View Profile | WWW | E-Mail
Benny Binion was born in 1904 in Texas.
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.
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.
In those days Binion carried three pistols -- two .45 automatics and a small .38 revolver.
In 1931 Binion had killed a fellow bootlegger after an argument turned nasty and he thought the guy was going to stab him. His athletic marksmanship was the genesis of Binion's nickname "The Cowboy," but also earned him a first-degree murder conviction. Benny got a 2-year suspended sentence because the dead man was known to be very violent and a killer. The man did have a knife on him, but hadn't pulled it.
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 1951 he opened Binion's Horseshoe casino in Vegas, he set the craps limit at $500, 10 times the maximum at other casinos. The new limits made Binion's famous immediately, and other casinos were forced to raise their own limits accordingly.
Over 40 years the Binions pushed the limits ever upward to $10,000. Gamblers who felt like going higher could do so, as long as they did it on the first bet.
In 1980 a gambler William Lee Bergstrom showed up with $777,000, apologizing that he couldn't raise a whole million. They never bothered to convert the money to chips, but laid the whole suitcase of cash on the "don't pass" line, and the woman holding the dice sevened out in three rolls. Binion's' counted out another $770,000 to Bergstrom, and Ted Binion escorted him to his car.
His most famous act is the World Series of Poker.
Many other casinos also did not offer poker because the game was not entirely respectable. The game is hard to police, and was associated with cheating long after other Nevada casino games were universally honest.
Benny wore gold coins for buttons on his cowboy shirts, but was never seen in neckties. He didn't shave every day. Despite felony convictions which normally prohibit ownership of firearms, he carried at least one pistol all his life and kept a sawed-off shotgun handy.
Binion ran what was thought to be the most profitable casino in Las Vegas (privately held, it never had to report earnings publicly) but he didn't keep an office; he did business from a booth in the downstairs restaurant.
Jack Binion, who became president of the casino, remembered that his father was first to offer free drinks to slot machine players.
A big spender once asked Benny what the limits on the high stakes table were, and Benny calmly replied:
"Let your first bet be your limit."
His view on life:
"I cherish not my winnings. They do not stay with you. Only your friends."
Benny Binion died of heart failure on Christmas Day, 1989.
Information from www.thegoodgamblingguide.co.uk and Ad Hopkins (Las Vegas Review-Journal)