The secret world of The Joker – Zeljko Ranogajec

The secret world of The Joker - Zeljko Ranogajec
T6X00B USA. Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck / Joker in the ¿Warner Bros new movie : The Hustle (2019). Plot: A failed stand-up comedian is driven insane and becomes a psychopathic murderer. Ref: LMK110-J4697-050419 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. [email protected]

It is nothing unusual to catch a glimpse of the rich and famous spending a night at the casino – especially in Australia, where the top one-percenters tend to gravitate to venues like the Crown and the Star in Melbourne and Perth. Some, like the YouTube influencers and C-list celebs from reality TV, are there because of the media attention, eager to get snapped and to trend in the celebrity press. Others, those we might call the serious players, are there despite the attention and try to deflect it.

Zeljko Ranogajec definitely falls into the latter category. Some call him The Joker, and to others he is John Wilson. But for the enigmatic billionaire Tasmanian businessman, spending an evening among the high rollers playing the pokies or blackjack isn’t just a chance to let his hair down and relax. On the contrary, it is more like a night at the office.

Zeljko Ranogajec – the elusive master of casino gaming

So who is Zeljko Ranogajec? Unlike most celebrity profiles, that’s not an easy question to unravel. We know he was born in Tasmania in 1961 and that his parents migrated there from Croatia in the 1950s. We also know that from a young age he was something of a mathematics prodigy.

Like many Australians, he also developed a passion for casino gaming. But while most are content to wager a few bucks on a Saturday night at their local casino, or perhaps to play the Australian pokies online at one of the sites at,  Zeljko Ranogajec always had plans on a bigger scale and ultimately a commercial one.

As a young man, Ranogajec exemplified the aspirational attitudes of the early 1980s. In the early 1980s, he developed a blackjack strategy that, according to friends, won him millions. It also won him a place on the banned list, first at Hobart’s historic Wrest Point casino and soon at all the major gambling houses in mainland Australia from Melbourne to Perth. Undeterred, he travelled to the US and then to London, receiving a warm but short-lived welcome at every high stakes gambling house he visited.

The Joker is born

It was at this point that he earned the nickname The Joker and started to diversify his activities into other areas, varying from sports like horse racing to betting games such as keno. Whatever he touched seemed to turn to gold, which increased the aura of mystery around him. After all, everyone knows that in the long term, whatever your game, the house always wins as casinos and betting operators are businesses that need to turn a profit.

The Joker was consistently turning this basic axiom on its head and making huge profits to the point that the Australian rich list estimated his net worth at $600 million. It led some some people to wonder whether there were some additional factors in play beneath the surface of the water to give him an advantage. 

Giving new meaning to “pay to play”

Pay to play is one of the latest innovations in the ever-changing online gaming sector. But some believe a completely different interpretation of it has helped Zeljko Ranogajec to achieve what seems to be a mathematical impossibility.

It all hinges on the fact that he operates a clever business model. His various businesses place hundreds of bets for consortium members to a value of well over a billion dollars each year. As arguably the biggest gambler in the world, Ranogajec is then in a great position to negotiate rebates with various operators. The net result is that he is effectively being paid to place bets, and whatever happens, he can’t help but win.

The model is well thought through, and even better for Ranogajec, is something that is almost impossible to imitate. Ranogajec has the mathematical know-how to get the most out of every game, and he used this to forge himself a position in the carefree days of the 1980s that we could never replicate today.

A man of mystery and multiple identities

Ranogajecis understood to be married, but he jealously protects his privacy and that of his family. Also, if the rich lists are right, he avoids flashing his wealth around, although the clues are there, for example in the profile picture of an exclusive million dollar Lamborghini Aventador on his locked Twitter account.

His official Sydney residence is a down-at heel property in a Sydney suburb. However, he is most commonly glimpsed in London, going to and from One Hyde Park, known as the most expensive apartment block in the world. Apartments there have changed hands for more than $100 million, and the one where Ranogajec spends his time is owned by John Wilson, a man who happens to share Ranogajec’s date of birth. Coincidence? We wouldn’t bet on it.