Binion sets sights on Nevada market?

Sep 2, 2008 7:02 PM

Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener | The fallout from the 4-3 vote that earned Harrah’s the opportunity to operate one of four state-owned casinos in Kansas, well, keeps on falling.

One of the losing bidders – this would be the Binion family – for the Sumner County license awarded Harrah’s may look for a casino project in the Las Vegas area and, this time, Jack Binion may step up and become actively involved in whatever the family does.

Harrah’s beat out the Binion Family Trust and Penn National for the casino to be built in southern Kansas’s Sumner County near the Oklahoma border primarily because of higher revenue projections.

But two of the three votes not going to Harrah’s were for the Binion Trust, the third was for Penn, which got support based on its short-lived hopes for getting two of the four casino contracts up for grabs in Kansas.

The Binion group may ultimately get back into the Kansas picture if there is anything to grumbling that alleges the Harrah’s local Kansas partners may have licensing problems. But if not, some members of the Binion family with deep roots in the Nevada gaming business may search for a Nevada venture.

Their appetite has been whetted. And why not? For a lot of years the Horseshoe provided a nice living for a lot of Binions. "There was a time when just about everyone with the Binion name was drawing some kind of paycheck from the Horseshoe," said an insider familiar with the family.

They’re said to be thinking in terms of a one location deal. They’re not interested in a company with multiple locations. They’ve got plenty of ambition and money would not seem to be a serious issue. The most interesting aspect of this possibility is that Jack Binion may decide to take an active role.

For the benefit of those who have not spent a lot of time poring over Las Vegas history books, Jack is the surviving son of the late Benny Binion who opened the Horseshoe Gambling Hall on Fremont in 1951 and over the next several decades turned it into one of the most profitable and best-known casinos in the history of the Las Vegas gambling business.

Benny Binion died in 1989 and several years later Jack turned the casino over to his sister Becky Behnen as the result of a family feud. What Jack did then was go off and develop Horseshoe Gaming, which consisted of three riverboat or dockside operations, the most successful of these being the Hammond, Indiana, casino, the best located of all the Chicagoland casinos.

Binion was barred from playing a role in the Kansas venture because of the non-compete agreement he signed in connection with the 2004 sale of Horseshoe Gaming company to Harrah’s. That agreement expired earlier this summer and as one source familiar with Binion’s thinking confided, "Jack has been looking around for something to do in Las Vegas."

His non-compete agreement with Harrah’s would have allowed him to spend up to a billion on a Las Vegas venture, but this was during a time when the cost of doing anything significant was increasing monthly. Jack was also spending lot of time then looking for opportunities in the Macau market.

But as he was telling me recently, there are "a lot of opportunities" in Las Vegas for those positioned to take advantage of the credit market crisis that has sucked the life out of some development plans.