Who remembers the name William Lee Bergstrom ? He was commonly known as The Suitcase Man or The Phantom Gambler.

Back in the high flying prosperous years of the 80s, me and several fellow contractors had a great propensity to head to Vegas a way to often. So when the William Lee Bergstrom situation came about, I was right in the middle of watching and reading about it unfolding.

Following is the Wikipedia version of what transpired:

Bergstrom was born in Austin, Texas and attended Austin High School graduating in 1969. He attended UT, 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.

After dropping out Bergstrom made a living selling real estate and owning property in Texas. (I think I remember reading that an Aunt left him an apartment house in her will)

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. Binion helped Bergstrom stack his winning into the empty suitcase, which Bergstrom took and disappeared.

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. He lost the bet.

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.

Bergstrom never recovered from his million dollar loss and committed suicide on February 4, 1985, by swallowing pills. 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.

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.

Bergstrom’s story remains in Las Vegas lore and has inspired awards and prize giveaways throughout Las Vegas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s