LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When people talk about laying it all on the line when gambling in Las Vegas, one man set the bar high, once known only as the “Suitcase Man.”
The Suitcase Man’s story is a tragic tale of risky gambling success and ultimate failure. It’s a story revived in 2023 as Caesars Entertainment reintroduces Las Vegas to its Horseshoe brand. Bally’s has recently reopened as Horseshoe at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo on the Strip.
Who was the Suitcase Man?
On September 24, 1980, a man from Austin, Texas, arrived at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. He was carrying two suitcases. One of them was empty, and the other was filled with $777,000. William Lee Bergstrom had come to Las Vegas to place the largest single bet to date.
Horseshoe owner Benny Binion had an advertising campaign that his casino would honor any bet of any size. After confirming it was a real offer, Bergstrom tried to collect $1 million but ended up with $777,000. But Binion was a man of his word, and when Bergstrom walked up to a craps table with his suitcase of cash, the casino accepted his bet.
Bergstrom put all his cash on the “don’t pass” line. On the third roll, seven landed, and Bergstrom instantly doubled his bet. He stopped playing and stepped away from the table.
Upon hearing Bergstrom had won, Binion himself came over to congratulate him, helped him pack his original $777,000 back into the suitcase, and helped him pack his winnings into the other suitcase.
Bergstrom walked out of Binions with $1,554,000. At the time, no one knew who he was, where he was from or where he went.
Then 3 1/2 years later, Bergstrom did it again. This time he placed a single $538,000 bet on craps. He ended up winning more than $250,000.
But Bergstrom wasn’t finished. Within a few months, he was back for the third time at Binions Horseshoe and played his biggest hand of $1 million on the “don’t pass” line.
This day, Lady Luck was not on Bergstrom’s side, and he lost everything on the first roll. He stepped away from the table and left the casino, never returning.
Months later, on Feb. 4, 1985, Bergstrom’s body was found in a room at the Mariana Hotel (now part of MGM Grand). It was determined he killed himself, overdosing on drugs. What led to his suicide has been up for debate ever since, with some saying it was because of his losing bet and others saying he had recently ended a relationship.
The Suitcase Man campaign
Caesars Entertainment is now capitalizing on the Suitcase Man’s story. “The Suitcase Man campaign illustrates the idea that the Horseshoe brand is all about the gambler,” Caesars Entertainment Public Relations Manager Kristin Soo Hoo told 8 News Now. “The story of the man with the suitcase (or the Suitcase Man) is now a Horseshoe legend, which inspired the campaign. It represents Horseshoe’s willingness to go all in on the biggest bets and the brand’s rich tradition of celebrating players and their wins.”
When 8 News Now asked if the new Horseshoe would honor any bet of any size like the ones Bergstrom made, Soo Hoo said, “Horseshoe Las Vegas will take any bet acceptable under the responsible gaming regulations in Nevada. We are proud to both celebrate our Horseshoe legacy and lead the way in responsible gaming in Nevada and across the nation for more than 30 years.”
Although officials from Caesars Entertainment said Horseshoe Las Vegas does not plan to run the promotion for the Strip property, the “Suitcase Man” campaign is currently being used at the Lake Charles, Louisiana, a Horseshoe casino. It encourages gamblers to “be the next legend.”
The million-dollar horseshoe
Something that many will recognize from Binions Horseshoe will be the return of the million-dollar horseshoe.
According to Caesars, “During the 54th annual World Series of Poker®, Horseshoe Las Vegas will once again bring to life a replica of the million-dollar display as an ode to the memorable attraction that was featured when the first tournament was played at Las Vegas’ original Horseshoe in 1970.”