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Las Vegas sports bettor continues historic run on ‘Jeopardy!’

Updated April 11, 2019 - 6:09 pm

Placing large wagers at Las Vegas sportsbooks turned out to be perfect prep work for professional sports bettor James Holzhauer’s record-setting run on “Jeopardy!”

That and reading children’s books.

“I prepared by studying lots of children’s books (much more interesting than those aimed at adults!) on different subjects that might come up on the show,” the Las Vegan told the Review-Journal on Wednesday in an email. “But the most important preparation was my career. I don’t blink at betting large sums, which gives me the nerve to wager big on ‘Jeopardy!’ ”

Holzhauer, 34, won a $29,200 all-in wager on his first Daily Double during Tuesday’s episode en route to shattering the single-game record for “Jeopardy!” winnings with $110,914.

The previous record for the popular 35-year-old game show was $77,000, set by Roger Craig of Ferndale, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 14, 2010.

Host Alex Trebek ended Tuesday’s show by asking, “Is it too soon to begin making comparisons with Ken Jennings?”

Former “Jeopardy!” champion Jennings, of Edmonds, Washington, won more than $2.5 million during a 74-game winning streak in 2004.

“Ken Jennings is a legend, and any comparison to him is an honor,” Holzhauer said.

Holzhauer won his sixth consecutive game Thursday, earning $27,190 to run his total to $325,877.

According to Thejeopardyfan.com, Holzhauer has correctly answered 186 of 195 attempts, is 11 of 12 on Daily Doubles for a net win of $106,941 and five of six in Final Jeopardy.

Holzhauer was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois, where he said he dreamed of being on “Jeopardy!”

“When I came home from school in Naperville, there were two options for afternoon TV viewing: Cubs games and ‘Jeopardy!’. Thus I got hooked on sports statistics and game shows,” he said. “I told my dad that I wanted to invest in a stock market for sports teams when I grew up and promised my beloved granny that I would appear on ‘Jeopardy!’ one day.”

Holzhauer earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois in 2005. He said he bet sports professionally from 2006 to 2011, “retired” to start a family, then resumed his work in Las Vegas in 2016.

“I’ve never had a regular job, unless you count Brown’s Chicken when I was 16,” he said.

Las Vegas sportsbook sources confirmed that Holzhauer is a respected bettor.

“I have consulted for others in the past, but I’m a one-man show now,” he said. “Beating the market gets tougher every year, and no simple strategy is going to get the money anymore.“I bet on football, hockey, basketball and baseball, roughly in that order of importance.”

Holzhauer and his wife, Melissa, have a 4-year-old daughter, whom he sent a special message to in his record-setting game. His $110,914 in earnings represent his daughter’s birthday, 11/09/14, and in Final Jeopardy, he wrote “Happy birthday Booger” alongside his winning question, “What is quantum leap?”

He also has made wagers on “Jeopardy!” to represent birthdays for his father and nephew and for his wedding anniversary.

The family man previously appeared on other game shows — Game Show Network’s “The Chase” in 2014 and ABC’s “500 Questions” in 2015 — and his wife was on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in 2012.

On Holzhauer’s first “Jeopardy!” episode, Trebek said, “James Holzhauer is from Las Vegas. He is a professional sports gambler. What does that mean, exactly?”

“Oh, I’ll bet on anything,” Holzhauer quipped. “Why, are you looking for a little action on the (Stanley) Cup this year? I like the (Tampa Bay) Lightning.”

Holzhauer might like the Lightning to win the Cup, but he told the Review-Journal that he’s actually a big Golden Knights fan.

“I love the Knights, of course, and as a sports fan I would love their story even if I didn’t live here,” he said. “The NHL playoffs are sort of a crapshoot, but I’ll be pulling for them all the way.”

He added that if the team would let him crank the siren during a playoff game, “it would make my year.”

Considering the year he’s having, that’s saying something.

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Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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