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AAA/Diana Beyer

Benny BinionAmerica's 21st century poker fascination owes a huge debt to Benny Binion, a Texas gambler and for more than 50 years a casino pioneer—when he wasn't behind bars. The demise of his family-run landmark Binion's Horseshoe slammed the door on another Western era, giving way to the big-business casino ownership model of modern Las Vegas. The legend goes something like this.

Born near Dallas, Binion learned gambling as a lad at the feet of horse traders like his father. Not all of them played by the rules, and the action Binion went on to provide was as illegal as his Prohibition bootlegging. The would-be cowboy routinely packed pistols. He was convicted of gunning down a competitor but got off easy because the corpse was nefarious. More deaths followed in Texas gambling circles. Binion never went to jail for any of them.

Diminishing tolerance for vice in Texas pushed Binion to Las Vegas, where he opened the gambling hall bearing his name in 1951. Benny had a knack for marketing gimmicks. He is credited for first putting carpet on a downtown casino floor—a quaint upgrade by today's mega-resort standards. He reputedly also started the system of picking up customers with airport limousines and providing free booze to gamblers.

More importantly, though, Binion raised the limits a gambler could bet to 10 times the craps wagers at other casinos. He continued such stunts and profitably packed the joint. Running Binion's was a family matter: Two sons had key management roles and his wife, Teddy Jane, kept the books. Binion finally went to jail for tax evasion, back in Texas. By 1970 he had recovered possession of the Horseshoe.

That same year the Horseshoe first hosted the World Series of Poker, which became an annual event. Poker was not regarded as a respectable game at the time, but Benny promoted it and devised rules that made it interesting for spectators. Television began to broadcast the event. There were fewer than 20 players at the early tournaments; today there are thousands.

AAA/Diana Beyer
Business boomed and in 1988, Binion's Horseshoe was expanded by acquiring an adjacent high-rise hotel, The Mint. Benny Binion died the following year. Son Jack continued to run the casino until 1998 when, after a legal battle, he relinquished his presidency to his sister Becky.

It was the beginning of the end for Binion's Horseshoe. Under her control, the casino lost money. Harrah's Entertainment purchased the property in March 2004 and promptly sold it to MTR Gaming Group, renaming it Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel. But, in 2009, the hotel shut down. Today only the gritty old-school casino remains.

Despite Benny Binion's shady past, there's no denying the Texan who also helped bring the National Finals Rodeo to town was instrumental in shaping Vegas. Benny and his way of life are gone. But a bronze statue at Second Street and Ogden Avenue, of Binion on horseback, wearing his signature Stetson, attests to his legacy.

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Las Vegas, NV

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Travel Information

City Population

583,756

Elevation

2,181 ft.

Sales Tax

Clark County's sales tax is 8.25 percent. The county also imposes a 12 percent tax on lodgings, with an additional 1 percent tax for properties within the city of Las Vegas boundaries.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

311, or (702) 828-3111 (also valid for TTY)

Fire (non-emergency)

(702) 383-2888

Hospitals

Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, (702) 733-8800; MountainView Hospital, (702) 962-5000; Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center, (702) 853-3000; Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, (702) 961-5000; University Medical Center, (702) 383-2000; Valley Hospital Medical Center, (702) 388-4000.

Visitor Information

3150 Paradise Rd. Las Vegas, NV 89109. Phone:(702)892-0711 or (877)847-4858

Air Travel

McCarran International Airport (LAS) is about 10 miles south of downtown Las Vegas via Las Vegas Boulevard and 3.5 miles south of the Las Vegas Convention Center via Paradise Road, just a few minutes' drive from the Strip's southern end. One of the nation's busiest airports, it serves most major airlines.

Rental Cars

Hertz offers discounts to AAA members; phone (702) 262-7700 for the airport, (800) 654-3131 for the Strip.

Buses

Greyhound Lines Inc., 200 S. Main St., is the major bus company serving Las Vegas; phone (702) 384-9561.

Taxis

Major cab companies include Ace, (702) 888-4888; Checker/Yellow Cab/Star, (702) 873-8012; and Whittlesea Blue Cab, (702) 384-6111. Base activation fee is $3.50 and $2.88 for each mile, plus 54 cents for every minute the cab is waiting or traveling under 8 to 12 mph. Trips to the airport incur a $2 surcharge. Payment by credit card incurs a fee of $3.

Public Transportation

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) provides bus service to most parts of the city. The most useful to visitors are the Deuce double-decker buses serving the Strip. The buses operate 24 hours daily, run every 7-10 minutes and stop at nearly every Strip hotel property.

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