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Benny Binion

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Benny Binion
Benny Binion at the 1979 World Series of Poker
Lester Ben Binion

(1904-11-20)November 20, 1904
DiedDecember 25, 1989(1989-12-25) (aged 85)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Years active1924–1989
Known forOrganized crime and Gambling
SpouseTeddy Jane
Children5, including Jack Binion and Ted Binion

Lester Ben Binion (November 20, 1904 – December 25, 1989), better known as Benny Binion, was an American career criminal who established illegal gambling operations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In 1931, Binion was convicted of shooting and killing a rum-runner, Frank Bolding. In the 1940s he relocated to Nevada, where gambling was legal, and opened the successful Binion's Horseshoe casino in downtown Las Vegas.

Early history[edit]

Benny Binion was born and raised in Pilot Grove, Texas, north of Dallas. His parents initially kept him out of school due to poor health. His father, a horse trader, let him accompany him on trips. While the outdoor life restored his health, Binion never had any formal education.[1] 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.[2]

Criminal history[edit]

Binion's FBI file reveals a criminal history dating back to 1924.[3] At age 18 he moved to El Paso, where he began moonshining during the Prohibition Era.[4] A year later Binion moved to Dallas and continued moonshining, for which he was twice convicted.[5] While moonshining, Binion came into contact with Warren Diamond and became a dice dealer for Diamond's St. George Hotel casino on Commerce Street in Dallas.[6] In addition to his moonshining, in 1928, Binion opened up an even more lucrative numbers game.[7]

In 1931, Binion was convicted of shooting and killing an African American rum-runner, Frank Bolding, "cowboy style."[8] This was the origin of Binion's "Cowboy" nickname.[9] He received a two-year suspended sentence.[9] In 1936, Binion and an associate killed a 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.[10] Two years later, Binion and associates allegedly killed Sam Murray, another of his competitors in the gambling rackets. Binion was never indicted for this murder, and charges were dropped against his associates.[11] In the same year as the murder of Frieden, 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.[12]

By the end of 1936, Binion had gained control of most gambling operations in Dallas, with protection from a powerful local politician.[11] He ran a famous casino known as the Top O' Hill Terrace in Arlington, as well as a horsetrack. These venues, in addition to other smaller ones in Arlington, attracted celebrities from around the nation.[13] By the early 1940s, he had become the reigning mob boss of Dallas, and was seeking to take over the gambling rackets in Fort Worth. The local mob boss of that city, Lewis Tindell, was murdered shortly afterwards.[14]

With the 1946 election of Steve Guthrie as sheriff of Dallas County, Binion lost his fix with the local government and fled to Las Vegas, Nevada.[15][16] Shortly afterward a long-running feud between Binion and Herbert Noble, a small-time Dallas gambler, boiled over when Noble refused to increase his payoff to Binion from 25 to 40 percent.[17] Binion posted a reward on Noble's life, which eventually reached $25,000 and control of a Dallas crap game.[8] Noble survived numerous murder attempts, sometimes narrowly escaping with gunshot wounds. In November 1949, his wife was killed in a car bombing intended for him.[8] 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.[8] In August 1951, as Noble drove up to his mailbox, a bomb exploded nearby, killing him instantly.[18][19]

Binion lost his Nevada gaming license in 1951, and was sentenced to a five-year term in 1953 at Leavenworth federal penitentiary for tax evasion.[20]

Casino years[edit]

Benny Binion with his youngest daughter Becky (eventual owner of Binion's Horseshoe) in front of the famous $1 million display (c. 1969).

In Las Vegas, Binion became a partner of the Las Vegas Club casino, but left after a year due to licensing problems.[21] In 1949, he opened the Westerner Gambling House and Saloon, but he soon sold out after conflicts with his casino partners.[22]

In 1951, Binion purchased the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel, opening them as Binion's Horseshoe, which immediately became popular because of the high limits on bets.[23] He initially set a table limit of $500 for craps.[24] As a result of outdoing the competition he 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.[25]

Binion was in the vanguard of Las Vegas casino innovation. He was the first in the downtown Glitter Gulch 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.[24] Although comps were standard for high rollers, Binion gave them to all players.[26] He also shied away from the gaudy performing acts typical of other Las Vegas casinos.[24]

Binion was known to be generous to patrons, and said he followed a simple philosophy when serving his customers: "Good food, good whiskey cheap, and a good gamble."[24][27] For many years, the Horseshoe had a late night $2 steak special, with most of the meat for the steaks coming from cattle on Binion's ranches in Montana. The Horseshoe is also believed to be the first major casino to offer 100-times-odds at craps (a patron with a bet on the pass or don't-pass lines could take or lay up to 100 times their bet in odds).[citation needed] It was one of the more profitable casinos in town.[25]

