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Beating The Odds: Bill Benter, The Man Who Cracked Horse Racing

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Bill Benter Horse Racing

William ‘Bill’ Benter is a renowned professional gambler, especially in horse racing, and philanthropist. A scholar and academic, Benter is a visiting professor of the Business School of the University of Southampton and a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. He presents papers and lectures at a number of international conferences throughout Asia and the US. 

Benter also happens to be the individual responsible for the development of the most successful analysis computer software program in the horse racing market, a system that has shaped the face of modern analysis-based gambling as we know it. With a complex analytical algorithm that draws in approximately $100m in a single betting season, Benter’s wagering system revolutionized horse race betting and continues to be emulated to this day, making him one of the wealthiest gamblers in the world.

Early life

Born in Pennsylvania in 1957, Benter was a studious child and a diligent Eagle Scout who went on to study Philosophy and Physics at Case Western Reserve University. In 1979, Benter decided to take a break from his formal studies to pursue a more hands-on approach to his education by utilizing his mathematics skills in the casinos of Las Vegas.

An avid fan of the work of Professor Edward O. Thorp, Benter took Thorp’s theories on overcoming the house advantage in blackjack and applied them to the tables of the Western and El Cortez. In his 1962 book Beat the Dealer, Thorp wrote about the system of card counting, which at the time was a new and exciting concept. Upon first arriving, Benter was winning $40 a night at the tables if fortune was in his favor, supplementing his budget by working for $3 an hour at a 7-Eleven. Soon, however, Benter’s skills grew, as did the attention he was receiving from like-minded gambling theorists. In 1980, Benter was introduced to Alan Woods, the leader of an Australian card-counting team working in Las Vegas and the man who would irrevocably change Benter’s life.

Alan Woods

Woods was a 35-year-old ex-insurance actuary who had left his wife and children to travel the world as a full-time professional gambler. Woods and his team trawled the tables of Vegas together, using a system of craft and discipline to succeed at their game. The number of players on the team meant that success was far more likely as a unit than it was while working solo, with the team pooling all their winnings together and splitting their earnings equally between them.

When Woods asked Benter to join his team, Benter leaped at the opportunity, and within six weeks he found himself earning an income of approximately $80,000 a year. He upgraded from the humble El Cortez to the more luxuriant Monte Carlo, rubbing shoulders with the glamorous clientele. Benter moved in with Woods and his team in a house in the Vegas suburbs, living, working, and celebrating together like brothers. The group bonded through a shared passion for their craft, their discipline paying off in their lucrative winnings. Unfortunately, this success was being noticed by the casino staff, who were not pleased with their methods.

The Griffin Book

Woods’ team used card counting to succeed at the blackjack tables. Card counting, while not illegal, was highly frowned upon by casino management and could result in a player being barred. Benter and the team heard rumors of more brutish methods being employed by casino security to prevent card counting, which was soon confirmed first-hand. Benter was playing at the Maxim one night when he was dragged into a back room by security and shoved into a chair and interrogated.

After this, Benter and the team found that they had landed themselves in the Griffin book, a blacklist that a detective agency sent to casinos. As the team could no longer work in Vegas, Woods invited Benter to join him in Hong Kong to work the horse racing circuit with him instead, with horse racing being far more popular in Asia than in the US. In the autumn of 1985, Woods agreed and flew to Hong Kong to begin his next gambling venture.

Bill Benter Horse Racing
Bill Benter Horse Racing

Hong Kong

Before leaving the US, Benter read an academic paper arguing that a horse’s success was the result of quantifiable factors that could be analyzed and a success rate predicted. This paper had only ever been theoretical, but while in Hong Kong, Benter expanded this theory and put it into practice with his own system of factor analysis. Refining this theory took time, and Benter and Woods found their funds dwindling while they attempted to perfect this method. Within their first season, the pair lost $120,000 of the $150,000 they had brought with them. The pair had a falling out when Woods demanded a larger 90% share of their partnership, which Benter refused. The two parted ways, and Benter found himself going solo once again.

Going solo

Benter briefly returned to the US to play the blackjack tables of Atlantic City, quickly refilling his funds. He came back to Hong Kong with a few hundred thousand dollars and a zeal to perfect the coding of his algorithm. After developing the system of factors further, Benter found much higher success rates, earning $600,000 in the next racing season. Woods went on to make $10m in the 1994-1995 season by placing his bets electronically instead of via the phone system used at the time, allowing him to make bets more quickly and efficiently.

This success became a double-edged sword as Benter began to win larger sums of money, such as the Triple Trio Jackpot, which earned him $50m in one season. As in Las Vegas, management began to take notice and deemed Benter’s advantage unfair, suspending his account. He managed to get around the suspension by placing his bets physically, printing out reams of betting slips, and sending them off to the horse racing track with the help of a team. This system was much slower than the electronic betting system, but despite this, he went on to win the 2001 Triple Trio Jackpot of $118m – which he left entirely unclaimed. Benter had wanted to win to prove that he could beat the horse racing system, which was believed to be utterly random and unquantifiable, an idea that he proved to be completely wrong.

Benter continues to use his system, earning $100m a season. While Benter’s current net worth is unknown, it is estimated to be close to $1bn, making him one of the most successful gamblers alive today.

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