THE reclusive boss of the ”punters club”, which reaps more than $60 million a year through a global betting operation, began devising gambling systems at age 12 with a toy roulette wheel, court documents reveal.
Zeljko Ranogajec, now in his 50s, is being pursued by the Australian Tax Office for tens of millions of dollars in unpaid tax from the profits of the punters club – a sophisticated operation that uses complex algorithms to calculate the odds in thousands of horse and greyhound races.
Through a series of subsidiary companies, it then places in excess of $2 billion in bets a year on sporting events all over the world, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mr Ranogajec, a Sydney resident until last year, is appealing the Tax Office’s assessments of his income in the Federal Court, arguing that he is not a businessman pursuing profit but a passionate gambler.
”[Mr Ranogajec’s] first encounter with gambling was at around the age of 12,” says his appeal statement, lodged with the court this week.
”His father was a regular visitor to Wrest Point Casino and at home the applicant would experiment with systems using a toy roulette wheel.”
The documents show that Mr Ranogajec enrolled in a commerce-law degree at the University of Tasmania in 1978 but attended ”only periodically”.
His university days may not have yielded a degree but they did yield an association with a small cluster of students who shared his fascination with gambling. This association was the genesis for the punters club.
Among the members of the group was David Walsh, the owner of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, who is also being pursued by the Tax Office.
But according to Mr Ranogajec’s statement, the gambling operation remained informal.
”The punters club operated on trust,” his statement reads.
According to the Tax Office, the ranks of the club swelled over the ensuing decade, and by 1991 it was a business devoted to profit.
The Tax Office claims that, at the same time, Ranogajec went to great lengths to hide the growing scale and sophistication of his operation from them. .
In his statement Mr Ranogajec claims he ”wished at all relevant times to comply with his taxation obligations” and that he ”repeatedly sought” the Tax Office’s views on how his gambling winnings should be treated.
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