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WSOP Retrospective
Binion in his own words, continued

Benny Binion was a Texas gambler who operated Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. In this page, learn a little about Binion's life and career as related in his own words.

In May 1973, Binion was interviewed by Nevada historian Mary Ellen Glass for an oral history. Below are several notable excerpts from the interview that shed light on Binion the man, his casino, and the World Series of Poker.

All content on this page is from:

Lester Ben "Benny" Binion. Some Recollections of a Texas and Las Vegas Gambling Operator. Mary Ellen Glass, Collector. Reno: University of Nevada Oral History Program, 1973.

Legndary horseman
The famous horseman at a quarterhorse sale in front of his casino.

To see photos of Benny Binion, family, and friends, visit the Binion photo page.

Competitors and neighbors

Yeah, but actually, when Ed Levinson was in here, I didn't have anything to do with the management. I just had a foot in the door then. But I finally got all the way in.

[Levinson] wasn't a competitor, you might say. He was all right. See, actually, if you got a.fair.guy around, he's not a competitor. He's your neighbor. Actually, there's no competitors around here now. We're all neighbors. We don't try to do anything to hurt the other one. Anything that hurts one hurts all. You've got to have things--this downtown thing, and the Strip, too, got to kinda pull together.

The opening of the Horseshoe

Well, the openin' of the Horseshoe, they weren't too high a play around then, so the first night, the openin' of the Horseshoe, me and my wife went home about four o'clock in. the morning, and when we left, we was $96,000 losers. So I went home and slept until two o'clock the next day or somethin' like that, come back down here, and hell, we was a hundred and some-odd thousand dollars winners! So I ain't never been in no tight since. 'Course, I got in that tax trouble. I got whacked around pretty good. Cost me about $5,000,000, so I had to have some help. So I had to sell this, and do that, you know. Had that ranch in Montana, and never did have to put no plastering in it. But when I was in the penitentiary, and come a drought, and had to sell all the cows, they lost about $500,000, too. So them things--. But everybody stayed healthy, so it didn't make a damn bit of difference....

Joe W. Brown

He was a multimillionaire. He had $200,000,000, and I just welcomed any part of it, which I didn't need it. All I needed was just some help. But he got his money back. But he came, hisself, and ran this place, to be sure it was--a man that rich, come and run this place, so he was a true friend.

You damn right he held it together.

Yeah. And he got a big kick out of it. He liked to gamble high. He'd always been a gambler. And he didn't have no gamblin' house, and liked to gamble high, and he loved it.

[MEG: What was he like, to meet?]

Well, he was a kind of a white man, with as kind a heart as any man on earth. Oh, he loved race horses. He liked the excitement out of them, and knew somethin' about it. One time he went to New York, before they had the parimutuels, and he had a horse he was gbin' to run, and he wanted to make some big bets to get them bookmakers used to takin' big bets so they wouldn't flinch when he bet 'em. And he bet on some long shots, and he won $80,000 on these long shots one day. He went back the next day and betted on this damn horse, and win that one. He was a guy that when he took a notion to do somethin', he stayed with it 'till he got it done. Just like he had a oil field down there in Louisiana. And he kept a-drillin', drillin', drillin', drillin'. He'd miss, drill, and he'd miss--he just kept on, finally hit that pool, and it's the damnedest gas field in the United States, right today. His wife sold it for $47,000,000. And one time, he went broke on the cotton market. He was a hell of a cotton-- you know, bought them cotton futures.

In the older days, when they used to get together, gamblers get together and shoot dice, Joe Brown was potted up, and just keep passin', just let it pile [gesturing) about ten inches high. All of 'em faded. He'd just been a high gambler all his life.

And he actually tried to do somethin' for the community. He had all that damn money. Like he bought the race track out here, and was goin' to hold it for the city, and they could pay him back, and they never did. They made a mistake.

Binion as manager

When a man does his work here, there's no pressure. If he makes a mistake, there's nothin' said about it, because he didn't do it purposely.

