You’ve probably heard stories about those gamblers who go “all in”, right? They tend to be people who we often consider just to be risk-takers. Sometimes they win, in which case they’re often lauded as heroes. More often than not, they lose, often being branded as foolish with their money as a result. However, there are numerous stories around about people who have bet it all and managed to achieve excellent payouts, as well as others where the result has been a catastrophic loss. What you can say for sure, win or lose, is people who do risk it all often have a different mentality to the average Joe.
In that respect, we thought we would bring you some instances of people being on both the right side of a big bet and others who have suffered greatly from losing. We’ve gone through various different gambling sectors – casino gaming, sports betting, poker gameplay, bingo participation and so on – to find some of the best stories about betting it all.
People Who Bet It All and Won
Winning a risky bet is the outcome that everyone would wish for when making such a wager. After all, most people place bets to win, regardless of whether they’re interested in it being hugely profitable or not. However, going “all-in” with a wager is usually because the person doing so is looking to obtain a huge payout from it. What are some of the best stories about people who have bet it all and won?
The Suitcase Man, William Lee Bergstrom
William Lee Bergstrom, who was commonly known as The Suitcase Man or Phantom Gambler, lived between 1951 and 1985. Born in Austin, Texas, he majored in electrical engineering before going on to become a private pilot. After dropping out of the University of Texas in 1974, he made a living selling real estate and owning property within the state.
It was in September of 1980 that Bergstrom visited Las Vegas, entering Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. He arrived with two suitcases – one that contained $777,000 in cash and another one that was completely empty. At the time, Benny Binion had a policy of honouring a bet of any size if it was the player’s very first bet placed within the casino.
Bergstrom placed the full amount of his money-laden suitcase on a single round of craps. The wager he placed was on the Don’t Pass line, and he went on to win that bet. This came about when the shooter established a point of six and then sevened out two rolls later.
With this being the case, Bergstrom received a profit of $777,000 on top of his initial $777,000 wager. Binion helped him to fill his empty suitcase with his winnings, before Bergstrom left the casino and pretty much disappeared for three-and-a-half years.
This didn’t stop him from returning to the same casino after that time period though, when he placed a $538,000 bet again on a single roll of the craps dice. That wager was also won, and as a result, he took his mother to a Willie Nelson show with the payout.
According to Binion’s son Ted, Bergstrom had borrowed the vast majority of the initial $777,000 that he took to the casino. He intended to commit suicide if the craps bet was lost, but instead, with the win, he travelled the world for several years prior to his return in 1984.
Unfortunately, in a sudden turn of events, Bergstrom bet on the Don’t Pass option in November of ’84, bringing another suitcase of money to do so. This contained $550,000 in cash, $140,000 in gold Krugerrands and $310,000 in cashier’s checks. Altogether, that equated to a $1,000,000 bet, but the shooter threw a winning seven on the come out roll, resulting in the whole million dollars being lost in one go. Bergstrom never recovered from that loss and proceeded to commit suicide in February of 1985.
An English Success Story, Ashley Revell
Born in Maidstone, Kent, Ashley Revell is one of the UK’s greatest successes when it comes to betting it all and winning. In 2004, he proceeded to sell all of his possessions, including all of the clothes he owned, in order to try and double his funds gambling. He did that at age 32, taking the whole amount of money (£76,840) with him to Las Vegas, partaking in a game of roulette with it.
The all-or-nothing bet was placed on the roulette ball landing on a red slot, which it did. This resulted in him winning a payout of £153,680 from the Plaza Hotel & Casino. Afterwards, he went on to change his name to Ashley Blue Square Revell, thanks to the online bookmaker Blue Square, contributed money to his gambling funds.
His win was broadcast live on Sky One for spectators to witness, and if he’d have lost the bet, he would have walked away with nothing at all. As a professional poker player, Revell said that he only decided at the very last minute to choose red over black, and after the win, he stated that the win was “the most amazing experience” he had ever had in his life. With the winnings, he said he would buy some new clothes, before describing the all-or-nothing wager as “the purest bet you can do”.
It was later on that Revell went on to set up his own online poker company, which went by the name of Poker UTD. However, this company went out of business in 2012 after some controversy with US frozen accounts.
People Who Bet It All and Lost
Where gambling is concerned, it is a generally accepted that you’re more likely to lose than you are to win. And when it comes to partaking in an all-in bet, this is definitely something that many people believe to be true. As it happens, this theory has been proven to be quite right, considering that these all-in gamblers risked a lot on these bets and ended up losing their entire stake. Let’s find out more about what risky bets these people ended up being on the negative side of.
