William Lee Bergstrom

William Lee Bergstrom (1951 – February 4, 1985 born in Austin, Texas) commonly known as The Suitcase Man or Phantom Gambler, was a gambler and high roller known for placing the largest bet in casino gambling history at the time amounting to $777,000 ($2.36 million present day amount) at the Horseshoe Casino, which he won.[1] Bergstrom returned to the Horseshoe three years later in 1984 and placed several additional bets, including a $1 million bet ($2.41 million present day value) which he lost.[1] This bet remains as one of the largest bets ever placed against a casino.[2]

William Lee Bergstrom
William Lee Bergstrom

Died (aged 33)
Cause of deathSuicide by drug overdose
OccupationReal estate agent
Years active1980 –1984

Early life

Bergstrom was born in Austin, Texas and attended Austin High School graduating in 1969. Majoring in electrical engineering, he enrolled at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas in Fall, 1969. Bill, who enjoyed aviation, became a private pilot, and worked as a waiter at a local restaurant in Lubbock, often working till late at night prior to returning to his dorm room at Weymouth Hall on the Texas Tech campus. In Spring of 1971, Bergstrom departed Texas Tech and attended the University of Texas, but dropped out in 1974. His brother Alan Bergstrom described their childhood as marred. Their parents were divorced and Bill constantly desired the respect and affection of his father.[1]

After dropping out Bergstrom made a living selling real estate and owning property in Texas.[3]


On September 24, 1980 Bergstrom arrived at Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada with two suitcases: one containing $777,000 in cash, the other empty. Benny Binion had a policy of honoring a bet of any size if it is the player's first bet placed at the casino. Bergstrom, who remained anonymous at the time, placed the full amount on a single bet of dice which he won. Bergstrom bet the Don't Pass line. The shooter established a point of six then sevens out two rolls later resulting in a $777,000 profit for Bergstrom. Binion helped Bergstrom stack his winning into the empty suitcase, which Bergstrom took and disappeared.[1]

Bergstrom disappeared for three and a half years before returning on March 24, 1984 to place a $538,000 bet again on a single roll of dice. He won again, took his mother to a Willie Nelson show, and won an additional $117,000 on three more craps bets. Then, on November 16 he returned and placed a $1,000,000 bet with a suitcase filled with $550,000 in cash, $140,000 in gold Krugerrands, and $310,000 in cashier's checks. Again, Bergstrom bet the Don't Pass, however the shooter threw a winner seven on the come out roll resulting in a $1,000,000 loss for Bergstrom.[1]

According to Ted Binion, Bergstrom had borrowed most of the money for the first bet and intended to commit suicide if he lost. Instead, he won and traveled the world for several years before returning in 1984.[4]


Bergstrom never recovered from his million dollar loss and committed suicide on February 4, 1985, by swallowing pills.[5][3] The reason for his suicide remains unknown. Friends and family believed that he was not broke at the time of his death and was still $647,000 in the black.[6]

His suicide note suggested his sexual orientation as a possible cause of suicide which was triggered by a breakup with a man 10 years his junior.[1]


Bergstrom's story remains in Las Vegas lore and has inspired awards and prize giveaways throughout Las Vegas.[7]

See also


  1. Montaigne, Fen (1985-04-09). "'Phantom Gambler' chose to die rather than be alone". The Evening Independent. St. Petersburg, Florida: Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  2. Jess Bown (2012-09-13). "10 of the biggest bets ever placed". AOL Money. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  3. "Texan Who Lost $1 Million on Dice Roll Kills Himself". Los Angeles Times. 1985-02-06.
  4. https://sportsinformationtraders.com/biggest-bets-ever-placed/
  5. Dahlberg, Tim. "Million-Dollar Gambler Commits Suicide, Broke at End". Associated Press.
  6. Mark Pilarski (2006-02-24). "The Ups and Downs of the Suitcase Man". Casino City Times.
  7. "The Suitcase Man $5,000,000 Giveaway". Harrah's. 2009.

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