Like blackjack legend, Ken Uston, there are many legendary gamblers and legendary events in the gambling world; to list them all would take several books. But here are four of the most famous ?legends? in the last 20 or so years.
In early 1980s, the ?suitcase man? arrived at Binions to make a big bet. The story of the ?suitcase man? has become another modern legend of Las Vegas and it has lost nothing in the telling over a period of almost 20 years. In fact, there are at least six different versions of the story, the following being the most accurate.
William Lee Bergstrom from Austin, Texas decided to test the Binion claim that Binion would book any bet, no matter how large, as long as you make it your first. Bergstrom arrived with a suitcase filled with $777,000 which he bet on the Don?t Pass line at craps. The shooter established a point of six and then sevened out two rolls later. Bergstrom took his original $777,000 and his win of $777,000 and departed.
However, Bergstrom couldn?t stay away for long. He came back and won a single $590,000 bet, then he came back some while later and won a $190,000 bet; then he appeared again and won $90,000. Finally, he came back to make his famous $1,000,000 bet (circa 1984) -- which he lost. Three months later Bergstrom killed himself at a Strip hotel. Bergstrom died $647,000 ahead -- at casino gambling -- but he was obviously down at the game of life.
Perhaps the most extraordinary of recent legendary streaks is possessed by Mr. Archie Karas, a Greek immigrant, who in 1992-1993 had one of the greatest runs in Vegas history. Starting with a borrowed stake of ten thousand dollars, Archie went on a rampage of poker at Binion?s Horseshoe, defeating 15 of the world?s greatest poker players in head-to-head competition, including World Champions Chip Reese, Stu Unger, Puggy Pearson, and Johnny Chan. When he ran out of poker competitors, Archie headed to the Horseshoe?s craps tables where he won millions more. At one point in his run, Archie possessed all of the Horseshoe?s $5,000 chips -- over 11 million dollars worth. When the run was over, Archie was up over 17 million dollars between poker and craps, all at the Horseshoe.
The most written about, most admired, and, to some casinos he?s crippled, the most feared modern gambler is Australian billionaire, Kerry Packer. When it comes to Packer it?s hard to get the facts of his prodigious wins and equally prodigious losses straight. He either won 20 million, 30 million or 40 million dollars over several days at MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1997 and caused several casino executives to get the axe for reeling in this big whale who sunk their quarterly earnings report. The myth of Australia?s gambling media tycoon just gets bigger and bigger with a capital ?b? as in baccarat and blackjack, his preferred games. You want an outsized man with some outsized deeds? Kerry is said to have tipped one cocktail waitress a house!
How about some fightin? words? Savor this tall-tale about Packer: A loud and obnoxious Texas high roller is playing at the same table as Mr. Packer. This man is being as obnoxious as, well, as the stereotypical obnoxious Texan in countless obnoxious Texan stories. [Why aren?t there any obnoxious Rhode Islander stories?] Finally, Kerry asks the man to ease up. The man gets louder: ?Do you know who I am? I am worth 60 million dollars, pardner!? He pauses to let this sink in, then says: ?Sixty million dollars, pardner. That?s what I?m worth.? Packer eyes him and says: ?I?ll flip you for it!?
The fourth and final of the modern legends is none other than the Captain, the man who has beaten craps since 1978, and about whom I?ve written four books, my latest being The Craps Underground: The Inside Story of How Dice Controllers are Winning Millions from the Casinos! The Captain, like the ?million dollar bum,? is thought by some to be a myth, in this case a myth made up by me. But the Captain is real, and what he has done is just as real, as a handful of casino executives know; but because craps is a negative-expectation game, what the Captain has done whets the desires of craps players worldwide that perhaps someday they can be in his shoes.
Oh, yes, there are many, many more high rollers that I could name, Sultans and Princes, Chinese, Japanese and American jet-setters, Mexican businessmen with a taste for glamour and daring. They are all out there playing the games we all play but for stakes that can make our hearts palpitate with envy. And there are probably many more streaks and wild strokes of luck that I have not named that could have easily been included in this article had anyone known about them. Perhaps, in the future, some enterprising young writer will decide to create a book of records so that great achievements and extraordinary happenings will be saved for all time, so that the rest of us can read and wonder....
So, let me tell you a story....
Once upon a time, you walked into the casino and the crowds parted for you. The other players knew there was something very special about you this night. It must have been that look you had that said: ?Tonight belongs to me.? And tonight did belong to you, as you won bet after bet at game after game. And the story of that night became a legend and was told over and over and over again -- it was the night that you brought the mighty casino monster to its knees and plucked out its golden teeth.
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