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Amazing People from Grayson County Texas

Benny Binion

Benny Binion after his arrest in 1953Benny Binion was born November 20, 1904 in Pilot Grove, 22 miles from Sherman 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 Vegas.

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.

Binion's 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.

In 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.

Benny Binion in front of his famous $1 million displayWhile 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 craps 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 8,773 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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