[MEG: Have you had any dealers turn you around?]
Well, I don't expect a dealer not to turn me around. I expect the bosses not to turn me around. You don't know that much about the dealers. I don't call it "turning around" when you--. 'Cause there's too many of them. You just can't tell. You just got to get some bad ones along. But the big percent's all right.

Well, a pit boss, he's a trusted man, and a dealer's a trusted man, in a way, but still, he's under supervision, see.

You don't really--get right down to it, you really don't trust him. If you did, you wouldn't have him under supervision. A lot of it's just for mistakes. It-'s not altogether just his honesty. It's just with that many men, there's just goin' to be some mistakes, and you got to have somebody there watchin' to correct 'em.

Above all, I want a man to be courteous. I don't want anybody, includin' me, or anybody, that would hurt anyone's feelin's. There's a lot of people that come in that don't know how to play. Kinda guide 'em the best you can….

Moe Dalitz and the Desert Inn

Then Moe Dalitz and Morris Kleinman, Tucker, McGinty they come in with Wilbur Clark on the Desert Inn, and when Wilbur was alive, and they was all together, I don't guess there was ever a better operation anyplace than they had there, run the smoothest. They had somebody there at all times to host, took very good care of everybody. Moe Dalitz told me he was goin' to build a golf course back there. I thought that was the dumbest thing I ever seen a gambler do. But that gold course, in my way of thinkin', now, will always keep the Desert Inn a top-notch place on account of that golf course right in their back yard.

This kind of stuff is just short parts, as I'm a-thinkin' of it. Is that all right?

[MEG: That's fine, very good.. What kind of a person is Moe Dalitz?]
Very fine man, and a terrific business man.

[MEG: Is he a colorful type?]
Oh, yeah, very colorful. Me and him puts on a party every December at the Las Vegas Country Club. And it's the best party they have around here, everybody says. Fact of business, [we're] likely to come down here next December, put on a Western party, have good food, and dance, and entertainment. I think we had about--hmmm, might've had five hundred people there last time. If it gets big, we're goin' to have to have a bigger place, it looks like.

Running the casino

[MEG: Would you like to run a place the way Harrah does?]
Well, I wouldn't. I don't like that big a place. We run pretty efficient.

[MEG: What kind of an administrative staff does it take to run a place like this?]
Well, we don't have too much bossin'. I think too much bossin"messes the thing up. I think Harrah runs about the same way. He don't have too much of a bossin' proposition. You got to have people who can do without bein' bossed. In any department, you got to have people that knows what to do, and make decisions right there. No matter what kind of help you got, if they can't make a decision, well, to me they ain't very damn good.

[MEG: So how many bosses do you have?]
Don't have too many. Three or four. But all the pit bosses is you might say a boss. Any pit boss out there makes his own decisions. He don't have to go see nobody.

[MEG: Are those the kinds of things that come up in the association meetings?]
No, no they don't--no they don't--they won't have that kind of stuff. I don't allow none of my bosses to have no assistants. If he can't do it by hisself, well, what the hell, get another man. If they get an assistant, the assistant is doin' all the work. If I want an assistant I'da hired him first.

The cashier's cage is a very important thing. When I first came here, I didn't think that I'd ever have a woman in the cashier's cage, or anywhere else. But I find that they're the best. So a guy ain't always right, you know. I think a woman makes a better cashier than a man.

[MEG: Why?]
I don't know. They just got a way of doin' it.

The Fremont Street Experience--an early prophesy

Well, now they're talkin' about eliminatin' the parking on Fremont Street, and buildin' a mall, all this, that and the other. And I just don't know whether it would be good or bad. So I just haven't had anything to say about it.

Corporate gambling

Well, the way things has got nowadays, as high as thing's got, it would be impossible for individuals to own them big hotels. Even I guess Harrah must have realized that and he went public. I don't know what in hell a man'd do with the money, and how in the hell he'd ever borrow enough money to build one of them things nowadays. When I first came here you could've owned one of them hotels.

