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Rolling Las Vegas

Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

(continued from page 2)

And that was the last he heard of the mysterious Texan ... until three months later.

"The guy calls up," recalls Binion, "and says he's going to be here soon to make a very large bet. One night he shows up with two little suitcases, filled with exactly $777,000. And he says he wants to bet it all."

Binion approved the bet: $777,000 on the pass line.

"I think it was a little old lady who was shooting the dice at the time," Binion remembers. "She made a point of nine, rolled maybe one or two numbers, a six and an eight, I think. And then another nine." Bergstrom was a $777,000 winner.

He promptly collected his plunder, jumped into a beat-up old car and left. "I wanted to win that bet, sure," Binion says. "But we accept our losses. It's all part of the business. The losses definitely happen sometimes, especially when you're talking about a single bet, where we have very little edge. It's like flipping a coin. But, no, I didn't really mind losing that bet. Besides, I want to meet a guy who is capable of betting half a million or more on one roll."

Bergstrom, in fact, came back a few weeks later and bet $548,000 on the pass line. Again, an elderly woman shot the dice. Seconds later, this highest of rollers had 548 more $1,000 chips stacked before him. Shortly thereafter, Bergstrom made his final trip to the Horseshoe. "I'm going to double it or dump it," Binion recalls him saying, just before Bergstrom bet exactly $1 million on the pass line.

Once more, a geriatric lady shot the dice while an enormous audience vied to witness the results. Her first roll established the point--a nine again, a 3-to-2 underdog--and her second roll came up a "six-ace." A loser seven. Bergstrom was never seen again.

While extraordinary, such prodigious bets are not entirely uncommon at Binion's Horseshoe. An octogenarian former jockey, known throughout downtown Las Vegas as Fast Eddie, has on four separate occasions run $100 up to more than $250,000. The poker manager at the Horseshoe, Jim Albrecht says, "Eddie normally plays in the smallest game we offer: $1 to $4 seven-card stud. He is basically a pensioner, living off social security. But that's the game of craps for you--in a very short time, a few hours, Eddie has parlayed a handful of chips from his poker winnings into over $1 million." One time, Fast Eddie set aside enough of his profits to purchase a new condo. The other three times he gave it all back ... to the casino.

"The game goes so damned fast," Binion comments. "It's like a pyramid, the way the money piles up. There's no other game where so much money can be won so fast. It's nothing unusual to take ten dollars and multiply it into $500, $1,000 in a few minutes. And that's very exciting."

The way most accomplished players make their fortunes is by catching what math mavens call "an abnormal deviation." This means that in an infinite string of random numbers, a certain preordained quantity of sevens, elevens and other numbers will be rolled, approximately as many losers as winners. If you are fortunate enough to make your bets during a period of heavy clustering of winning numbers--otherwise known as a "hot streak"--the result can be sublimely gratifying. If you have the heart--some would say ignorance--to press your bets, i.e., increase them with each winning roll, the results can be staggering. And if you happen to be playing during a once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime situation--an hourlong roll without a loser--your retirement will be quite comfortable.

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