Lester Ben Binion, known more famously as Benny Binion, was a pivotal figure in the world of gambling. And his story is as rich and complex as the games he mastered. Born on November 20, 1904, in Pilot Grove, Texas, Binion’s early life laid the foundation for a legendary journey in the gambling world.

Early Life in Pilot Grove, Texas

In the small, rural town of Pilot Grove, north of Dallas, Benny Binion’s story began. His early years were marked by challenges; poor health kept him from attending school, a circumstance that shaped much of his childhood. However, these trials also brought opportunities. Accompanying his father, a horse trader, on various trips, young Benny found himself immersed in the vibrant and often rough world of county fairs and trade days. It was in this environment, amid horse traders, farmers, and merchants, that Binion first encountered gambling. This early exposure was more than just a pastime; it was a schooling in the art of risk, reward, and reading people, skills that would later define his career.


Benny’s lack of formal education did not hinder his sharp mind. Instead, his experiences during these formative years honed his instincts for business and risk-taking. The outdoor life not only restored his health but also instilled in him a resilience and adaptability that would become his trademarks.


As Binion grew, so did his ambitions. His journey from the dusty roads of Texas to the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas was not just a change of location; it was a transformation from a young gambler to a casino mogul. His early experiences in Texas, where he established illegal gambling operations, were just the beginning of a career that would see him leave an indelible mark on the world of gambling.

horse galloping on a plain

Not Just a Gambler: Benny's Brush with the Law

Now, every great story has a bit of drama and Benny’s life was no exception. His criminal history traces back to 1924. Moonshining during the Prohibition Era? Check. Convicted for it twice? Double-check. And in a plot twist worthy of a Hollywood movie, in 1931, Benny was convicted for shooting a rum-runner named Frank Bolding. But wait, there’s more! By the end of 1936, Benny, with his private dice games in Dallas hotels, known intriguingly as the Southland Syndicate, controlled most of the gambling operations in the city. But as they say, all good things come to an end. Benny had to flee to Las Vegas in 1946 after his political protection in Dallas ran out.

Conquering Las Vegas: The Casino Years

Las Vegas, the city of dreams, was about to witness the rise of a new star. Benny first partnered with the Las Vegas Club casino for a year. But why stop there? He soon opened the Westerner Gambling House and Saloon. And in a masterstroke in 1951, he acquired the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel, birthing the legendary Binion’s Horseshoe. Ever walked on carpeted floors in a casino? Sipped on free drinks while playing? Or arrived in style in a limousine, all expenses paid? Well, you have Benny to thank for these innovations. His philosophy was simple yet revolutionary: “Good food, good whiskey cheap, and a good gamble.” A man after my own heart!

The Poker Legacy

While Benny organized poker games, he wasn’t one to frequently sit at the table. But his contributions to the game? Immense! He was the genius who arranged a head-to-head poker game between Johnny Moss and Nick “The Greek” Dandolos in 1949. And in 1970, he created the World Series of Poker, a dream for every poker enthusiast. For his unparalleled contributions, he was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1990. A standing ovation, anyone?

Family Ties and the Horseshoe Legacy

Behind every great man is a great family, right? Benny’s sons, Jack and Ted, took over the Horseshoe in 1964. Benny’s wife, the formidable Teddy Jane, managed the casino cage until 1994. And the legacy continued with his daughter Becky taking over the presidency of the Horseshoe in 1998. Talk about keeping it in the family!

Binion's Horseshoe sign at the neon boneyard in Las Vegas Nevada

More Than Just Poker: Benny's Lasting Legacy

Benny’s influence wasn’t just limited to poker. He played a pivotal role in moving the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) to Las Vegas. And for the horse lovers out there, Benny owned a horse, later referred to as “Benny Binion’s Gelding”, who was a three-time National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) World Champion.

The Final Hand: Benny's Farewell

On December 25, 1989, the world bid adieu to Benny Binion. He passed away from heart failure at the ripe age of 85. But legends never truly die, do they? He is remembered as either “the gentlest bad guy or the baddest good guy you’d ever seen.”


From the dusty roads of Pilot Grove, Texas, to the glitzy avenues of Las Vegas, Benny Binion’s journey is a testament to passion, vision, and an undying love for the game. His legacy, from the Horseshoe Casino to the World Series of Poker, continues to inspire and entertain. So, the next time you’re dealt a hand, remember the man who reshaped the world of gambling. Here’s to Benny Binion, a true king of poker!