The American Dream Fails, Terrance Watanabe
Terrance Watanabe was born in 1962, but by 1977, he became president and part owner of the Oriental Trading Company. This shifted its focus from carnivals to supplying party goods for churches, schools, retailers and individuals. He sold his entire stake in the company in 2000 to a Los Angeles-based private equity, resigning as CEO and President in the process.
Unfortunately, Watanabe had managed to pick up a huge habit for gambling, which he became known for after selling the Oriental Trading Company. This came about because whenever he was bored or wanted something new to do, he would partake in gambling, and he was pushed to even greater extremes with this. He gambled more than $825 million in 2007 and incurred $127 million in losses at both Caesars Palace and The Rio. His losing streak is said to be one of the largest that Las Vegas has ever seen. Watanabe tried suing the casinos to get his money back, but he ultimately lost.
Today, he is still paying off the debts that he has mounted up from his casino gambling expeditions, with $15 million still to go. He faced four felony charges for this back in 2009 and once again in 2020. If he doesn’t pay-up, then he may end up being imprisoned for up to 28 years.
A Bet on a Horse Results in a Massive Loss, Patrick Foster
Patrick Foster is a Kenyan-born English former first-class cricketer. He spent the first six years of his life in the Rift Valley town of Gilgil, where his parents ran the independent Pembroke House School. His parents returned to England when he was six-years-old, and years later, he attended Durham University, where he studied social sciences. It was there that he made his debut playing first-class cricket for Durham UCCE. After he graduated from Durham, he found work in the City of London.
It was also while he was in London that he developed a severe gambling addiction. His first bet was placed at university, but that was simply as a bit of fun with friends. When he left to become a teacher, he borrowed money from his parents and started lying to his colleagues. Throughout the proceeding years, he gambled frequently, racking up debts of £250,000 in total.
Because he knew he’d lost so much through gambling activities, he thought that he would be able to win it all back through a single final bet. It was then that he decided to place a £50,000 wager on a horse running at Cheltenham Festival, realising that a win from it would reward him with a payout that would clear him of all his gambling debts. By this time, he had borrowed money from 113 different people, had 76 different online betting accounts and also had 23 payday loans.
He was convinced that a horse by the name of Might Bite would win the Gold Cup race. He watched his £50,000 wager go straight down the pan though, as Might Bite lost by a single length. With huge debts and no money leftover to pay them off, Foster resigned from his teaching job, took his car keys and drove around for three hours. Deciding to end his life because of the position he’d found himself in, Foster was only saved by a message from his younger brother, begging him not to go through with it.
Following a stint in rehab, he contacted the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) who look after current and former cricketers. They helped him out both financially and emotionally, organising more treatment for him and a plan so that he could start paying off his debts properly.
The Man Who Won It All and Lost It All, Archie Karas
Anargyros Nicholas Karabourniotis, or Archie Karas for short, is a Greek-American gambler, poker player and pool shark. He’s most famous for the largest and longest documented winning streak in casino gambling history, which was simply entitled as The Run. This saw him drive to Las Vegas with just $50 in his possession, and then turned a $10,000 loan into over $40 million by 1995.
It became common for Karas to simply lay money out on the table and wait for an opponent to approach him for a gambling session. Many players were interested in this, including another high roller in Stu Ungar (who had his own troubled and tragic association with gambling). At one point, Karas left Binion’s casino short of its highest value chips, when he won all of the establishment’s $5,000 denomination tokens.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Karas to lose the $40 million he had built up. The entire amount was gone in a period of just three weeks, making Karas not only one of the most successful gamblers in history, but one of the most highly unfortunate at the same time. While not really a single all-in bet, Karas wagered a massive $11 million playing craps and then lost $2 million back to Chip Reese, who he had won it from in the first place.
Karas then turned to baccarat, losing another $17 million this way, totalling $30 million altogether by this time. He decided to go back to Greece for a time period, but when he returned to Vegas, he took to playing craps and baccarat yet again, placing wagers of $300,000 per round. Karas lost all but his last million in less than one month.
With his final million, he went to the Bicycle Club and played against Johnny Chan in a $1,000,000 freezeout match. Chan was backed by Lyle Berman, and they took it in turns to play against Karas. In the game, Karas won and doubled his money, only to lose it all on craps and baccarat within just a few days.
Hence, a $40 million success story became a massive $40 million losing story attached to it.