Jeffrey Yass is one of the richest men in the country and is playing a large role in funding political campaigns in Pennsylvania.
The 63-year-old resident of Haverford and founder of the Susquehanna International Group has favored candidates that can assist him in shaping tax policies. Especially those who can help him reduce or eliminate his own taxes.
ProPublica, the independent, nonprofit newsroom, released a fascinating profile of the Commonwealth’s richest man on Tuesday. Here are five takeaways from the story.
- Yass, a graduate of SUNY Binghamton, played professional poker for a year and a half after college. He and his team began their careers betting on horse and greyhound racing using statistical models and a sophisticated theory of the racing odds. Basically, they could predict the exact finish of a horse race with enough bets. In one instance, a $160,000 bet made $760,000. They turned their expertise to Wall Street and became the market middlemen for stocks and other securities. The firm is a prominent player in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and the business of sports betting. Susquehanna has also branched out into venture capital, including a large stake in ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the social media app TikTok.
Yass is very secretive and doesn’t seem particularly interested in showing off his extreme wealth. He is married with four children and lives on the Philly Main Line. As the article indicates, he does not appear to be showy in his dress or assets, although he does own a $12.5 million house in the Hamptons, described as “bucolic and understated.”
- Most people understand that a share of stock is a small ownership stake in a company. A stock option gives an investor the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a stock at an agreed-upon price and date. There are two types of options: puts, which is a bet that a stock will fall, or calls, which is a bet that a stock will rise. Options attract mathematically minded traders since a complex set of variables, including the underlying stock price, volatility, time and interest rates, determine how much one of the contracts is worth. In options Yass found more than a financial instrument. He found a way to view the world.
- His view and skills have also enabled Yass to save at least $1 billion in taxes over the past six years, according to ProPublica. Over the last six years, Yass paid an average federal income tax rate of just 19 percent. He has devised trading strategies that reduce his tax burden but push legal boundaries. Susquehanna specializes in short-term trading that is typically taxes around 40 percent, while longer-term investments are regularly taxed around 20 percent. The tax savings have contributed to an explosion in wealth for Yass, who has increasingly poured that fortune into candidates and causes on the political right.
- Yass is a longtime financial support of state senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), one of the creators of a pair of tax credits that allow companies to slash their state tax bills if they give money to private and charter schools. Susquehanna, for its part, is a major user of the tax credits. According to records, the credits have saved Yass and others at least $53 million in state taxes. He also has shifted to supporting more pro-Donald Trump candidates, especially those looking to harness discontent with public schools during the pandemic to push privatization of the system. Yass has given over $40 million to the political action committee, Students First, and put at least $18 million into this year’s Pennsylvania primaries for both Republican and Democratic candidates.
Quotable: “If you’re the sixth-best poker player in the world and you play with the five best players, you’re going to lose,” he said. “If your skills are only average, but you play against weak opponents, you’re going to win.”