After his trial and conviction in 1953, to cover back taxes and legal costs, Binion sold a majority share in the Horseshoe to fellow gambler and New Orleans oilman Joe W. Brown.[28] Binion's family regained controlling interest in the Horseshoe in 1957, but did not regain full control until 1964.[29] Binion was never allowed to hold a gaming license afterwards. Instead, his son Jack became the licensee, with Benny assuming the title of Director of Public Relations.[30]

Binion styled himself a cowboy throughout his life. He almost never wore a necktie and used gold coins as buttons on his cowboy shirts. Despite being technically barred from owning guns, he carried at least one pistol all his life, and kept a sawed-off shotgun close by. His office was a booth in the downstairs restaurant, and he knew many of his customers by name.[31]


Binion didn't consider himself to be very good at poker, nor did he participate much in competition or private cash games, preferring to organize them. However, in 1990 he was inducted posthumously into the Poker Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game.[32]


Binion and his wife, Teddy Jane, had five children: two sons, Jack and Ted, and three daughters, Barbara, Brenda and Becky.

Jack and Ted took over as president and casino manager, respectively, in 1964. Benny's wife, Teddy Jane, managed the casino cage until her death in 1994. In 1998, Binion's daughter, Becky, took over the presidency after a legal battle, and Jack moved on to other gambling interests. Becky's presidency saw the casino sink into debt. In 2004, federal agents seized $1 million from the Horseshoe's bankroll to satisfy unpaid union benefits, forcing its closure and eventual sale to Harrah's Entertainment.[33] It now operates as Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel under the ownership of TLC Gaming Group.

Ted was under nearly constant scrutiny from the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1986 onwards for his involvement in drugs and associating with known organized crime figures. His gaming license was revoked in 1989, and he died in mysterious circumstances about a decade later. Ted's live-in girlfriend, Sandra Murphy, and her lover, Rick Tabish, were charged and convicted of his murder, but the verdict was later overturned. They were retried and acquitted.[34]


In January 1949, Binion arranged for Johnny Moss and Nick "The Greek" Dandolos to play a head-to-head poker tournament which ended up lasting five months, with Dandolos ultimately losing a reported two million dollars. The 42-year-old Moss had to take breaks to sleep occasionally, during which Dandalos, then aged 57, went over to the craps table and played. After the final hand, and losing millions of dollars, Dandolos uttered one of the most famous poker quotes of all time: "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go." (This narrative is disputed as fact and is most likely a myth. Binion didn't operate a casino until 1951 in Las Vegas.)

In 1970, after years of arranging heads-up matches between high-stakes players, Binion invited six players to compete in a tournament.[35] Playing no-limit Texas Hold'em, the players competed for cash at the table, and later took a vote on who was to be named champion. Moss, then aged 63, was voted champion by his younger competition and received a small trophy. The following year, a freeze-out format was introduced with a $10,000 buy-in, and the World Series of Poker was born. Binion's creation of the World Series helped popularize the game of poker, though he greatly underestimated how popular the World Series would become. In 1973, he speculated that eventually the tournament might have fifty or so entrants.[36] However, by 2006, the tournament's main event (not including all of the other events) would have 8,773 entrants.

Binion never forgot his Texas roots and was a key player in getting the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) 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."

Binion was also the owner of a horse named "Nigger" (later referred to as "Benny Binion's Gelding") who was the 1946, 1947 and 1948 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) World Champion.[37] Bred by Binion, ridden and trained by George Glascock, the solid black 15 hand gelding is the only horse to capture the NCHA World Championship three years in a row.[38]


