The history of Benny Binion and The World Series of Poker
Lester Ben Binion later known worldwide as “Benny,” was born November 20, 1904, near Pilot Grove (1904 population: 150), Grayson County, Texas, the son of Lonnie Binion and the former Alma Willie Wilkerson.
Benny didn’t stay long in Pilot Grove. A restless boy, at age six he punched cows and traded horses. Literally, he grew up under the big Texas sky, sitting around campfires at night listening to the cowboys swap stories, watching them play cards.
From 1922 to 1946, Benny stood in the heart of Dallas, Texas, gambling, first as a “steer man;” guiding customers to his boss’ crap games, later as the man who ran them. Prominent customers included H.L. Hunt, Howard Hughes, and Sid Richardson.
Benny moved to Las Vegas in January 1947, with his beloved wife, Teddy Jane, and their five children: Barbara, Jack, Brenda, Ted, and Becky. He owned the Las Vegas Club and the Westerner before opening in 1951 what became the internationally famous Benny Binion’s Horseshoe. A true pioneer in Las Vegas, Benny helped transform a dusty, desert nowhere of 18,000 souls into a world entertainment capital with a one million plus population.
Benny supported numerous worthy charities, but also, on his own, came to the rescue of thousands of people – mostly the old and children – with his largesse.
A marketing genius (prestigious university business schools teach his methods), Benny drew more than a million people to the Horseshoe with a display, (which unfortunately is no longer there), of $1 million cash (It was 100 ten thousand dollar bills), next to which all the locals and tourists enjoy being photographed. Benny also brought the enormously popular, always sold out, National Finals Rodeo to Las Vegas, and the pulse stopping nationally televised World Series of Poker, offering millions in prize money, to his own ligaz11 casino.
Today Benny Binion’s Horseshoe stands as a bustling monument to its legendary founder. A mixture of the old (one can imagine Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock gambling here) and the new bedazzle its patrons, and numerous fine restaurants, including the world famous Steak house on the top floor.
Benny Binion died on Christmas Day, 1989, at age eighty-five. Gambling magnate Steve Wynn said, “He was either the toughest gentleman I ever knew, or the gentlest tough person I ever met.” U.S., Senator Harry Reid said: “He’s my hero. Nevada is a better place because him!” The House Benny built remains, amid an ocean of corporate run casinos, a family owned business. His daughter Becky carries on the tradition her father established, along with her son and Benny’s grandson, also called Benny.
Benny Binion’s dream – bringing the world’s greatest poker players together for the planet’s best poker tournament – continues to thrive and flourish. Between April and May every year the events (are now extended to run over 5 weeks and the main event taking 5 days), the richest, most prestigious card game on earth will once again take place at the House Benny Built.
He loved poker players and high stakes action – in his 85 years he never encountered a bet too large to cover – and the World Series of Poker was one of his finest achievements.
One and a half Million Dollars – maybe more – will be taken home by this year’s World Champion. That’s more than the winner of the Kentucky Derby or the Wimbledon championship, or the man who captures the Masters. More importantly, the World Series of Poker is a true World Championship. Unlike baseball’s World Series, numbering players from very few countries, the World Series of Poker attracts the best and brightest from even the most remote corners of the globe.
Best of all, players don’t need a big reputation or a winning team behind them to participate. Anyone over 21 years of age can enter and compete and, who knows, maybe even win. The element of luck, and the limited time span of the tournament (it’s not as though you’re butting heads with someone like Amarillo “Slim” Preston on a slow boat to China) can make contenders out of long shots.
Not only does a big payday await the champion, but the recognition of belonging to the elite of the elite. He (or she) will be enshrined on the Horseshoe’s Wall of Fame, joining such titans of the game as Johnny Moss, Johnny Chan, Puggy Pearson, Stu Ungar, Sailor Roberts, Doyle Brunson and Bobby Baldwin.
The World Series of Poker is televised nationally and shown internationally, with press coverage at a maximum. But the real attraction, of course, will take place at the tables with high stakes action and heart-stopping drama.
Benny Binion would have loved it! And he would be proud that the hospitality and first-rate service he always insisted upon continues to the present day. It all begins with the announcement, “Shuffle up and deal.”
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