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Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas

By: Joe Valentino, Monday October 29th 2012
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The glitz and glamour of the Strip has overshadowed some of the more historic casinos in Las Vegas. One of these opened as the Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in downtown Vegas on the Fremont Street Experience in 1951. Benny Binion bought the Eldorado Club and Apache Hotel and converted them to the Horseshoe Casino. Benny had a penchant for doing things differently and this reflected in the appearance and the gambling. The casino was styled like a riverboat and was the first casino in Las Vegas to have carpeting. Benny offered comps to even the low rollers, which had them flocking to the casino. He raised the table limits sky high, which went in well with the high rollers.

One of the first attractions at the Horseshoe Casino was the heads-up poker match between the legendary player Johnny Moss and the wealthy gambler Nick “the Greek” Dandalos. It took place in 1951 and went on for months. This event brought spectators by the hordes that generated business for the casino. The Horseshoe was family business. Binion’s wife Teddy Jane managed the casino cage until her death in 1994, his sons Jack and Ted supervised the games and his daughter Becky managed the kitchen.

Benny served time from 1953 to 1957 for tax evasion. Meanwhile fellow gambler Joe W. Brown operated the casino. In 1964 Benny installed the famous $1 million dollar display on the casino floor using 100 $10,000 bills, which became a main attraction. Because of his conviction, Benny could not hold a gaming license, and therefore Jack formally took over. In 1970, Jack began hosting the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which has become the most prestigious poker event in the world today. In 1988, the Horseshoe Casino bought The Mint hotel and in it created an independent poker room.

Benny passed away in 1989. In 1998, his daughter, now Becky Behnen, acquired the casino in a legal battle with Jack. Becky became president of the Horseshoe Casino while her husband, Nick, took over as manager. The Horseshoe Casino went downhill under Becky. Despite several unpopular cost cutting measures, that included the sale of the famous Horseshoe $1 million exhibit, the casino became ensnared in debt. Worse was that the casino cage often did not have sufficient funds to pay the winners. A dispute with the unions, which began in 2002 served as the death knell for Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. The casino was forced to close down and ultimately Becky sold it to Harrah’s Entertainment in 2004.

Harrah’s retained the Horseshoe and WSOP brands and sold the physical property and the Binion’s brand to MTR Gaming Group. In 2005 MTR renamed the casino to Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel. The casino’s worn carpet was replaced with surplus carpeting that Benny Binion had stored since initially carpeting the casino. In July 2005, Binion’s hosted the WSOP main event for the last time. The event is now held at Harrah’s Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino. The casino still features displays of the Poker Hall of Fame as well as previous WSOP Champions in its poker room. In 2008 MTR sold the Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel to TLC Casino Enterprises. TLC re-installed the $1 million casino floor display in August 2008. Since $10,000 bills no longer available, the new display contains 2,700 $100 bills, 34,400 $20 bills and 42,000 $1 bills. In 2009 TLC closed the hotel, but the casino is still operative. Both Benny and Jack Binion have been inducted to the Poker Hall of Fame for their contribution to the development of poker.

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