Benny Binion was a piece of work

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Hall of Famer T.J. Cloutier, winner of six bracelets at the WSOP, told this story in his book, Championship Omaha.

Benny Binion was a piece of work. We used to sit around a big circular table behind the Sombrero Room at the Horseshoe and he’d tell us stories about his gambling days back in Texas when he ran the dice games and other kinds of gambling in Dallas.

“You never worried about getting broke. If you got broke, you just went out and robbed the bootleggers,” he said. “Just push a gun in a bootlegger’s face, take his money, and you had a bankroll again. They couldn’t go to the cops because they were running an illegal business.”

When Benny first came to the Horseshoe he never forgot his old compadres who had gone to jail for a little while here, a little while there. He knew they wouldn’t try to rob him because of his reputation, so he hired them all. When he first started, he had all those thieves working for him. He taught them and they all became great workers, all pro-Benny, and that’s one reason why the Horseshoe went over so big.

Natey Blank was an old loan shark who had been connected a little bit in the old days. Benny had to take some money from Vegas to Reno and he was worried that Natey knew about it and was going to have him robbed. So he did the right thing: He hired Natey as a bodyguard to go up there with him. Benny was sharp!

Benny treated his whole family great, had all of them working in the casino. Of course, there’s been a lot of tragedy in that family, you know. First there was Barbara and then Teddy, they’re both dead. Barbara had a problem with drugs.

We were sitting at breakfast one morning and Benny said, “Fellas, I just let it be known in the damned whole town that if I hear of one man selling one thing of dope to Barbara, he’s a dead man.”

Benny helped more people in Vegas than anybody realizes. In the old days all the casinos banked their money on Friday and they’d keep a certain amount on hand. Benny was always the cash place – if somebody put a big hit on one of the casinos on the Strip, they’d come downtown and get money from Benny or have the Horseshoe send money out to them so they’d have the cash to pay him off.

Benny liked to play poker but he wasn’t a great player. The Fremont used to have a big game with Tommy Abdul, a big bookmaker, and Billy Davis and Nick the Greek Dandolos, who was being backed by the Fremont at the time. Hell, he was a millionaire 77 times and broke again.

They used to play real high razz to let people see them playing. And that’s one reason why Benny started the World Series – he wanted to put all the best poker players in the world in one spot and see who was the best. He always had business in mind, too, so he put them on display.

He loved poker, but above all else, Benny’s real passion was good food.

Personally, I never liked his chili, but they called it “Benny Binion’s Famous Chili.”

He had a ranch up in Montana, a big spread, so all the beef at the Horseshoe came off his ranch. The food was fabulous during the World Series. He always had some oddball item in the players’ buffet line: buffalo steaks, rattlesnake, bear meat, whatever, and the main course was never repeated at any time during the entire tournament.

I miss those days. 

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