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Wild Wagers: A Million on the Line

Binion’s Horseshoe was always a high-stakes kind of joint. Not only was proprietor, Benny Binion the founding father of the World Series of Poker, he also caused a stir in the early days of Vegas by significantly raising the house limit. This meant that a run of luck at Benny’s place could go a lot further than anywhere else in town. Over the years, Binion pushed the limits further and further until they reached $10,000; however, it was understood a punter could go as high as he wanted, providing it was on the first bet.

One day, circa 1980, a certain William Lee Bergstrom decided to put this theory to the test. “Can I really bet a million dollars on one roll of the dice?” he demanded of Binion, who assured him his bet would be accepted and quickly forgot about the incident.

Bergstrom scuttled out of the casino, only to return several months later with two suitcases: one containing $777,000, and the other empty. Apologising that he couldn’t raise the full million, Bergstrom placed the suitcase with the cash on the ‘don’t pass’ line’ of a craps table and stepped back to await his fate. His luck held and he doubled up, leaving the casino with two cases full of cash.

Over the next three years Bergstrom truly tested his luck, and it seemed he could do no wrong. He bet $590,000 and won; $190,000 and won; $90,000 and won. But this was all just preparation. In November 1984, he turned up with the full million.

Benny’s son Ted later recalled the incident: "He ran a few feet ahead, up to a craps table, put his finger on the table and said, '$1 million on the don't pass’. It was the comeout roll so the shooter wanted a seven, and it came up one-six-six. It was all over in one roll. I felt like electricity ran through me. And Bergstrom pulled his finger off that table like it was on fire!"

It was all over, and that was the last they saw of the guy they called ‘the Suitcase Man’ at the Horseshoe. A cautionary tale perhaps, but let’s not forget that although Bergstrom lost a million, he finished £400,000 up.
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