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Benny Binion, Vegas Gambler, Dies at 85

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Benny Binion, one of the last of a circle of colorful Nevada old-time club owners and an inveterate gambler who survived at least one attempt on his life, died in a Las Vegas hospital on Christmas Day. He was 85.

In recent years, Binion had suffered from heart trouble and was hospitalized under observation several days ago.

Binion’s longtime casino aide, Gene McCarlie, said: “Benny was the last of the real big-time gamblers. He was afraid of no one.”

A Texas native, Binion came to Las Vegas in 1946 and took over a small club in the Nevada gambling resort that had opened in 1937 shortly after table gambling was legalized. He became almost as familiar an institution in Las Vegas as any of the town’s tourist attractions.

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His downtown club, the Horseshoe, had no doors and $1 million in cash in a glass case that greeted visitors who entered. In his earlier days, Binion would meet airport tourists with a stagecoach. He often told cronies that he lost more than $1 million in interest over the years just to keep the display, but considered the loss more than balanced out by its value as a landmark of sorts.

His language and stories were as fanciful as any Western tall-tale. There were often reports of million-dollar crap table bets, large stakes to well-known gamblers and more than a few feuds with other gamblers. But the only report of trouble that made official records was an attempt on his life that left several bullet holes in his car in 1951.

Binion’s most famous creation was the annual World Series of Poker. It grew out of a game that he arranged more than 40 years ago between two legendary gamblers, Nick (The Greek) Dandolos and Johnny Moss.

His attire matched his high-rolling Texas image. “His boots were all handmade,” said McCarlie. “I don’t know how many he had, but there were a bunch, and none of them was worth less than a $1,000 a pair. His shirts had solid gold buttons. Nothing he wore was worth less than $800 a garment.”

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Old-timers in Las Vegas swore that Binion’s Texas drawl became more pronounced with each passing year. He was once indicted in the Lone Star state for running a gambling racket, but Nevada officials refused to extradite him. He also had frequent run-ins with the Internal Revenue Service and paid a $15,000 fine in the early ‘50s for tax evasion.

In a book about the World Series of Poker, author Nolan Davis quoted one of Binion’s gambling acquaintances as describing Binion as “a good man (who) tend to Benny Binion’s business and nobody else. Been a boss gambler . . . and a boss bootlegger, Benny Binion. Ran games in hotel suites in the old days and down in Dallas, where he’d take over the town. People came from miles around ‘cause everybody liked him. They still like him.”

Binion’s wife, Teddy Jane, and a son, Jack, were at his bedside when he died. He is also survivied by two daughters, another son, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.


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