Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Small-Time Gangster Hit It Big in Vegas; NONFICTION - BOOKS

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Small-Time Gangster Hit It Big in Vegas; NONFICTION - BOOKS

Article excerpt

Odds are you haven't heard of Benny Binion unless you visited Las Vegas several decades ago or are a serious student of poker.

But Binion, a one-time Dallas gangster who died 25 years ago, is as much a shaper of Vegas as are the corporate suits who now run the casinos.

A bronze statue of Binion twice as tall as the Vegas statue of Elvis Presley graces the entrance to an equestrian center on the Vegas strip.

The statue really belongs at its previous perch in downtown Vegas Glitter Gulch where Binion held sway for 40 years. That is also where a new biography of Binion, "Blood Aces" by Doug J. Swanson, catches the right gear.

Swanson, an editor and writer for the Dallas Morning News, takes us through Binion's ascent from a small-time Texas gambler to a big- time gangster. Binion personally killed at least two men and no doubt ordered the deaths of others who had crossed him.

Binion's lucrative gambling operation depended on the acquiescence, for a fee, of Dallas law enforcement.

But a new sheriff played by the rules, and Binion headed west. Had he stayed n Texas, his name would probably be remembered only in Tarrant and Dallas counties, and Binion could well have spent his golden years in jail.

He arrived in Las Vegas in 1946.

Swanson, who has a nice descriptive touch, writes of Binion then:

"With all the polish of a Piggly Wiggly clerk, he wore an up- from-the-sticks grin and delivered country bromides in a nasal twang. He sometimes greeted friends with the query 'How's your mammy?'"

But Binion, whose formal schooling ended with the second grade, was no rube. He focused on gambling, not entertainment.

His Horseshoe casino was the first to offer no-limits gambling where, Binion said, a $5 gambler could become a millionaire.

Swanson writes: "From the moment the lights went on, the Horseshoe rolled as the hottest gambling spot in town."

The money rolled in. One of Binion's lawyers said , "Their money management system is simple. Just pile cash on the floor until the pile gets too big, then start another one."

In 1970, Binion imported the World Series of Poker from Reno and set it on a course to becoming the multimillion-dollar attraction that it is today. …

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