The Strip vs. Downtown

Well, naturally it's competitive. There's thousands of people comes on the Strip don't even know there's a downtown.

Used to, in the old days, when they didn't have so many shows out there, people'd run around and they wouldn't have nothin' to do, they'd come downtown. That's the reason I've got this high limit, to attract people downtown.

The MillionDollar Display

That million dollar display is I'd say, just as good a advertising thing as they is in town.

[MEG: How did that come into being?]
Well, I went to Washington, D.C. one time, me and my family. People lined up there for five blocks to go in the Treasury ever' day there to see that money. So I had the idea of puttin' a million dollars in a glass cage of a thing. So Joe Brown had lots of money, so when he come in here, I told him about it. So he come up with the idea of puttin' it in there like it is with them ten thousand dollar bills, which was a hell of a idea, better idea than mine. So when Joe Brown died, Fremont [Hotel] was in here then, so it'd've cost sixty thousand a year then to keep the million dollars. So they didn't think it was worth the money, so put the money back in Joe Brown's estate. And we rocked along here, and then now,.when we gets it over by ourself again, well I says, "We'll put the million dollars back in." So we like to never found the ten thousand dollar bills. Parry Thomas here with the Las Vegas bank (he calls it the Nevada Bank now he's got a chain of 'em), he found these bills in a bank in New York and got 'em for us. So they say there's not too many more left; I don't really know. I ain't never seen nobody's stash. Somebody might have a lot of 'em. Well, about advertising. Naturally we have signs on the highway, and have some radio; radio to people driving in, it's pretty good advertising.

And then that million dollars advertises us a lot, you know. Them people that has their picture made there, I just wonder, there's no tellin' how valuable that is advertisement-wise, because even if they show it to two people each, that might come in here--in the summertime we take six hundred pictures a day, so that's quite a lot of people. All I know there's many a one comes in here to see it. And I know I don't know where in hell they find out about it, but they sure come to see it. So they can get their picture made.

The Stagecoach

A few years ago, I went to Oklahoma City and the Cowboy Hall of Fame there, they had the finest stagecoach that I ever seen there. So there's a girl, I knew her father, knew her always, her husband's a lawyer lived there, and I said, "God dang, I'd like to have a stagecoach like that."

So she says, she says, "I know the man that built it, very well. He's a man named John Ferzell." He did this thing for a hobby. He set up a shop, and he's got coaches from all over the world. And he give them to the state of Oklahoma. He set up his shop, put these coaches in repair.

So she called him up on the phone, said, "A friend of mine wants a stagecoach like that."

So I got on the phone and he says, "I'll build it for seven thousand dollars."

So I thought he's two thousand too high, but I says,

"Go ahead and build it."

Well, it cost him over ten thousand. There's 3,300 man hours in it. We use that to go around to all the rodeos, parades all over the country with it, keep it on the road all the time. Got a feller drives it named Carl Taylor, very good man. So there's a Wells Fargo Bank. They've got a bunch of these stagecoaches set around the lobby of their bank. So there's a feller out there at Red Bluff, California buildin' those stagecoaches for them now, and my man was out there the other day and he's chargin' them $17,000 for these coaches now.

So it's a very good crowd pleaser. And Chill Wills rides it a lot when he has time. He likes to be before the public anyhow, you know, and he gets a kick out of ridin' it. We'll have it here in the parade Saturday [Helldorado parade]. Then I'm gonna. take it from here to Clovis, New Mexico, then come back to California later this summer, show around down there in Texas and New Mexico a little bit.

The World Series of Poker

And I don't know, this poker game here gets us a lot of advertisement, this world series of poker. Last year it was in seven thousand newspapers; I don't know how many it was in this year, whether it was more or less, but we got awful good coverage on it this year. We had seven players last year, and this year we had thirteen. I look to have better than twenty next year. It's even liable to get up to be fifty. Might get up to be more than that; it will eventually.

