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WSOP Retrospective
Binion's Horseshoe History

Binion's Horseshoe is one of the most storied casinos in Las Vegas and, therefore, the United States. This brief summary of the casino's story should not be taken as definitive.

The Horseshoe from the air
The Horseshoe and its longtime neighbor, the Mint.

Binion's Horseshoe was the culmination of five years in Las Vegas for Benny Binion. Born in Pilot Grove, Texas, in 1904, Binion developed an early interest in gambling. As a young man, he moved in horse-trading circles and, as most of the horse traders were inveterate gamblers, also became a gambler.

In 1928, Binoin began running a "numbers" or "policy" operation in Dallas. During Prohibition, Binion by his own admission "did some bootlegging" but never ran a profit. According to John L Smith of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Binion was a suspect in seven Texas murders and a "living legend who crafted his image with muscle, blood, and a keen eye for the action' (LVRJ 12-28-89). Binion was, above all, a gambler. Beginning in 1936, he got involved in the "dice business" (illegal craps games). In 1946, Binion came out on the losing end of electoral politics, and, lacking political protection, was forced to close his operations in Dallas.

While some of his confederates went to Reno, Binion followed J. Kell Houssels to Las Vegas, where he acquired a part ownership of the Las Vegas Club. Binion then built the Westerner, but in 1951 decided to buy the Eldorado Club.

Binion renamed the gambling hall the Horseshoe and immediately installed carpeting--a novel idea for downtown clubs at the time. The Horseshoe was, from the beginning, a family affair; his two sons, Ted and Jack, supervised the games and his wife Teddy Jane kept the books.

Above the Horseshoe was the Apache Hotel, a small hostelry that eventually became part of the Horseshoe.

The Horseshoe gained a reputation for high limits, the trademark of Binion's approach to gambling. Because of trouble with Texas and, later, federal authorities, Binion always had difficulty with licensing. Still, he was the acknowledged boss of Binion's and ran his casino with a mixutre of Western hospitality, gambler's resignation to chance, and hard-edged Texas grit. Federal Tax problems led to a prison stint, and in 1953 he "sold" his casino to fellow gambler Joe W. Brown, though Brown's ownership was understood to be of a strictly caretaker nature.

When he was released from prison in 1957, Binion re-acquired the casino from his friend Brown, though he did not recapture 100% ownership until 1964. In the meantime, he renovated the building, adding its now-classic neon facade.

In 1970, Binion hosted the first World Series of Poker, then a small tournament of truly elite players. The World Series was both a poker tournament and a premier advertisement for the casino. Other marketing efforts included the famous $1 million dollar display and a working stagecoach that traveled the rodeo circuit.

Part of the Horseshoe's charm was its intimate size but, all things considered, large casinos are more profitable than small ones, so the Horseshoe, like most other Fremont Street casinos, sought to expand in the 1980s. In 1988, the Horseshoe acquired its next-door neighbor the Mint. The Horseshoe's neon facade soon enveloped the Mint, and the Mint's highrise tower gave the Horseshoe a bevy of hotel rooms and a new vertical prominence.

Though Benny Binion passed away on Christmas Day, 1989, the Horseshoe remained a family business. Son Jack Binion had already run the casino for years, and he continued to make the Horseshoe a downtown Las Vegas flagship. In 1998, following a legal battle, Jack surrendered the presidency of the Las Vegas Horseshoe to his sister Becky Binion Behnen.

Jack Binion remained an important figure in gaming. His Horseshoe casinos in Shreveport, Louisiana, Hammond, Indiana, and Tunica, Mississippi became incredibly successful. In 2004 he sold his casino company to Harrah's Entertainment.

Under the leadership of Becky Behnen, Binion's Horseshoe continued to host the World Series of Poker through 2003. The casino closed in January 2004, but was bought in March of that year by Harrah's Entertainment. Harrah's subsequently sold the casino to MTR Gaming, who renamed it "Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel," while retaining the rights to the Horseshoe name and the World Series of Poker. The MTR subsequently sold the property to the TLC group, owners of the nearby Four Queens.

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Last modified Wednesday, 20-May-2009 14:06:48 PDT