Large Bets at Binions

There was an episode of CSI that talked about a guy who went into a Las Vegas casino and bet one millions dollars on one roll of the dice.  He lost.  Even though this is a fictional TV show and not real life, this story is based on some fact.

The old Binion’s Horseshoe Casino was a favorite among people who wanted the best odds in town without a lot of extras.  One of our favorites stories from this casino was that of an adventurous gambler named William Lee Bergstrom from Austin, Texas.

Bergstrom had heard that Benny Binion’s latest gimmick was that the “sky’s the limit” when it came to maximum betting amounts at the Horseshoe. Bergstrom called to ask Binion if he would really accept a bet of a million dollars. Binion assured Bergstrom he would book a million dollar wager, so long as it was his first bet.

So one day in comes Bergstrom with $777,000 stuffed into a suitcase, plopped it down on the crap table (they never bothered to convert the money into chips) and told the dealer to put the entire amount on the Don’t Pass line. On her third roll, cinco dos, adios, an elderly woman sevened out. Bergstrom was handed an additional $777,000, then walked straight out the casino front door escorted by Benny’s son Ted.

Naturally, no fevered gambler can forget and forgo that kind of action for long, so Bergstrom returns and wins another $590,000 all-or-nothing bet; then he comes back and wins a similar $190,000 wager, then beats Binion’s again for an additional $90,000.
In November of 1984, Bergstrom finally had his one million dollar war chest to wager. He calls Binion’s to ask if he could once again bet the whole shebang, and Binion, already down over $600,000 to Bergstrom, backed up his often quoted phrase: “Your biggest bet is your first. After that, let it roll” and said yes.

Bergstrom returns with one million bones and tells a dealer to once again to put the whole stack of one million dollars on the Don’t Pass line. It was the come out roll, meaning, no point had been established, so on the initial roll, Bergstrom had only four ways to win (by a 2, 3 12 rolling) and eight ways to lose (if a 7 or 11 rolled). The lady roller tosses a six-one: a front line winner, back line skinner. He was done. Bergstrom’s $1,000,000 was gone.

Three months later at a Strip hotel Bergstrom committed suicide, although one version of the incident that I have read had him playing Russian roulette with his six-shooter and he drew the short bullet. Either way, he wagered his own life, and lost.

True, plenty of players with a million-dollar loss would pull the plug, but do the math; Bergstrom was $647,000 to the plus, at least against Benny Binion.

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