Gambler Benny Binion Built Vegas

How Gambler Benny Binion Built Vegas As We Know It

Las Vegas is the center of gambling worldwide. It is difficult to believe that this Nevada city hasn’t existed since the beginning of time.

But even a century ago, Las Vegas did not resemble its contemporary appearance.

Before the Hoover Dam’s construction began in 1930, the area was a tiny town.

Thousands of people seeking employment flocked to the area, providing the ideal climate for what would become Sin City in the following decades.

Many business options were available in the city, which was populated primarily by males who spent their days working and were searching for something to help them blow off steam at night.

But someone had to initiate the process, and that person was Benny Binion.

His name will always be associated with the foundations of contemporary Las Vegas.

Although his Horseshoe Casino was not the first in Las Vegas, it immediately became the most well-known and renowned.

Benny understood the casino business and knew what people wanted, and he had no qualms about giving it to them.

Beginnings of Benny Binion in Las Vegas

1904 marked the birth of Benny Binion, whose full name was Lester Ben Binion.

Prior to relocating to Nevada, he managed an illegal gambling enterprise in Texas, as gambling was about all he knew.

Benny had no formal education because he spent his youth traveling with his father, a horse merchant.

Certainly, he had a tainted past replete with several run-ins with the authorities.

Although he was hardly a model citizen, Binion was able to dominate all gambling activities in Dallas by 1936 due to his persistence.

Benny lost the backing of local leaders when the new county sheriff was elected when the Chicago Mob established a presence in Dallas following World War II.

Therefore, he decided to make a shift in 1946 and relocated to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas was well on its way to becoming the largest gambling center in the world at this time.

However, there was still a great deal of room and opportunity for those who understood their way around the gambling tables, as Benny Binion did.

When Binion’s Horseshoe Casino First Opened Its Doors, History Was Made

Benny spent several years in Las Vegas attempting to find his niche.

After several unsuccessful efforts, he ultimately acquired the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel.

Here he established the now-famous Binion’s Horseshoe Casino.

There were already other casinos in Las Vegas, but, like in Dallas, Binion was willing to do all it needed to distinguish his establishment.

He began by increasing the maximum bet on table games.

For instance, the highest bet on his craps games (one of the most popular games at the time) was $500, which was 10 times greater than the competitors.

Binion further assured players that he would accept wagers of any size so long as they did not exceed the size of their investment.

The Horseshoe Casino was frequented by high-stakes gamblers with little fear of losing large amounts of money.

In those days, a guy is said to have strolled directly inside Binion’s Horseshoe and made a $1 million bet on the pass line.

This is an enormous amount of money even now, but a million dollars was a mind-boggling sum back then.

However, nobody attempted to stop him, and his bet was accepted. If the gambler had won, he would have likely been compensated in full.

Benny realized, even in those foggy times, that his reputation was of the highest significance. People recognized him as a man of his word.

So, except from high maximum bets, what else did his casino offer?

Binion, unlike several of his opponents, had little interest in “extracurricular” activities.

There were no live performances or other distractions to lure players away from the tables and spend money elsewhere.

Benny was the one who introduced free beverages for players at Las Vegas casinos, which quickly became a common practice.

Benny Binion found Las Vegas ideal since he did not have to engage in any turf fights there. The area was still mostly unexplored, and there was abundant activity.

In addition, he soon established connections with all the influential people in the city, allowing him to focus on his business.

It didn’t take long for Binion’s Horseshoe to gain the legendary status it maintains to this day.

It was a genuine casino for genuine players, with no bullshit.

Binion took some risks by permitting large bets, but he understood what he was doing.

The house advantage was on his side, and he knew that if he could ride out the volatility, he would be a huge winner.

That is precisely what occurred, as he amassed a fortune in the casino.

Benny’s Past Criminal Activities Return to Haunt Him

After relocating to Las Vegas, Binion abandoned his previous life in Dallas.

However, he did not truly escape as he left a trail of criminal activity behind him.

In 1953, two district attorneys in Dallas eventually gathered enough evidence to arrest and charge him.

Binon was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to 42 months in jail as a result.

This wasn’t a very lengthy sentence, but the conviction ensured that he would never again be able to operate a casino because his gambling license was withdrawn.

Jack assumed responsibility for continuing to operate the casino, while Benny assumed the post of PR Director.

