William Lee Bergstrom’s tale as a fearless, high-stakes gambler in Las Vegas is one that continues to astound listeners. William, better known as “The Suitcase Man” or “The Phantom Gambler” in the Las Vegas community, created a name for himself rather quickly on the wagering circuit.
He was unlike the majority of speculators who had taken up residence on the Las Vegas Strip. He was a courageous gambler who had no qualms about putting his money where his voice was and forcing the casino proprietors to do the same.
William was born in 1951 in Austin, Texas, and Alan was his sibling. Alan and William had an unsettling upbringing as children of divorced parents. The divorce had a significant impact on William, causing him to seek approbation from his absent father.
He graduated from secondary school in 1969 and attended the University of Texas until 1974, when he dropped out. As soon as he bowed out of college, he began peddling real estate, which he did for the rest of his life. He did very well as a real estate agent and that allowed him to start purchasing his own properties.
He probably would have never visited Las Vegas if not for Benny Binion and his tricks. Binion initiated a new promotion called “The Sky’s the Limit” in which he vowed to match the initial wager of any gambler who entered his casino and was willing to place the maximum wager.
William was one of those individuals who could not let something like that pass by. So he did everything he could to amass sufficient funds for a life-altering wager, and when he did, he traveled to Las Vegas.
Prior to coming to Las Vegas, he was neither wealthy nor impoverished. Prior to beginning his career as a speculator, he had become a real estate magnate. After his journey to Las Vegas, he decided to travel the globe for a few years. He never gave up his real estate business.
In the early 1980s, a Las Vegas casino owned by the Binions announced that they would match any high-stakes wager made by a gambler for the first time at their establishment. This was just another of Benny Binion’s ploys to attract more people to the casino and increase the initial wagering.
Back in Texas, William learned of the promise and decided to confirm its veracity. He dialed the Horseshoe casino to speak with Benny Binion. He inquired whether a $1,000,000 wager would still be matched if submitted. Binion agreed, but William lacked the necessary funds at the time.
After amassing $777,00, he decided to test his luck. He traveled to Las Vegas with one suitcase containing $777,00 and another suitcase containing nothing. When he entered the Horseshoe casino, he immediately went to the craps table. He apologized to Binion for being unable to raise the full $1,000,000 and asked if the remaining $777,00 would also be matched.