My friend and mentor Australian Alan Woods, passed away on January 28th 2008 at the age of sixty-two. He was, without a double the world’s most successful horse-racing gambler. It was estimated that at the time of death last January, he was worth over £320m ($670 million US). For twenty years, he was regarded as one of the world’s largest punters and was generally named as one of the three biggest bettors alive. We called him “Mister Huge”.
He did not see racing as a sport of horses and humans, he only saw it as a never ending string of statistics and numbers. He did not socialize with the upper crust of racing. In fact he couldn’t’ even recognize common names of Jockeys, trainers, or important racing personalities. He would brag that he had not been to a racetrack for over twenty-five years. He was the best of the game and had little interest in the beautiful animals that make up the sport. Alan was strictly a numbers guy. Born in 1945 in Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Alan showed an early brilliance for mathematics. He was a losing punter at university and did not develop gaming interest until later on. He was a mathematician and worked as an actuary in the 1970s. His job was to figure out how long you would live if you smoked two packs a day and did not exercise. The insurance companies would then sell you insurance based on his numbers.
In the mid 70’s, he was intrigued by reading a copy of The Revere Point Count Strategy on blackjack card counting. This was his initiation as a serious gambler. For three years he undertook disguises to avoid identification as he traveled from Australia to Las Vegas, playing alone or with teams of blackjack pirates. In 1982 he was tired of the travel, fake identities, and dodging the casino bosses, he headed for Hong Kong. He was successful in the world of card counting, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what was ahead in horse racing. After investigating what the Computer Group was doing with computers in sports betting, his priorities changed. With a couple of programmers, he would establish a new purpose and change the sport forever. Hong Kong is the perfect spot for professional gamblers. Racing is controlled by the not-for-profit Hong Kong Jockey Club, and is scrupulously honest. You don’t want to be caught fixing races in China and have the authorities find out. Untrue results or race fixing hurts computer calculations. Hong Kong racing features huge betting pools with a limited number of horses and jockeys. He would build a database, his programmers would write a program and they would make history. Hong Kong racing is packed with multiple exotic wagering providing numerous financial opportunities for computer wizards.
For twenty years, Woods would rise to the zenith of this business and become one of the world’s largest horse players. His teams of computer experts and money running agents made it all work. He directed his empire them from a luxury high-rise apartment in Manila. Over the journey he had his ups and downs but it’s reported that during one race day in 1995, Woods made $8 million. It was estimated that in the 2006-07 season, Woods accounted for 2% of the $71.46 billion total Hong Kong Jockey Club betting turnover. His downturn only came when he ventured outside of the Racing world. In the late 1990’s, he took a $100-million stock-market hit when he attempted to short the NASDAQ index just weeks before the bubble actually burst. Had he waited sixty more days, he would have been a billionaire. But it is showing how effective computers can be to the professional punters in succeeding at horse racing. Though Alan is gone, another cancer victim, his legacy will live on. We will miss you my friend.