[MEG: How did you start that?]
Well, there was a fellow by the name of Tom Moore started it in Reno, invited us all up there one year. Holiday Hotel. So we enjoyed it very much, everybody enjoyed it so; good gettogether too, you know. So Tom Moore sold out, so I says, "Well, we'll just put it on." Arid Jack took ahold of it (my oldest son), went to puttin' it on. So we've really improved it over what it did--we improve it every year. And this was the most thrilling game--I've seen lot of poker games; this one this time was the most thrilling game I've ever seen. Pug was down to $30,000 once--there's $130,000 in the game--and when it got down to two men, Pug was down to $30,000 once, Johnny Moss was down to $30,000 once. Johnny Moss come back, put Pug down to $30,000, and then Johnny bluffed his money off Pug. Johnny's a big bluffer anyhow, you know.

[MEG: He bluffed with a single ace or something didn't he?]
Yeah. Bluffed with nothin.

Yeah. Johnny Moss bluffed, single ace. But Johnny Moss's gettin' a little older. I don't doubt but what Pug was the best player, but I think a few years ago, Johnny Moss was the best. But when a guy gets older, they can't set there. I never seen but one poker player quit the game with any money when he got old, with a lot of money. He was a fellow they called "Society Red" from Dallas, Texas; name was Henry Hodges. When he got old and seen he's slippin' a little bit he quit. I guess that's about all for that.

Publicizing the World Series of Poker

Well, we do it different ways. We got Jimmy the Greek [Snyder], he handles this poker game. And I think he's gettin' to be about as good a man as there is around. He's got that column, he's got a lot of personality, he's a good speaker, and he's goin' around all over the country. And he knows all-he's got that column in a lot of papers and knows a lot of newspaper men, you know. And I think he can just get about as good a coverage as anybody. And we use him some. Fact of business we use him exclusive for the poker game.

The first year, when he put on the poker game here for us, he didn't charge us anything. Howard Hughes had just let him go, and he wanted to prove hisself, what he could do, he just took this poker game. Hell! Nobody thought you could get this much publicity out of this poker game! I didn't, but he did. He said, "I just want to show 'em what I can do with this poker game. Let me have it."

We said, "You got it!" He put it in seven thousand newspapers. So I'd say that's pretty doggone good. And all we did, we paid a few of the news papers (reporters] the expenses here. Most of 'em didn't even take it. You know, to come here.

The future of gambling

What do I think's the future of gambling in Las Vegas? I think it's all right. If it wasn't I'd be sellin' out and gettin' away from here, because I ain't married here to this--the sky's my home. I can go anywhere. I never did see no place that I just thought I couldn't leave. I was raised in a wagon too much, moved around too much. I don't miss nothin' after I leave it. Make the best out of every situation. That might sound like bull to a lot of people, but it's true.

Philosophies of life and work

Oh, I've done told you a little bit of what I think about life. I just don't think that these people walkin' around all rared back and writin' up and raisin' hell about this, that and the other, to me, they just don't mean nothin'. I just don't pay no attention to them because I know they're gonna go away. Don't mean nothin'. They'll lost their job or they'll get sick, or they'll have a stroke, or just any damn thing happen, or they'll get to doin' somethin' else. They can't stay on you forever.

[MEG: Do you feel that way about yourself, too?]
I don't do people that way. If somebody does something to me, and he kinda straightens up, I forgive him. But if he don't never straighten up, I just don't have nothin' else to do with him. Lot of guys have done things time and again and they'll come on back and I'll try lem again, try lem again. Sometimes all right, and sometimes they ain't. But I don't just never just condemn 'em. Had an old boy workin' for me one time, and he didn't have much sense. And I told him, I says, "I'm through. I'm firin' you."

He says, "Well, what have I done?" I says, "You haven't done anything." Well, he says, "I'm not gonna quit. And I'm gonna go to work."

And he did. [Laughs] Worked for me long time after that.

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Last modified Wednesday, 20-May-2009 14:05:10 PDT