Benny Binion: How An Uneducated Errand Boy Shaped Downtown Vegas

Lester "Benny" Binion was a sick, uneducated child who grew up to be a convicted murderer, yet by 1951, he had established himself in the budding gambling city of Las Vegas, where he opened a casino, brimming with gangsters Learned the art of gimmicks, by hobby, and did not pay his taxes. His casino helped turn Fremont Street into a glitter gulch and set the stage for the grand game hall to come.

Beanie Binion

Born in rural Texas in 1904, Binion was always so ill that his mother was afraid to send him to school. His father believed that his younger son would regain his health if he spent time outside, so he took the boy along when he went to work as a horse dealer, and as he Old enough, Binian worked as his father's work boy. In the evening camps, merchants passed the time playing card games, especially poker, so they learned the tricks of the trade from some of the best gamblers in the region. When he was 24, Binion moved to Dallas and established himself as a horse trader, but soon found large sums in illegal gambling operations. When Prohibition took effect, he started a bootlegging business and formed alliances with local politicians, police and dacoits.

Departure (for) Las Vegas

Where there is a crowd, there is violence, so Binion is soon immersed in violent crime. He was imprisoned in 1931 for killing another rumor monger (though on the bright side, he learned to read in prison), then in 1936 for killing several other contestants. In 1946, Binion tried to kill a rival gambler Herbert Noble, and fearing retaliation, he packed up his wife and five children and fled to Las Vegas, where he opened Binion's Horseshoe Casino. You know how casinos always offer you free drinks and cheap food in an effort to keep you inside? It all started on a horseshoe. His moves worked, and Horseshoe became one of the most successful casinos in downtown Las Vegas and the biggest draw on the now famous Fremont Street. Its poker tournaments became the stuff of legend, so in 1970, Binion coordinated an invitation-only tournament with six players. From this event, the World Series of Poker was established.

Years After Binion

Binion had a habit of avoiding the tax man, and it eventually caught up with him. In 1954, he was sentenced to three years at Leavenworth, however after dropping out he went back to the gambling business, even though he was no longer allowed to hold a gambling license, simply transferring the business to his wife. Binion died in 1989 at the age of 85, an impressive success for a multiple murderer who never went to school.

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