Veteran cabdriver Gerardo Gamboa was making a typical pickup at the Bellagio on Monday morning when a hotel doorman handed him a brown paper bag left in the taxi’s back seat.
Chocolate, the doorman guessed, as Gamboa placed it on the passenger seat next to him. Yet another of the countless items that routinely wind up lost in Las Vegas.
At a red light on the Strip, however, Gamboa’s curiosity got the better of him.
“What kind of chocolates are they?” he wondered. “Are they good ones that I could buy some for my wife as a present?”
Instead, he and the passenger were shocked to find cash, and lots of it: six bundles of $100 bills totaling $300,000.
“My God, this is cash money,” said Gamboa, a Checker Cab driver for 13 years.
Gamboa immediately notified his dispatcher and drove the money to Yellow Checker Star Transportation’s main office after dropping off the passenger.
It then took some detective work — literally, as Las Vegas police were called in — to discover the rightful owner.
During the morning, Gamboa remembered driving a passenger from The Cosmopolitan to the Palms Place tower, receiving a $5 tip. He then headed to the Bellagio to get into the cab line, not noticing the paper bag in the back seat until the doorman pointed it out around 11:45 a.m.
One person showed up at Yellow Checker Star to claim the money without identification and was not the name to whom The Cosmopolitan, just south of the Bellagio, recently had recorded a $300,000 payout.
Not wanting to hand over the money under murky circumstances, cab company officials called police for help.
Casino officials and police eventually linked the money to a prominent poker player they wouldn’t publicly identify.
Even after solving the mystery, the people involved were amazed by the find.
“This is the largest amount we have found in my 32 years in this business,” said Yellow Checker Star chief operating officer Bill Shranko. “Recently, we found $9,000, but that’s no longer a big deal.”
Last year, a driver for Frias Transportation Management attracted national attention after returning all of the nearly $222,000 left behind by a passenger.
Despite the huge sum Gamboa said allocating an extra tip for himself never crossed his mind.
“Even though I am a poor guy, I don’t need money that doesn’t belong to me,” said Gamboa, a 27-year resident of Las Vegas.
It was still unknown whether Gamboa would receive a surprise Christmas bonus out of the episode, but he was not concerned.
“Tomorrow, I go back to work,” he said.
Tim O’Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or at 702-387-5290