 2023.