| 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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!"