The Legend of Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris, the World’s “Greatest NBA Bettor”

It seems to be a story too good to be true. A college kid bets his entire life savings on the Lakers at long odds, wins his bet, and uses that money as seed stock to becoming a millionaire, earning the label as “greatest NBA bettor in history” in the process.

But is it true? Some of it certainly is. No one is arguing that Bob Voulgaris is one of the great gamblers in the world. But what about his story about making his bones betting on the Lakers to win the 2000 NBA championship? Is that the true story?

Only Voulgaris knows for sure. But what we do know is Voulgaris, in his numerous interviews with the mainstream media, downplays and often fails to mention his involvement in the online sportsbook Wagerstreet in the early 2000s.

According to Business Insider, “He bet his entire life savings on a 6.5-1 bet that would take over six months to decide. Then he waited. Six months later, after many nights of eating ramen noodles, many days of slinging luggage, and a 15 point deficit in the 4th quarter of game 7 against Portland, the Lakers were crowned NBA champions, and Haralabos Voulgaris had a half a million dollars. From there Voulgaris gave up on the skycap business and started betting more and more on each game. He limited his gambling primarily to NBA basketball, but not because it was the easiest game to bet on.”

An ESPN article written by Scott Eden tells a similar story . “In 2002, he discovered one that would line his pockets for years. It all had to do with how most bookmakers set their halftime totals, the predicted number of points scored in each half of the game. Each half, of course, is its own discrete period of play, and the fourth quarters of close games can end in elongated foul-clogged stretches of free throws, timeouts, fast play and, hence, a burst of scoring. But incredibly, bookmakers at the time didn’t account for this fact; they simply arrived at a total for the full game and cut that figure roughly down the middle, assigning some 50 percent of the points to the first half and 50 percent to the second. For years, Voulgaris exploited this edge, playing both sides of it repeatedly. It is possible to say that it alone made him millions, combined with some keen observations regarding the game-management tendencies of three head coaches: Eddie Jordan, Jerry Sloan and Byron Scott.”

“Those were three coaches I had nailed perfectly,” Voulgaris, now 37, says. “I knew exactly what they were going to do. I mean, it was a joke, it was so easy.”

Voulgaris and the articles failed to mention a key component of his gambling resume. Voulgaris was a primary investor in Wagerstreet, an offshore sportsbook who’s domain was registered on April 7, 2000, two months before the Lakers won the crown and Voulgaris supposedly won his huge gamble.

It is not a huge secret to sports bettors that Voulgaris was the brains behind Wagerstreet. When he sold Wagerstreet to in 2005, some were hoping Voulgaris was still going to be involved.

To the public at large, however, Voulgaris is a man who made his fortune beating the books. That certainly is a better story than being the primary player in an off-shore sportsbook.

Voulgaris doesn’t deny his involvement in Wagerstreet. He just doesn’t like to talk about it.

“I never really felt comfortable disclosing the fact that I was an investor in a gaming company,” said Voulgaris in a post. “At the time I invested in said sportsbook it seemed like the legality was grey or quasi legal (similar to poker) a few years later it was clearly not legal as the US was seizing sportsbook money and shutting down processors left and right.”

Nothing wrong with that. But like many gambling legends, what one is told is rarely the full story. Voulgaris’s path to wealth is a bit more complicated than simply winning a monster future bet in 2000. Those who don’t read, and get their betting news from ESPN, will have the wrong idea. Voulgaris will be speaking about the effort to legalize sports betting at the Sloan Conference on February 28; will he mention his own involvement in Wagerstreet? Will he even be asked?

So what kind of sportsbook was Wagerstreet? Some claim they didn’t like big bets and didn’t like winners. One gambler had this to say after Voulgaris sold Wagerstreet to “Does that mean Wagerstreet Bob, that sorry excuse for a BM, is gone now…or will he still be around to reduce the offerings even further and cut more players down to $50 and $100 limits? Wagerstreet used to be a pretty good book until Bob developed that yellow streak down his spine.”

“Wagerstreet – average book, lightning quick software, good customer service, low limits”, said one bettor.

Another gambler called Wagerstreet a small, recreational bettor shop. “I like the Wagerstreet/SIA model of looking for “square action only”, and accomplishing this by selective booting of customers and limiting bet size to $500 a pop.”

Here’s a good debate between one gambler and a “Bob” from Wagerstreet, thought to be Voulgaris.

Their lines are unique, only problem is they don’t like it when you bet them. I was cut down to $200 max phone and internet because I bet too many “different lines” (thats what some guy working there told me when I asked him why my limits were cut). Mind you I wasn’t betting stale lines that they didn’t bother moving after they had moved on don best, just betting value, 1st halfs etc. I withdrew all my money from the joint and don’t plan on returning,” said a poster known as Pancho Sanza.

Bob replied: “Pancho’s account was limited because we don’t really need his type of business, here is the usual way Pancho bets –

The game line steams from 1 to pick, we move the game line but haven’t yet moved the 1st half line so its still at +.5 pancho likes to bet +.5 and pick some place else (who can blame him). Same goes for quarter lines. I have no problem with Pancho betting these games, the only issue is that we have about 50 panchos /pseudo wiseguys so if we have a limit of 1000 on 1st halfs but 50 players who all seem to bet the same games we have to limit our exposure. By limiting them to 200 we can still take about 5 bets (the bets seem to all come at around the same time – I’ll chalk that one up to the phenomenon of steam) and not really over expose ourself. I will say that we frequently offer unique NBA totals and have no problem taking bets on these including halfs through our approval queue.

Pancho gave another example of when his bets were limited. “Hey Bob, heres an idea, move the first half lines. Besides your post is a bit misleading, I don’t wait for a game to be “steamed” and then hit the first half. Sometimes you guys haven’t moved the line after a day has passed. To me that means you are content to leave the halftime line as is. I called in a bet on the jets Monday night and the guy would only give me $200 max, this was well after Mcnair was announced as the starter and you guys had the Jets +3. If you want to cut me off from betting halfs/quarters, thats fine but why straight sides?

Bob answered, “Actually in that Jets game I told the clerk to let you bet whatever you wanted, it just so happened you had some pending bets tied up (with all the slow moving halftime lines) and could only really bet around 200-300. I just assumed when you called and the clerk said username XXXXX wants a bet for more than 200.00 it was on some stale halftime or quarter. That was my mistake and I apologize.