Benny Binion 1904-1989

Gambler, convicted killer, and the man who thought up the WSOP

Born and raised in Texas, Benny Binion moved to El Paso as a 17-year-old and quickly got himself a bad reputation. He was convicted twice for moonshining – the act of illegally making whiskey. Fearful of the law, he quit the game and, somewhat bizarrely, turned to another vice – running an illegal lottery. And it was while in El Paso that Binion got the gambling bug.

Before he moved to Las Vegas though, Binion would fi nd himself in further trouble, facing a murder rap after shooting dead Frank Bolding in an argument and killing a numbers operator who pulled a gun on him. But luck was on Benny’s side as he got off with a suspended sentence in the fi rst case and was found to be acting in selfdefence in the second.

But with all the heat he’d created Binion had to move – and where better to head to for a man of his rep, than Sin City. So it was that in 1946 Binion arrived in Vegas and became a partner in the Las Vegas Club casino. Then in 1951 he bought the Eldorado Club and Apache Hotel, and converted them into Binion’s Horseshoe casino.

Now Binion could do what he wanted and give the punters the best time possible by raising betting limits and becoming the most generous casino owner on the Strip. The gamblers loved it.

Despite Benny serving time for tax evasion in the 50s, Binion’s family kept control of the Horseshoe and ran it when he lost his gaming licence. And it was from the infamous casino, that Binion kicked off the fi rst World Series of Poker in 1970 with just a handful of players. His idea has probably done more for the rise of poker than any other until the advent of internet poker.

Binion died from heart failure on Christmas Day, 1989, but his legacy lives on, even though the tournament shuffl ed up for the last time in the Horseshoe last year. Binion was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

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