Lester 'Benny' Binion

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Lester 'Benny' Binion

Considered by many as the founding father of modern poker and a patriarch of Las Vegas, Benny Binion changed the face of gambling forever. His actions forced casinos to evolve from the spit and sawdust saloons of the mid nineteen hundreds to the carpeted pleasure domes we see today.

I never did learn how to do any of these tricks like cheat people, which I'm kind of proud of now. But I was always pretty capable about keeping from gettin' cheated

Benny was the first casino operator to use limousines to ferry players round Las Vegas and the first to offer free drinks to slot machine enthusiasts. Perhaps his most famous contribution was the introduction of high stakes gambling in Las Vegas, giving gamblers for the first time, a fair chance of winning big. A symbol of his influence and stature can be seen if you walk to the corner of Second Street and Ogden Avenue - where you will find a statue commemorating his life.

Though one of the most charismatic figures in gambling, Binion was also one of the toughest - in his younger years regularly being involved in bloody gang wars both in Dallas and Las Vegas. During the Great Depression one such event saw Binion square up to the local bootlegger, Frank Bolding, who he suspected of stealing liquor. Frank was known for being a vicious gangster with a penchant for killing with a knife. Arguing in the back yard, Bolding made a sudden movement and Binion responded by rolling backwards off the log he was perched on, pulling his gun and firing mid role. The bullet hit Bolding through the neck killing him instantly. Such uncanny marksmanship gained Binion the name "The Cowboy" and a two year suspended sentence.

Lester 'Benny' Binion

Five years later he killed another casino operator, Ben Frieden, for which he was cleared on the grounds of self defence. Despite the rumours that surrounded him for much of this life, these where the only two killings that could officially be attributed to him. Herbert "The Cat" Noble, another Vegas tough guy, was convinced that Binion was responsible for the murder of his wife in a car bomb. Consequently, he spent a good part of his life trying to get even, culminating in his attempt to fly a plane rigged with two bombs straight into Binion's Vegas mansion!

Like his great friend Johnny Moss, the dangerous world Binion inhabited seems more fitting for a movies script than real life - an indication of just how far the world of gambling has come in his life time. And despite the violence that surrounded his early life he was always considered a man of the utmost honesty, once quoted as saying:

"I never did learn how to do any of these tricks like cheat people, which I'm kind of proud of now. But I was always pretty capable about keeping from gettin' cheated"

Arguably his greatest achievement was the development of The World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Along with his two sons, he introduced the first WSOP in 1970 with a grand prize of $10,000 and 8 participants. Today the WSOP is a world phenomenon with over 2500 entrants and global TV coverage.

Binion passed away on Christmas Day 1989 with over 1000 people attending his funeral - a testament to his endearing popularity. After his death, gambling magnate Steve Wynn said, "He was either the toughest gentleman I ever knew, or the gentlest tough person I ever met." and amazingly for a man who achieved so much in life he never even received a school education.

"If you wanta get rich people, make little people feel like big people" - Benny Binion, 1904 - 1989.

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