Bill Benter is cut above the rest when it comes to gamblers. Many of us have never heard of him, but he may go down in history as the greatest gambler of all time. In the mid-80’s, using his mathematical wizardry, Benter produced an computer algorithm to beat Hong Kong horse racing, and in the process amassed nearly $1 billion.
William Benter was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and from an early age it was clear that Benter was gifted in mathematics. After receiving his degree in physics he made his way to Las Vegas intending to use his skills to make a profit. During that time, he met Alan Woods, who was the leader of a card-counting team in Australia. Woods took Benter under his wing and over six weeks, taught him how to count cards. Before long, he had mastered the art of counting cards and leveraged his expertise at the blackjack tables. After 7 years they won so much money that they were banned from all casinos.
Discouraged but not defeated, Benter went back to the drawing board to see if he could utilize his mathematical prowess to triumph in the world of gambling.
Hong Kong Horse Racing
Woods at the time was also interested in horse racing and between them, they talked about it and became attracted to the betting scene in Hong Kong where there was a huge horse racing market they might be able to tap into.
Not content on utilizing luck to bet on races, Benter and Woods sought out a system that would give them a leg up on winning bets. They spent 9 months collecting and inserting data from previous races into a computer. Their efforts created an algorithm that analyzed sixteen variables which could ultimately have an impact on the race. These variables included the horse’s previous finishing in races, their preferred surface condition and even the weather. The pair moved to Hong Kong and started putting the algorithm to work.
Unfortunately, Woods and Benter lost nearly $150,000 in their first year and Benter went bankrupt. Their betting model had all sorts of glitches because their data wasn’t perfect. This led to a falling out and the two decided to part ways.
Despite the initial failures, Benter never wavered and he continued refining his system. The second iteration included 130 different variables.
This approach turned out to be much more successful; so much so that Benter in his first season implementing the new system made about $3 million.
The Jockey Club’s Best Customer
With the new system in place, Benter was making so much money on Hong Kong racing he was worried that he might get banned like he did in Vegas.
One day he received a call from the Jockey Club and he thought his time was up.
Except they rang him to say he was one of their best customers and wanted to know what could they do to help him. He asked them if he could place bets by the internet and they agreed.
They provided him something called the ‘Customer Input Terminal’ which allowed him to stop having employees pick up the phone and spend 10, 20 seconds each time placing a bet. With the terminal they could place a bet in a fraction of a second, which allowed them to make more bets. With a click of a button they could make thousands upon thousands of bets, which increased their profits dramatically.
Benter’s Biggest Bet
In November of 2001, Benter and his new partner, Paul Coladonato, made a bet on the Triple Trio horse race. The game required players to select and predict the top three horses that would come in for the next three race, thus the name, Triple Trio. Millions of combinations, over ten million to be precise, were possible. And when the correct picks were not selected, the prize money would roll over to the next race.
On this particular evening in November, the jackpot remained unclaimed, six times over and the jackpot had grown to over HK$100 million (about $13 million). And, over one million people had placed a bet.
Benter placed a series of 51,000 bets which cost HK$1.6 million
As the races ended, Benter’s held more than 30 winning combinations, but he had one single winning ticket that correctly predicted all nine placed finishers.
Benter went into it already deciding that even if he won, they weren’t going to claim the money. He was doing it to test out how good his system was by this point.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club officials were dumbfounded.
When Benter learned that unclaimed winnings would go to charity, it was decided that he would not accept the prize.
All Good Things Come To An End
His computer betting system got too good. He was making too much money. The Jockey Club saw what was happening and they realized that if the public caught wind that a foreign computer team was siphoning money out of the betting pool, it might discourage people from going to the track and making bets. They abruptly cut off Bill Benter.
Benter The Philanthropist
Despite raking in nearly a billion dollars through gambling, Benter has moved on from his betting practices and has turned his sights on making improvements in the medical and insurance industries. Now he spends most of his writing code for transcription software for doctors based in the United States.
But perhaps more critical than Benter’s activities to help the medical sciences, he is quite the philanthropist. Benter founded the Benter Foundation in 2007, and the foundation serves to help individuals and communities in the Pittsburgh area thrive. The focus is on the downtown and the urban regions and strives to improve transportation, make the arts available, and provide sustainable spaces that can bring the community together. Now, the foundation is branching out beyond Benter’s hometown of Pittsburgh to help organizations and people all over the world.
Further, Benter serves as a visiting professor at the Southampton Management School and also dedicates his time as a guest speaker at Harvard, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and more. The City University of Hong Kong has even established a scholarship program in Benter’s honor, and the award is given to exemplary students each year who shows promise in the area of mathematics.