The uniquely named Greek-Canadian Haralobos Voulgaris, who goes by Bob or H-Bob, is a professional gambler who is considered to be one of the top NBA sports bettors in the entire world. He is also a talented and successful professional poker player to boot.
Today Voulgaris boasts an incredible statistical database, a network of trusted employees, and predictive sports betting models that would turn any NBA franchise green with envy. Let’s take a look at this interesting man.
Bitten by the gambling bug
At the age of 18, Haralobos Voulgaris took a break between high school and college. First, a trip to Greece, then to his parents’ hometown of Argos, Tripoli, and then to Las Vegas with his father. The two lived at Caesars Palace for the better part of two months where Voulgaris the younger learned about gambling from Voulgaris the elder. His father bet on sports, dice games, card games, horses, penny stocks—you name it. However, while Voulgaris’ father was a rather successful entrepreneur and restaurateur, Voulgaris remembers him to be quite unsuccessful in the gambling department. Nevertheless, Voulgaris does have fond memories of spending time in the Caesars sportsbook—during basketball season, of course.
Voulgaris said he listened to other gamblers, watched games intently, and took notes—everything that would eventually serve him well as among the most successful sports bettors across the globe. He dabbled in sports wagering—both with and without his father. Voulgaris’ biggest bet—$100 on the spread of the Atlanta-Golden State game—marked his foray into what would make him incredibly rich. Even though he lost this bet, it was only the beginning of a long and illustrious career.
Thus, Voulgaris’ NBA betting career began in the late 1990’s. By the age of 25, he was regularly wagering several $1 million bets in a given day. By the age of 30, he had built a sizeable fortune.
Building an empire
Voulgaris is quite the analytical type who observed game-management techniques of several prolific and successful coaches to develop his unique edge.
In 2004, however, Voulgaris began to lose. Not just a small run of bad luck but a series of outcomes that made him question whether he still had his gambling edge. Prior to this crisis, Voulgaris had been placing as many as 350 individual bets each NBA season. Afterward, however, he decided to “increase his betting frequency by an order of magnitude but decrease the sums he was putting at risk on each wager” in order to maximize his return on investment (ROI). To do this, however, Voulgaris would have to project a score for every single game in an NBA regular season: a feat too large for a human—but a computer program?
After interviewing six people over two years between 2005 and 2007, he partnered with “the Whiz”—a math prodigy with impressive credentials to help design Ewing—not named for Patrick but, instead, after the “Ewing Theory” named by Bill Simmons. They also designed a feeder model to forecast teams’ lineups, and another feeder tool that would track rosters, trades, draft picks, etc.
Voulgaris’ predictive models helped him crush the second half of the 2009 season. As a result he increased his betting frequency up to an astonishing 1,000 wagers per season and an incredible $1 million in wagers in a single day. Voulgaris’ models rely on an incredible amount of data that is constantly being updated. Thus, he watches more NBA games than anyone else on the planet—in his estimations, 400 entire games and one or two quarters of as many as 90% of all games in a single season. He is also a frequent guest on Bill Simmons’ podcast.
He noticed that sports books were calculating point spreads and game totals by simply dividing their projected total in half. This fails to take into consideration the foul-heavy nature of NBA fourth quarters.
All of this effort is akin to poker grinding which can lead to serious burnout. So, why does Haralobos Voulgaris do it? First of all, he loves NBA basketball—the characters, the sport, the athletic ability of players, the drama, and how close you are to the action at a live game. He also states that basketball is tough to exploit and, thus, he is able to corner the market with his predictive model.
Unlike other sports fans who may casually bet during a season, Voulgaris has the ability—and luxury—to take greater risks. Even when he loses—like when Orlando upset Cleveland in 2009—Voulgaris was able to appreciate the Orlando’s coaches game plan that enabled them to secure the win. Certainly, losing isn’t fun, but maintaining that type of appreciation is definitely a positive.
Haralobos Voulgaris on the felt
Voulgaris also “dabbles in poker” and has earned nearly $3.1 million in live tournament winnings, placing him 26th on the Canada All-Time Money List. He also participates in many high-stakes cash games across the globe.
Voulgaris earned his largest live cash—$1,158,883—with his 4th-place finish at the 2017 WSOP $111,111 NLHE High-Roller for One Drop. While Voulgaris entered this event in 2012 as well, he finished just outside of the money.
Voulgaris’ second largest cash accompanied his 2nd-place finish at the 2005 L.A. Poker Classic $10,000 NLHE Championship where he pocketed a hefty $904,122.
Here, Voulgaris gets the better of Jason Mercier in this PokerStars.com Big Game Season 2 hand.
As would be expected, Haralobos Voulgaris has some stories to tell. Here are some of the most interesting.
Voulgaris bets it all
In 2000, Voulgaris placed a huge wager on the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA title. That year, NBA oddsmakers were offering 6.5:1 on the Lakers. Thinking that the line was an overlay—odds that are higher than they should be—he bet his entire life savings of $70,000 on the Lakers. Many thought he was crazy as the team performed poorly the previous year. Six months later, Haralobos Voulgaris made himself half a million dollars.
Oh yeah, Voulgaris won another huge sum when the Lakers won their second consecutive title as well.
Almost a Full Tilt Poker owner
In 2004, Voulgaris nearly purchased a 2-3% share of Full Tilt Poker. After discussing business with Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Ray Bitar—and deciding whether to get in on the deal after learning he wouldn’t be getting the discounted first-tier rate other investors enjoyed and being less than impressed with Bitar—Volgaris decided to pass.
When Full Tilt Poker was hitting its stride, many of the other owners ridiculed Voulgaris. After all, each percentage he would have purchased would have netted him approximately $4 million. However, when Black Friday hit, Voulgaris said while he felt vindicated, he did so at the expense of about $10 million.
En route to his dream
In 2009-2010 Voulgaris signed a contract with an NBA franchise to consult on player acquisition and roster assembly. After all, his dream is to be an NBA general manager or owner. However, after a few months, Voulgaris realized the team—and many other front offices—were not ready to embrace completely his model and statistics. He then returned to his former, highly profitable, lifestyle.
Haralobos Voulgaris: The future
Some people question whether Voulgaris is, indeed, the self-made millionaire, gambling savant both he and the media claim he is. His name is oftentimes uttered in the same breath as Dan Blizerian—another gambler who claims to have made his fortune a certain way but who has raised people’s eyebrows. He is, indeed, a smart guy with an incredible head for statistics. Only Voulgaris knows the full story, and I’m quite sure he won’t divulge it all.
Most recently Voulgaris was hired by the Dallas Mavericks to be their director of quantitative research and development. In this position the legendary sports bettor will be using his specialized knowledge to help this NBA franchise to make better strategy and personnel decisions.
Until next time.
Read more from Upswing Poker: