Lester Ben “Benny” Binion’s life story reads like an exciting work of fiction – but it’s all true. He frequently ran into trouble with law, owned casinos, and loved to play and promote poker.
He was born in Texas in 1904 and is the father of his poor health, a horse trader, never sent to school. His father did take on his business trips, however, and probably outdoor life restored his health bandarqq.
At age 17 Binion moved to El Paso and took up moonshining. He gave up on being convicted twice and started to run numbers – also illegal. He started gambling to pass the time and gradually came to enjoy it. Running with the criminal element it’s no wonder his FBI file lists a series of crimes such as theft, two murders and a third of suspicion, and concealed weapons carrying charges. His first murder – a moonshining competitor – carried a suspended two-year sentence. For a second, he killed a competitor in a numbers racket that looked like self-defense. He shot himself in the shoulder and argued the victim fired first. The third casualty was a second competitor but there was not enough evidence against him and charges dropped. By eliminating the competition and securing a powerful politician, Binion gained control of gambling operations in Dallas, where he had settled the oil money that had flowed. By the early 1940s he was the capo di tutti capi – the number one mob boss in the city.
Having conquered Dallas, Binion tried to extend his reach to Fort Worth. Before long the local mob boss took a fatal bullet. After World War II, Binion’s empire came crashing down. First, stronger gangsters, the Chicago Mafia (founded by Al Capone), Dallas, and second, Binion’s politician / protector lost in elections. With his kingdom collapsing around him, Binion picks up stakes and hightails it to Las Vegas.
In 1951 he opened Binion’s Horseshoe Casino with an avalanche of popularity due to its high bet limits. Although he offers unprecedented comps to high rollers (he pioneered picking them up in limousines and giving them free drinks), he welcomed any player regardless of bankroll. Almost single-handedly carpeted palaces from smoky joints to changed casinos. His success and notoriety did not go unnoticed by the national Mafia who had many investments in Las Vegas. After a murder in a men’s room, Binion’s casinos, and a small-time hood with a violent feud (his wife was murdered and he died in a car bombing), they felt the negative publicity he generated would have hurt business. They helped the government collect incriminating evidence and Binion lost his gambling license in 1951. In 1953 he went to Fort Leavenworth for a five-year tax evasion.
As far back as the 1949 Binion held head-to-head poker tournaments for superstar players. The World Series of Poker was born until more and more gamblers took on their wildest dreams beyond these tournaments. In 2006 over 8,500 paid the $ 10,000 buy-in fee and signed up for the main event. This colorful showman died on Christmas Day in 1989.
Joe Starr writes on a variety of subjects to keep his brain from fogging over. Visit his website.