Lester Ben Binion or “Benny” Binion, as he is popularly called, was born on November 20 in the year 1904. Till his death on December 25 in the year 1989) he was famous as an American casino owner, mobster, poker enthusiast, cutting horse owner and a convicted felon. He was Born and brought up in Grayson County, Texas which is north of Dallas. Benny Binion’s parents at first, kept him out of school due to his unstable health. His father who was a horse trader used to let him accompany him on trips, due to which, the outdoor life that Benny now had, had its effects, restoring his health but keeping him away from any sort of formal education.
The Las Vegas Club casino had him as a partner but soon lost him just after a year to disagreements between the members about the limit on bets. Binion then, in 1951 bought the building that had housed the Las Vegas Club and re-opened it as the Westerner Gambling House and Saloon. He also bought the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel, opening them as Binion’s Horseshoe casino which instantly became a hit among the masses, famous for the high limit on the bets.
Binion was the forerunner of the Las Vegas casino novelty as the first in downtown Glitter Gulch to swap sawdust-covered floors with carpeting. Further, he started the use of the dispatch limousines to transport customers to and from the casino and also started offering free drinks to players. Binion opened the doors to all sort of players and also avoided showing flashy kitschy performances as the other casinos did, all over Las Vegas.
He was married to Teddy Jane with five children. His life circled more or less on his two sons, Jack and Ted and three daughters, Barbara, Brenda and Becky.
Over time, Jack became the president and Ted took over as the casino manager in the year 1964. The casino cage was managed by Teddy Jane, Benny Binion’s wife, till her death in the year 1994. The year 1998 saw Becky, Binion’s daughter take over the presidency from Jack who moved onto other gambling interests. Becky’s presidency at the casino which had happened after a much hyped legal battle, made the casino hit a rock bottom which compelled the federal agents to seize a sum of $ 1 million from the bankroll of the casino, in the year 2004, in order to pay unpaid union benefits. This happening forced the looming closure and sale of the casino to Hannah’s Entertainment. The casino now functions as Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel and is owned by the TLC Gaming Group.
The 1946, 1947 and 1948 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) World Champion, ‘Nigger’ (now known as ‘Benny Binion’s Gelding’) was also owned by Benny Binion. The solid black 15 hand gelding was bred by Binion and ridden and trained by George Glassock and is the only horse to have won the NCHA World Championship for three years consecutively.
Benny spent years arranging matches between high stakes players and modified the idea to a bigger proportion. He invited six major players he knew at that time for a tourney in the year 1970. The year after this saw a freeze out format with $10,000 buy in and thus, the World Series of Poker as we now know it was born out of an innovators mind.
The World Series of Poker soon became famous. So much so that, in the year 1973, Binion prophesied that the event might one day have 50 or more entrants. He was clearly underestimating. The year 2006 saw 8773 entrants for the main event in the World Series of Poker.
Binion died on December 25 in the year 1989, at the ripe old age of 89 years. ‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston, the great, when asked for a suggestion for Benny’s epitaph, said that Benny was either the gentlest bad guy or the worst good guy you’d ever seen.
Benny Binion would always be remembered for his contribution to the poker world and was included in the poker hall of fame after his death, in the year 1990.