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
content on this page is from:
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.
famous horseman at a quarterhorse sale in front of his casino.
To see photos
of Benny Binion, family, and friends, visit the Binion
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.
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.
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....
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
That's fine, very good.. What kind of a person is Moe Dalitz?]
Very fine man, and a terrific business man.
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.
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.
What kind of an administrative staff does it take to run a place
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.
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.
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.
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.
I don't know. They just got a way of doin' it.
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
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.
Strip vs. Downtown
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.
That million dollar
display is I'd say, just as good a advertising thing as they is in
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
He bluffed with a single ace or something didn't he?]
Yeah. Bluffed with nothin.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.