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Lester Ben Binion
b. Nov 20th, 1904 Pilot Grove, Grayson County, Texas
d. 25th Dec 1989, Las Vegas

A tough man born to travelling parents who moved through the vast open Texan country. He never attended any school of any sort. He became known worldwide as Benny Binion.

At the age of 18 Benny moved to El Paso where he picked up the art of bootlegging. In the 1930s he was twice convicted for it and once promised the judge that he would get out of the liquor business if he didn't send him to prison. He did give it up to move into the numbers game. It was the same sort of illegal lottery that became common in all big cities before state governments declared the racket morally pure and took it over.

In 1936, tolerance moved into Texas and Benny began running craps games from hotel rooms near to the Beaumont oilfield, the largest in the world at that time. There was always money there, even through the depression. Still it was a tough thing to protect the games from hijackers and Benny himself carried three guns at all times.

In 1931 Binion had killed a fellow bootlegger after an argument turned nasty and he thought the guy was going to stab him. For that he was convicted of first-degree murder but got a 2-year suspended sentence because the dead man was known to be very violent and a killer. In 1936 Binion killed a rival numbers operator who pulled a gun on him and shot him in the armpit as Benny put his arm up in defence. Benny grabbed the man's gun on the barrel so that it wouldn't turn anymore and then pulled his own gun and killed him. He was found innocent on the grounds of self-defence.

After 1938 the violence began to escalate and by 1946 it was enough to drive Binion into making the decision to move to Las Vegas after many rivals died. One rival who had dozens of attempts on his life saw his wife blown up by a car bomb. He believed Binion was behind it and rigged a small plane with bombs to fly over to Las Vegas and drop them on Binion's house. He was caught by police as he was loading the bombs and was later killed by a bomb under his mailbox.

In 1947 Binion took shares with J. Kell Houssels Sr. in the Las Vegas Club on Freemont Street and later in 1951 opened his own casino, the Horseshoe on the same street. Binion was famous for taking the biggest action in town and at the opening of his casino his limits were easily above anything else.

Two years after opening, Binion was forced to sell controlling interests to pay the legal costs of defending himself against racket charges back in Texas and an unsuccessful attempt to avoid prison on income tax charges. He served 3½ years in Leavenworth Penitentiary. In 1964 the family regained control of the Horseshoe but Benny Binion was never allowed to hold a gaming license again.

Binion was good at attracting gamblers as opposed to people who wanted entertainment. In the 1970s he invented the gambling tournament as part of a casino business. No casino had offered poker before because of the difficulty of keeping out cheats but the Horseshoe found a small corner and advertised a regular game for the first time. The World Series of Poker was begun by Tom Morehead of the Riverside Casino in Reno who ran it as an invitational but Benny took it over and invented the now global idea of increasing antes and blinds to produce a winner in a short time period. It was a revolutionary idea that has expanded the world of poker a hundred fold.

The $10,000 World Series of Poker event has grown from the 8 people who played in 1972, Amarillo Slim Preston the winner, to 512 players in the year 2000.

Benny Binion died of heart failure on Christmas Day, 1989. A thousand people packed into a catholic church to bid him farewell. Gambling magnate Steve Wynn said, "He was either the toughest gentleman I ever knew, or the gentlest tough person I ever met." U.S., Senator Harry Reid said: "He's my hero. Nevada is a better place because him!"

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