Friday, July 15, 2016

Outrageous Las Vegas Casino Wagers

In Las Vegas, money plays. Aside from the usual bets Strip casinos see on an hourly basis—pass lines, home dogs, double downs—there is another world of off-the-board wagers made by high rollers and entrepreneurial average joes in the sports books and poker rooms across Sin City.

Professional gamblers are an odd breed. One thing they love more than winning may be the notoriety that comes with pulling off the big score, cashing the unlikeliest of wagers and catching the house with its collective pants down. Vegas is lousy with larger than life characters and even taller gambling tales; some good, some devastating. We round up the most notable wagers ever made in the city that never shies away from action.

The Phantom Gambler

Like Kenny Rogers always says, “You gotta know when to walk away.” On September 24, 1980, a Texas real estate broker by the name of William Lee Bergstrom walked into Benny Binion’s Horseshoe carrying two suitcases. One was filled with $777,000. The other was empty. Bergstrom, 28 at the time, put every last dollar on the “don’t pass” line... and won.

Binion himself helped Bergstrom fill the two suitcases with the cash. The Phantom Gambler, as he came to be known, left the casino and never looked back. That is until he showed up again three years later to place a million dollar bet on a single dice roll. The law of averages will get you every time. He lost his bet and committed suicide shortly after. Binion told the Associated Press in 1985 that the Phantom Gambler “was betting all he had. But he never flinched when he lost that million.”

When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight…

FedEx delivers more than 1.2 billion packages a year, but in its formidable years, founder Frederick Smith wasn’t so sure about the potential of his fledgling company. Down to his last $5,000, he decided to fly to Vegas in 1973 and proceeded to go on a blackjack tear Raymond Babbitt would be proud of. The nearly $30,000 Smith walked away with wasn’t enough to save the company entirely, but it did keep his planes in the air long enough to raise an additional $11 million in funding. By 1976, his company turned its first profit of $3.6 million.

Math is important, kids.

One of the best card players of all time, Stu Ungar had an eye for action and was a whip-smart mental mathematician. When casino mogul Bob Stupak, the man who invented crapless craps and developed the Stratosphere, bet Ungar $100,000 in 1977 that the storied gin rummy player couldn’t count down a six-deck shoe and determine the final card, Ungar took the action. Ungar won. Pay attention in math class; it just might pay off.

Look out below!

Las Vegas will take bets on just about anything. In 1979, El Cortez owner Jackie Gaughan took bets on where the wreckage of space station Skylab would end up. The man who once controlled around 25 percent of Downtown Las Vegas properties, began laying odds on crash sites. Popular wagers included New York at 35-1, California also at 35-1, Massachusetts at 50-1 and El Cortez itself at 10,000 to 1. One man placed a $500 wager on Wisconsin at 40-1. To the disappointment of a handful of gamblers, Spacelab wound up crashing in Australia.

The Long Shot

Legendary sports bettor Dave Oancea, known to many as Vegas Dave, was not swayed by the fact that the 2015 Kansas City Royals had not won a World Series in 30 years. Nor did his confidence waiver when baseball pundits predicted preseason that the lowly Royals would finish dead last in their division. The gambler saw a whole lotta value in the 30-1 odds that KC would win it all and placed a $100,000 wager more than six months before the conclusion of the World Series. He walked away with nearly $2.5 million and bought his parents a house.

Never walk away from a heater.

Honolulu native Stanley Fujitake had no idea he would be breaking records when he stepped into the California Casino in Downtown Las Vegas on May 28, 1989. His craps roll that night is the stuff of legends. Fujitake held the dice for just over three hours. In that time, he managed 118 rolls, 18 pass line winners and an estimated table win of $750,000, although some claim that number to be closer to $1.2 million. Legend has it the next day, the table was taken behind the property, chopped up into little pieces and burned.

You never know what can happen on the casino floor any given night. As more casinos come under control of major corporations, instances of such outlandish wagers are less common. You probably won’t see Sheldon Adleson betting patrons large sums to count cards. He’s too busy dictating local news media outlets anyhow. What was your biggest Vegas win/loss? Join the discussion in the comments section and follow us on Facebook for more tales from Glitter Gulch.

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