Binion died of heart failure at the age of 85 on December 25, 1989, in Las Vegas.[39] 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."[40] He was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1990.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 7–9. ISBN 9780143127581
  2. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 12–13. ISBN 9780143127581
  3. ^ Reid, Ed, and Ovid Demaris. 1963. The Green Felt Jungle. Buccaneer Books, p. 154; Jay Robert Nash, World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime (1993). Da Capo Press
  4. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 13–14. ISBN 9780143127581
  5. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 23. ISBN 9780143127581
  6. ^ Gatewood, Jim (2019). Warren Diamond, Dallas God Father (1st ed.). 220 W. Rio Grande Garland, Texas: Mullaney Corporation. p. 289. ISBN 9781987071184.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  7. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 27. ISBN 9780143127581
  8. ^ a b c d Gary Cartwright, Benny and the Boys Archived October 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Texas Monthly, October 1991
  9. ^ a b Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 25. ISBN 9780143127581
  10. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 45–47. ISBN 9780143127581
  11. ^ a b Reid, Ed, and Ovid Demaris. 1963. The Green Felt Jungle. Buccaneer Books, pp. 156–157.
  12. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 52–53. ISBN 9780143127581
  13. ^ Kennedy, Bud (April 7, 2016). "75 years ago, Arlington was in its gambling casino heyday". Star-Telegram. Archived from the original on June 26, 2018. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  14. ^ Reid, Ed, and Ovid Demaris. 1963. The Green Felt Jungle. Buccaneer Books, p. 158.
  15. ^ Reid, Ed, and Ovid Demaris. 1963. The Green Felt Jungle. Buccaneer Books, p. 160.
  16. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 82–88. ISBN 9780143127581
  17. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 74–75. ISBN 9780143127581
  18. ^ Reid, Ed, and Ovid Demaris. 1963. The Green Felt Jungle. Buccaneer Books, pp. 157–176.
  19. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 159–162. ISBN 9780143127581
  20. ^ Reid, Ed, and Ovid Demaris. 1963. The Green Felt Jungle. Buccaneer Books, pp. 176–177.
  21. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 120. ISBN 9780143127581
  22. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 121. ISBN 9780143127581
  23. ^ "How Gambler Benny Binion Built Vegas As We Know It". Casino.org. June 2, 2022. Archived from the original on September 26, 2022. Retrieved September 26, 2022.
  24. ^ a b c d Linda Chase. Picturing Las Vegas, (Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2009), p. 17. ISBN 9781423604884
  25. ^ a b A. D. Hopkins, Benny Binion Archived October 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Las Vegas Review-Journal, February 7, 1999
  26. ^ Jack Sheehan. The Players: The Men Who Made Las Vegas, (University of Nevada Press, 1997), p. 62. ISBN 087417306X
  27. ^ Oral History, Lester "Benny" Binion, University of Nevada, Reno, 1976
  28. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 214–215. ISBN 9780143127581
  29. ^ Retrospective on Horseshoe's history Archived September 24, 2021, at the Wayback Machine from UNLV Center for Gaming Research
  30. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 246. ISBN 9780143127581
  31. ^ "Benny Binion (1904-1989)". PBS.org. Las Vegas: An Unconventional History. Archived from the original on February 13, 2024. Retrieved February 13, 2024.
  32. ^ "Benny Binion's Life: Biggest Profits, Losses and Net Worth". Somuchpoker. January 24, 2020. Archived from the original on September 21, 2020. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  33. ^ Binkley, Christina (January 14, 2004). "Harrah's to Buy Horseshoe Casino In Las Vegas". WSJ. Archived from the original on April 2, 2024. Retrieved April 2, 2024.
  34. ^ "Las Vegas City Life". Archived from the original on September 4, 2012. Retrieved April 2, 2007.
  35. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 257. ISBN 9780143127581
  36. ^ Doug Swanson. Blood Aces, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 309. ISBN 9780143127581
  37. ^ Michelson, Miles. "Nigger". allbreedpedigree.com. Archived from the original on December 12, 2017. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  38. ^ Sage, Dean (1961). Training and riding the cutting horse. Western Horseman. p. 12.
  39. ^ "Benny Binion Is Dead; Casino Owner Was 85". The New York Times. December 27, 1989. p. D 18. Archived from the original on September 17, 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2022.
  40. ^ McManus, James (December 24, 2005). "'The Baddest Good Guy You'd Ever Seen'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 10, 2023. Retrieved December 5, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ann Arnold. 1998. Gamblers & Gangsters: Fort Worth's Jacksboro Highway in the 1940s & 1950s, Eakin Press
  • Cathy Scott. 2000. Death in the Desert: The Ted Binion Homicide Case, 1st Book Library
  • Jim Gatewood. 2002. Benny Binion: The legend of Benny Binion, Dallas gambler and mob boss, Mullaney Corp
  • Jay Robert Nash, 1993. World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime, Da Capo Press
  • Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris. 1963. The Green Felt Jungle, Buccaneer Books
  • Gary Sleeper. 2006. I'll Do My Own Damn Killin': Benny Binion, Herbert Noble, and the Texas Gambling War, Barricade Books
  • Doug J. Swanson. 2014. Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, The Texas Gangster Who Created Las Vegas Poker, Penguin ISBN 9780698163508

External links[edit]