Benny Binion was born November 20, 1904 in Pilot Grove Texas.
The son of a Texas horse trader, young Binion learned to play poker at
county fairs with his father. He grew up to become gambling icon, career criminal, and convicted murderer who
established illegal operations in El Paso. Dallas, and Fort Worth,
Texas. He would later relocate to Nevada, where gambling was legal,
and open the successful Binion's Horseshoe casino in downtown Las
His parents initially kept young Benny out of school due to poor health.
His father let him accompany him on horse trading trips. While
the outdoor life restored his health, Binion never had any formal
education. As he traveled with his father, the young man learned to
gamble, a favorite pastime when horse traders met up with farmers
and merchants during county fair trade days.
file reveals a criminal history dating back to 1924, listing
offenses such as theft, carrying concealed weapons, and two murder
convictions. He moved to El Paso when he was 18, where he began
moonshining. A year later, Binion moved to Dallas where he again set
up moonshining operations, for which he was twice convicted.
addition to his moonshining, in 1928, Binion opened up an even more
lucrative numbers game. In 1931, Binion was convicted of shooting
and killing an African American rum-runner, Frank Bolding, "cowboy
style." This was the origin of Binion's "Cowboy" nickname. Binion
received a two-year suspended sentence. In 1936, Binion established
a network of private dice games at several Dallas hotels, including
the Southland Hotel in downtown Dallas. This came to be known as the
Southland Syndicate. By the end of 1936, Binion had gained control
of most gambling operations in Dallas, with protection from a
powerful local politician.
In 1936, Binion and a henchman killed numbers operator and
competitor, Ben Frieden, emptying their pistols into him. Binion
then allegedly shot himself in the shoulder and turned himself in to
police, claiming that Frieden had shot him first. Binion was
indicted, but the indictment was later dismissed on the grounds that
Binion had acted in self-defense. In 1938, Binion and another
henchmen allegedly killed Sam Murray, another of Binion's
competitors in the gambling rackets. Binion was never indicted for
this murder, and charges were dropped against his henchmen. By the
early 1940s, Binion had become the reigning mob boss of Dallas. He
then sought to take over the gambling rackets in Fort Worth. The
local mob boss of that city, Lewis Tindell, was murdered shortly
afterwards. The Chicago Outfit made a successful move into Dallas
after World War II. With the 1946 election of a Dallas County
Sheriff Steve Gutherie, Binion lost his fix with the local
government and fled to Las Vegas.
While in Dallas, Binion had begun a long-running feud with
Herbert Noble, a small-time Dallas gambler, which continued after
Binion moved to Las Vegas. Binion demanded that Noble increase his
payoff to Binion from 25 to 40 percent, which Noble refused to do.
Binion posted a reward on Noble's scalp that eventually reached
$25,000 and control of a Dallas crap game. Noble survived numerous
attempts on his life, sometimes narrowly escaping with gunshot
wounds. In November 1949, Noble's wife was killed in a car bombing
intended for him. In retaliation, Noble planned to fly his private
plane to Las Vegas to bomb Binion's house, but was restrained by
local law enforcement before he could execute his plan. In August
1951, as Herbert Noble drove up to his mailbox, a bomb exploded
nearby, killing him instantly.
Binion lost his gambling license in 1951, and was sentenced to a
five-year term in 1953 at Leavenworth federal penitentiary for tax
evasion. While in prison or shortly after his release Binion became
a partner of the Las Vegas Club casino, but left after a year due to
licensing problems after the casino relocated. In 1951, Benny
purchased the building which had previously housed the Las Vegas
Club, and opened it as the Westerner Gambling House and Saloon. Also
in 1951, he purchased the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel,
opening them as Binion's Horseshoe casino, which immediately became
popular because of the high limits on bets. He initially set a craps
table limit of $500, ten times higher than the limit at his
competitors of the time. As a result of outdoing the competition,
Binion received death threats, although eventually casinos raised
their limits to keep up with him. Additionally, the Horseshoe would
allow a bet of any size from a player as long as the bet was no
larger than the player's initial bet. The Horseshoe is also believed
to be the first major casino to offer 100-times-odds at craps. The
Horseshoe was one of the more profitable casinos in town.
Binion was in the vanguard of Las Vegas casino innovation. He was
the first in the downtown Las Vegas to replace sawdust-covered
floors with carpeting, the first to dispatch limousines to transport
customers to and from the casino, and the first to offer free drinks
to players. Although comps were standard for high rollers, Binion
gave them to all players. He also shied away from the gaudy
performing acts typical of other Las Vegas casinos. His creation of
the World Series helped the game of poker spread and become popular.
He actually underestimated how popular it would become: in 1973, he
dared to speculate that someday the tournament may have 50 or more
entrants; the 2006 main event alone had 8773 entrants.
Benny never forgot his Texas roots and was a key player in
getting the National Finals Rodeo to move to Las Vegas. He never
forgot the cowboys after they arrived; he always paid the entry fees
for all of the cowboys for their championship event. When the casino
closed, Boyd Gaming took up the tradition that Binion started by
continuing to pay all the entry fees. Every year during the NFR
there is a large rodeo stock auction called "Benny Binion's World
Famous Bucking Horse and Bull Sale."
When Binion died of heart failure at the age of 85 on December 5,
1989, poker great "Amarillo
Slim" Preston suggested as an epitaph, "He was either the
gentlest bad guy or the baddest good guy you'd ever seen". Binion
was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1990.
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