Jack Binion Makes Up The Shortfall

During the years following Benny’s release, the Binion family did not run the casino.

Not until 1964 were they able to regain primary ownership of the facility.

Regardless, Jack Binion continued where his father left off. He obtained a gaming license from the Nevada Gaming Commission and assumed responsibility for maintaining the business.

Jack retained many of his father’s ideas, notably about bet limits and the acceptance of all bets, but added his own to make the venue even better.

Jack was a savvy businessman who knew how to expand the business.

In 1988, he purchased the adjacent Mint Casino and Hotel for $27 million, greatly expanding the size of the hotel.

His tagline, “a fair game and fair odds,” was intended to reflect the essence of the Horseshoe Casino, and it was successful.

People continued to come to the theater, and revenue continued to rise.

Jack was not Benny’s only kid, and a large number of people did not feel he should run the casino business.

However, he proved them all wrong by displaying a great deal of aptitude and natural flare for his father’s inherited gambling business.

The Binions Found The World Poker Tour

Today, the World Series of Poker is a massive festival attended by tens of thousands of people from across the globe.

The Main Event alone attracts tens of thousands of participants each year, producing enormous prize pools and transforming a few of players into multimillionaires.

But it all began with seven people gathering at Binion’s Horseshoe.

Benny Binion had been a part of the Las Vegas gambling culture for years, and he knew virtually everyone, including the major players.

In 1970, he decided to invite some of the city’s most prominent figures to a showdown to see who was the finest poker player.

There were perhaps fifty poker tables in all of Las Vegas at the time when poker was not nearly as popular.

Benny and Jack Binion could not have foreseen what the WSOP would eventually become when they conceived the initial tournament as more of a PR gimmick than anything else.

Seven players, including Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, and Johnny Moss, competed in the inaugural World Series of Poker tournament.

After many days of high-stakes cash games, Moss was selected by his peers to be the greatest player.

No one outside of Las Vegas even heard about the inaugural WSOP, which was a fairly tiny event.

However, due to the Binions’ foresight and a few fortunate events, the tournament would eventually attain national recognition.

In 1971, the format was altered from a series of cash games to a $5,000 freezeout tournament.

The 1971 tournament was won by Moss, but Amarillo Slim’s triumph in 1972 proved to be a turning point for the WSOP.

Slim was a well-known gambler and chatty player. Even though there were only 12 participants in the 1972 tournament, after his victory, he went on a national tour and talked about the WSOP everywhere he went.

Each year, the World Series of Poker drew more and more players.

In 1973, it even gained television coverage from CBS Sports, a significant development at the time.

By the late 1980s, Binion’s Horseshoe was barely able to accommodate all of the players.

This was when Jack decided to expand, purchasing the Mint Casino and Hotel and numerous other properties and establishing a permanent poker room at the establishment.

Benny Binion sadly did not survive to see the WSOP realize its full potential. He died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1989, at the age of 86, leaving Jack to carry on his legacy.

Jack Binion continued to administer the WSOP, and the tournament continued to expand.

Jack sold his investment in the Horseshoe Casino to his sister Becky in 1998, terminating his engagement with the facility and the tournament due to a conflict among the family.

Still retaining the rights to the Horseshoe brand outside the state, he eventually opened a number of riverboat casinos under the renowned moniker.

In 2004, Harrah’s Entertainment (later renamed Caesars Entertainment) acquired all World Series rights by purchasing Binion’s Horseshoe.

The tournament was relocated to the Rio Hotel and Casino once the Horseshoe was sold to MTR Gaming Group.

A Las Vegas Legacy

Following its takeover by MTR, the casino was renamed Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel, although the renowned name remained above the entrance.

Then, in 2008, another corporation acquired the venue and shortly thereafter shuttered it owing to the economic downturn.

In 2019, the new owners rebranded the hotel as the Hotel Apache.

Jack Binion was born in 1937 and is still alive.

He is a consultant for Wynn Resorts and has watched and participated in some of the greatest moments in Las Vegas’s history.

Even though Las Vegas has evolved significantly since those early days, Benny and Jack Binion’s legacy endures, and their narrative will not be quickly forgotten.

Without the Binions, the history of Sin City would likely be quite different, and the World Series of Poker as we know it today would likely not exist.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply