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The Biggest Bet Ever – The Phantom of the Horseshoe

  • The biggest bet ever made on a single roll of dice
  • There is a man behind the gambler
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The casino where they placed the biggest bet ever. Eric Ishii Eckhardt from Minneapolis, USA [CC BY]

Making the biggest bet ever is surely a prestigious title. Something to be remembered of. While some people have the resources and the knowledge to hack the lottery or always win on the horse racing, others are cheating somehow or just risking everything in the hands of Fortuna.  The hero of this story was also relying basically on luck but he did it with class.

While online gambling sites in the US are providing a great number of casino games, this story takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meet the person behind the character of the Phantom of the Horseshoe casino.

The Phantom of the Horseshoe who made the biggest bet ever

Thirty-nine years ago on September 24, there was a sunny Wednesday in Las Vegas. A man with a big hat and a grey suit walked into the Binion casino. There was nothing strange about him besides that he was arriving with two huge luggage in both of his hands. This wouldn’t be that odd either, many travelers looking for some luck decide to visit a casino as soon as they arrive at the city of lights. However, one of his luggage was full of money. The other one was empty. With confident steps, he was walking towards the craps table.

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A game of craps in a casino. Pfc. Dalton Precht [Public domain]
You can read about how to win the craps from our previous article, but I am going to tell you the basics of the game. If the shooter rolls 7 or 11 he wins. If he rolls 2, 3, 12 he loses. In any other case, he has to roll again, this is called point. In this case, the shooter has to roll again until he is shooting the point or rolling a 7 and lose. At the craps table, players can bet on or against the shooter. At the time the house rules of Binion’s Horseshoe were that the first bet of the day is unlimited on any game.

Winning with a single roll of dice

So the man with the bags walks to the scrap table in the casino. It could be the beginning of a joke, but believe me, it’s not. In his bag, which is full of money there is $777.000, according to inflation that is $2.33-Million today. He is going to craps it all, making the biggest bet ever made in a casino. He is making a bet, a Don’t Pass, that the shooter is going to lose. The shooter sets the point with rolling a six. Next, he rolls a 7 and loses. But that means our hero just doubled his money. William Lee Bergstrom filled his empty bag with the $777.000 winnings and walked out under the glorious sun of Nevada. You can experience the glory of winning from the comfort of your home with online casino sites in the US.

The man behind the gambler

Bergstrom wasn’t a poor man, he was working in real estate in Texas. However, he was not rich either enough to place a $777.000 bet. According to Ted Binion, owner of the Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, he was borrowing most of the money and was intended to commit suicide if he loses. But he was winning, yet. After making the biggest bet ever he started to travel the world. He went to yoga retreats to the Bahamas and Canada, lived in Thailand for a while. Maybe these were the times when he was meeting with his love, Josh.

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They had a luxurious life traveling. Image Source.

During the times he was traveling, Bergstrom was selling his properties making a profit of around $1-Million. They were traveling together with Josh and settled in Hawaii. He organized many parties, had many friends. According to his friend, Charley, he didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to love and be loved. Around 1983-84 Bergstrom’s mother’s health turned bad and intensive care was a necessity.

The downfall of the Phantom of the Horseshoe casino

Bergstrom was heading back to Vegas to visit his mother. And to win at craps again. He was going to the same place. As he was walking into Horseshoe he was acting casually. Nothing like a charismatic movie character with the cowboy hat. Not that guy who is turning the heads as he is passing by. He walked to the craps table as a regular everyday normal anybody and placed $538,000 on a single roll of dice. After he packed his winnings he took his mother to the Willie Nelson show.

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The shooter was rolling 7 when the biggest bet ever was placed.

In September 1980, Josh was breaking up with Bergstrom. Bergstrom, being a sensitive person couldn’t handle losing the love of his life. In November 1980 he showed up in Horseshoe with only one bag, containing $550,000 cash, $140,000 Krugerrands and $310,000 in cashiers check. He had only one bag and he knew he is going to lose. He placed the $1,000,000, the biggest bet ever placed on a single roll of dice on the Don’t pass. The shooter was rolling a 7 and Bergstrom lost his $1,000,000.

The legacy of the man who made the biggest bet ever

Feb. 3, 1985, he was found dead in a motel in Las Vegas. Newspapers quickly grabbed the story and most of it was writing, that Bergstrom has ended his life due to losing everything on craps. On the contrary, from a letter, he wrote to a friend of him before he died we know, that he ended his life because of losing Josh. According to his will, he was cremated. His ashes were placed in an urn in Horseshoe casino with the sign: “The Phantom Gambler of Horseshoe, Who Bet $1-Million on Nov. 16, 1984.”

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