Doubling Down

The Gambler: Meet the man who won $1.2 million on Tiger Woods

James Adducci bet big on Tiger Woods and won. Now he's pushing his luckMay 15, 2019

Getting inside a gambler’s head is a risky game. Particularly with James P. Adducci, the 39-year-old Wisconsin man who bet $85,000 on Tiger Woods to win the 2019 Masters, at 14-to-1 odds, and earned $1.19 million—the largest golf payout on a futures bet in William Hill sportsbook history. How could anyone, let alone a guy who doesn’t own his home and knows all too well what it’s like to labor for small paychecks, explain laying that kind of money on a golfer who hadn’t won a major in 11 years?

Even more remarkable about Adducci is he determined one improbable payday wasn’t enough. On the Tuesday before PGA Championship week, he flew to Las Vegas to place another massive wager: $100,000 on Woods to win the three remaining majors in 2019, the Grand Slam, at 100-1 odds. Adducci withdrew the cash from the same bank and transported it in the same $32 Walmart backpack he used for the Masters bet. The payout on the bet, confirmed by William Hill U.S., would be $10 million, the largest in company history.

“[William Hill U.S.] told me it’s a bet that’s never been seen before,” Adducci said.

If this sounds like the logic of a seasoned sports gambler, consider that Adducci claims the Masters bet was his first-ever sports wager. The weightlifting enthusiast did once bet $3,500 on Arnold Schwarzenegger to win the 2003 recall election to become California governor, and doubled his money. That bet, Adducci says, was based on one of his favorite movies with Schwarzenegger, the 1977 docudrama “Pumping Iron,” where the actor predicts future political conquests.

How could a guy with a taste for heavy action wait so long to make his first foray into sports? And then make, of all things, a golf bet so outrageously enormous?

Nathaniel Welch

Adducci at home with his father in La Crosse, Wisc. Photos by Nathaniel Welch.

I visited Adducci where he lives, with his father in a small two-story house in the town where he grew up, La Crosse, Wis. The bright-green carpeting and pink-tile bathroom have never been updated. During the final round of the 2019 Masters, the 5-foot-10, 280-pound Adducci watched his fortune unfold as he sat on a wood rocking chair in their small den. He screamed and yelled at a 25-inch TV. Alongside, in an armless high-back, rested his ailing father, 82, who fell asleep.

“I think it was a bad bet,” laughed Adducci’s father, James C., a week later. He recently has had health issues and has trouble walking. Still, the elder Adducci recalled stories from his University of Illinois golf-team days in the late 1950s, when he lettered three years. His face lit up when he talked about caddieing at Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago and attending the PGA Championship there in 1961.

“There’s a photo looking up at the 18th green, and if you look close, you’ll see a fella lying down. That’s me.”

“Wow, I’ve never heard that one,” the son said.

In 2014, Adducci moved back in with his parents to help take care of his ailing mother (Nancy passed in 2016) and is now doing the same for his father. Part of the reason behind the bet, the son explained, was being able to watch it play out with his father. That’s nice, but plenty of golf fans enjoy watching the Masters with their pops without a million-dollar payday on the line.

A day after William Hill U.S. held a press conference to celebrate Adducci, a USA Today report revealed his arrest record, which includes guilty charges on three counts of misdemeanor domestic abuse and a misdemeanor for battery. When Golf Digest initially interviewed Adducci the Monday after the Masters, he brought up his “wife,” telling us: “[She said] to me, ‘I can’t stop you from doing this, because if [Tiger] wins, I’ll never forgive myself.’ She’s a keeper.”

But Adducci isn’t married. “I should’ve never said I was married. I obviously misspoke,” he said a week later. He was referring to a conversation with an on-again, off-again girlfriend. Later, he said the reason he mentioned a wife was to avoid people interested in his money.

The Monday after the Masters, Adducci said he’d been $25,000 in debt, including some payments left on his nine-year-old Infiniti QX56 and a student loan. He also called himself a day trader, but a clearer characterization is that he manages his personal investment account, in addition to working construction jobs.

Adducci admitted that being thrust into the spotlight hours after getting a huge check perhaps caused him, an Average Joe, to exaggerate some elements of his situation.

(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for William Hill US)

James Adducci of Wisconsin stands with his winning tickets at the William Hill Sportsbook at SLS Las Vegas Hotel.

Adducci let us into his financial history, but perhaps not all the way in, which is understandable. He said his supplement company faltered in 2017 after the supplier for the plasma-infused protein quadrupled its price for raw materials. Regardless, he said none of the money for the bet came from that business. He said in January 2018, he took about $60,000 in personal savings and invested it in Amazon. He bought shares of Amazon six more times that month, some on margin (borrowing from a broker to buy more stock), totaling $278,000. He did that five more times in 2018, totaling more than $500,000.

“I saved up over the years,” Adducci said, “and through buying on margin, I was able to buy more stock than I had available in cash.” In March of 2019, Adducci sold more than $55,000 of Amazon stock to help place the $85,000 bet.

We sent Adducci’s transactions to a financial advisor from Wisconsin, who analyzed them and said: “These are the actions of a gambler, not an investor. There’s a big difference. This is crazy behavior.” Just like the Tiger bet was his first sports wager, Adducci said the Amazon stock was his first investment.

“I wanted to get back to my roots of finance and calculated risk,” Adducci said.

When USA Today reporter A.J. Perez questioned Adducci about his misdemeanor history, Adducci cursed. But Adducci has come to understand such questions, realizing that people want to know more about him.

“The guy that I once was might want to take A.J. Perez in a chokehold,” Adducci said. “Anybody can agree that how I look on paper is pretty terrible.”

But how about on a T-shirt?

