Benny Binion: Architect of Modern Las Vegas

Explore Benny Binion's story, the visionary behind Horseshoe Casino & the World Series of Poker, shaping modern Las Vegas' gambling legacy.
Benny Binion

Benny Binion, the founder of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, played a crucial role in shaping modern Las Vegas. Born in 1904, Benny began his career in the gambling world by running an illegal gambling operation in Texas before moving to Las Vegas in 1946. At that time, Las Vegas was already on its way to becoming the world’s largest gambling hub. Benny purchased the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel, eventually opening his legendary Binion’s Horseshoe Casino.

Understanding the casino business and knowing what people wanted, Benny wasn’t afraid to give it to them. He raised the maximum bet on table games and promised players that he would take bets of any size, as long as their bet wasn’t larger than the size of their stake. The Horseshoe Casino became the place for hardcore gamblers who wanted to play without fear of big stakes. Benny introduced free drinks for players, which soon became a popular practice in Las Vegas casinos.

Unlike some competitors, Benny didn’t focus on “extracurricular” activities. There were no live shows or other distractions to lure players away from the tables and entice them to spend money elsewhere. Instead, Benny’s casino was a no-nonsense establishment for serious players.

Binion’s Horseshoe Casino quickly gained fame as the best-known and most famous casino in Las Vegas. Although Benny took risks by allowing massive bets, he knew what he was doing. With the house advantage on his side, he knew that as long as he could ride out the variance, he would come out a big winner. That’s precisely what happened, as Benny made a fortune from the casino.

However, Benny’s criminal past eventually caught up with him when he faced charges for tax evasion and was sentenced to 42 months in prison. His gambling license was revoked, which meant he could never run a casino again. His son, Jack, took it upon himself to continue running the casino, while Benny took on the role of PR Director.

Jack Binion Continues the Legacy

In the years following Benny’s release, the Binion family didn’t hold a controlling interest in the casino. It was only in 1964 that they were able to regain the majority share in the venue. Despite this, Jack Binion picked up where his father left off. He obtained a gaming license from the Nevada Gaming Commission and took it upon himself to keep the business going. Jack retained many of his father’s ideas, especially in terms of bet limits and accepting all bets, but came up with some of his own to make the venue even better. Jack was a prudent businessman and knew how to make the business grow.

Benny Binion was a legendary figure in the world of gambling. He owned the Horseshoe Casino, which he had turned into a thriving business. In 1988, his son Jack Binion bought the next-door Mint Casino and Hotel for $27 million, significantly increasing the size of the hotel. Jack came up with a slogan – “a fair game and fair odds” – which captured the spirit of the Horseshoe Casino, and it worked. People continued to flock to the venue, and profits grew.

Despite being Benny’s only child, many people didn’t believe Jack was the one who should take up the casino business. But he proved them wrong, showing a lot of talent and natural flair for the gambling business, which he inherited from his father.

The Birth of the World Series of Poker

Benny Binion had been a part of the Las Vegas gambling scene for years and knew pretty much everyone there was to know, including all the big players. So, in 1970, he decided to invite some of the major names in town for a big showdown to determine the best poker player. That first competition was envisioned as more of a publicity stunt than anything else, and Benny and Jack Binion couldn’t have imagined what the WSOP would eventually turn into.

The first World Series of Poker tournament gathered just seven players, including Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, and Johnny Moss. After several days of high-stakes cash games action, Moss was voted the best player by his peers. That first WSOP was a very small affair, and no one outside of Las Vegas even knew about it. But, thanks to the Binions’ vision and some lucky developments, the competition would gradually gain nationwide popularity.

By the late 1980s, Binion’s Horseshoe could barely accommodate all the players coming through its doors. This was when Jack decided to expand, buying Mint Casino and Hotel and several other properties and setting up a full-time poker room at the venue.

Sadly, Benny Binion wouldn’t live to see the WSOP reach its full potential. He died of a heart attack aged 86, on Christmas Day of 1989, leaving it up to Jack to continue its legacy.

Jack Binion continued to run the WSOP, and the tournament kept growing. However, a dispute inside the family resulted in Jack selling his interest in the Horseshoe Casino in 1998 to his sister, Becky, ending his involvement with the venue and the tournament. He still kept the rights to the Horseshoe brand outside of the state, later opening several riverboat casinos under the famous name.

In 2004, Harrah’s Entertainment (later renamed Caesars Entertainment) purchased Binion’s Horseshoe and obtained all rights to the World Series. The tournament, which had grown significantly in size by this point, was moved to the Rio Hotel and Casino, while the Horseshoe was sold to MTR Gaming Group.

Following the acquisition by MTR, the casino was renamed Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel, keeping the famous name above the door. Then, in 2008, another company purchased the venue and closed it shortly after due to the recession. In 2019, the new owners opened under a new name – Hotel Apache.

Jack Binion, who was born in 1937, is still around. He holds a consulting role with Wynn Resorts and has witnessed and been a part of some of the greatest moments in the history of Las Vegas. Even though things have changed a lot in Las Vegas since those early days, Benny and Jack Binion’s mark on the city remains, and their story won’t be easily forgotten. Without the Binions, the history of Sin City would likely be much different, and we probably wouldn’t have the World Series of Poker – or at least not as we know it today.