Born in Texas in 1904, Benny Binion began his gambling career in horse-trading circles. By the 1930s – during the Prohibition years – he was running illegal bootlegging and dice gambling rackets in Dallas, Texas. His story is among the most colourful of any of the top poker players.
According to John 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." After being forced to close his Dallas operations (and possibly to escape the law!), he headed to Las Vegas in 1946.
In 1951, Benny Binion bought the then dilapidated Eldorado Casino and renamed it Binion’s Horseshoe. His sons Ted and Jack supervised the games and his wife Teddy Jane kept the books. Within a short period, Binion’s Horseshoe became known as a top Vegas venue for high-stakes gambling.
For over 40 years, Benny Binion continued advertising that he would accept a wager of any size from any player who entered Binion’s Horseshoe. Many high-rolling gamblers took Binion on – sometimes literally with suitcases of money wagered on a roll of the dice – but few succeeded.
In 1953, Binion faced jail time as a result of federal tax violations. He then "sold" the Horseshoe to a friend, Joe W. Brown. Brown then returned partial ownership of the casino to Binion when he was released from prison in 1957. By 1964, the casino was again fully owned by Binion.
In 1970, Benny Binion initiated the World Series of Poker by inviting a group of poker’s most elite players to participate in a tournament at the Horseshoe. This event is still held annually at Binion’s casino, and remains the most prestigious poker tournament in the world.
In the 1980s, the Horseshoe was expanded through the acquisition of the next-door Mint casino, with its high-rise tower and hotel rooms.
Benny Binion died on Christmas Day in 1989, at age 85. The Binion family still operates the Binion’s Horseshoe Casino.