For our game at Forest Hills Golf Course in La Crosse, Adducci arrived in a shirt he rushed to have printed. His mugshot was on the front, along with the words: “Am I a loser? You bet!”

Is this T-shirt insensitively making light of a criminal past? To Adducci, the shirt is more a metaphor for how far he has come. Here he was, showing up at his former home course a millionaire (though he will pay at least 25-percent tax on his winnings), just two miles from the downtown where those arrests occurred, the most recent for non-criminal disorderly conduct in May 2017.

He mashed some drives nearly 300 yards, some straight enough to offer a flash of his former 10-handicap. “When we’re talking about domestic abuse and disorderly conduct, I’m not downplaying anything,” Adducci said. “When I look at who I am today, I can say, ‘Yeah, I own that past. Yeah, that’s part of me. And that’s what made me who I am today.’ ”

He opened up more about bad decisions. After Adducci graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2003, he moved to Chicago to train as a commodities trader. “The job of my dreams.” But three years later, he moved back to La Crosse, working sales, financial and account-management jobs, also finding second jobs to make ends meet, like washing FedEx trucks. He didn’t handle his frustrations well: “I always felt like wasted talent.” In April 2004, Adducci moved to downtown La Crosse, recently included among the top 10 on America’s “drunkest cities” ranking by 24/7 Wall Street, and lived with “the craziest group of guys you could live with.”

“It got out of control,” he said. “A couple disorderly, stupid, immature mistakes—you can start accumulating these things like baseball cards.”

Consider his complicated past, and finding a connection with another complicated man, Tiger Woods, and maybe one can start to understand the origin of this massive gamble.

“I don’t have to be 10 years old to admit that Tiger Woods is my role model,” Adducci said. “Part of what makes him superhuman is how he came back and worked through such adversity. And that’s something that I can really identify with. Sure, his good and his bad are totally different. But nonetheless, we’ve both had our good and our bad to work through.”

Adducci said he changed after his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“I realized that I’m not weird, I’m not defective or wrong,” he said. “I realized that everyone has to learn life lessons, and we all grow up at different rates. And there’s no finish line. I realized you can become the guy who no longer gets arrested.”

It took finding the right counselor, Adducci said, to get comfortable in his skin. He credited that self-awareness for allowing him to see the opportunities in investing in Amazon and betting on Woods. Adducci said Woods winning the Tour Championship in September, coupled with his close calls at the Open Championship and the PGA Championship in 2018, planted the seed that he might do this.

How about stats? Advanced metrics and analytics are so readily available these days, so maybe computer modeling showed Adducci that Tiger winning his fifth green jacket was a sure thing? Nope. Adducci didn’t look at any of it. Don’t ask him about strokes gained. Stats guys get their nose too close to reality, he said.

“I went into this with my own guiding principles,” he said. “I wanted to take on the house and kick its ass.”

So Adducci flew from La Crosse to Las Vegas to make the Tiger bet the Tuesday of Masters week. Months before, he’d researched how to do it, but Google didn’t have many answers, and casinos were reluctant to give information over the phone. He would’ve failed Betting 101; he didn’t know, for instance, that every sportsbook has different odds. Before he went to William Hill, the British-based gambling conglomerate that operates the SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino sportsbook, he tried two other shops. Adducci said the Bellagio would’ve allowed him to put down $4,500 on Tiger—$2,000 at 12-1 odds and $2,500 at 10-1—but that wasn’t enough for him. Next stop was the Westgate SuperBook, which would have let him place only a $10,000 bet. Jeff Sherman, Westgate’s manager, confirmed a customer came in looking to bet $85,000 on Tiger.

Nick Bogdonavich, William Hill U.S. director of trading, called his boss, William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher, and he agreed to give Adducci the stakes he wanted.

Six days later, after Woods completed perhaps the most improbable personal comeback in sports history, Adducci flew back to Las Vegas—this time on a first-class flight paid for by William Hill U.S. to collect his money. He dined with Asher and the William Hill U.S. execs, as they tried to make sense of it: Who is this guy?

“We like to celebrate wins,” said William Hill U.S. VP of marketing, Michael Grodsky. “They’re neat situations when these iconic bets come through. And it was legendary. The entertainment that we all got from watching Tiger win the Masters, knowing [Adducci’s bet] was at stake, made it all the more fun.”

“I think they’re trying to figure out if they love or hate me. And I love that. I want it to be both,” Adducci said.

Aaron Macha, a businessman from La Crosse, wasn’t surprised to read the news of his former employee’s win. “[Adducci] is one of the only people I know who has enough balls to actually do this,” Macha said. “There’s been a lot of bad press, people saying, ‘Oh, this guy must be a huge gambler . . . but he’s not a gambler. It was so out of character. But it was in character because he’s always had a lot of ideas. And this one hit.”

As for his improbable Grand Slam bet, Adducci’s simple justification behind it would infuriate almost anyone who has gambled on sports. “This is a very unique situation,” he said. “Tiger has won at Bethpage and at Pebble; he did it by the biggest margin in history. This is how my brain works. The energy of the universe, and what people want to see happen, is going to propel him to do it.”

Adducci said he would fly to Northern Ireland for the Open if the first three legs of the Slam are secured—an eventuality in his eyes—and pictured himself standing at Royal Portrush, watching Tiger go for what could be his 18th overall major.

Sure, a crazy thought. But anybody who advised Adducci before his Masters bet would’ve told him it was irrational, too.

And what if Adducci had lost that $85,000?

“The emotional aspect of losing—I’m not just saying this— I never really considered it,” he said. “It was truly everything that I could afford to lose, and my lifestyle not change.”

A true gambler’s mentality.