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Is Binion’s betting on Jack?

Oct 8, 2002 7:29 AM

With Binion’s Horseshoe reeling from a state-ordered shutdown of hundreds of slots and dozens of table games, insiders are asking the obvious question: Will Jack ride to the rescue?

   The owner of Horseshoe Gaming was at the troubled downtown casino last week, reliable sources tell GamingToday. Word is that he’s eyeing a takeover.

   But sources say this is no philanthropic venture.

    “He’s certainly not doing it for his sister, let alone his brother-in-law,’’ one industry observer said. His long-standing family feud with sister Becky Behnen and her husband Nick sent Jack off to the Midwest and South, where his riverboats have racked up strong numbers.

   Binion’s, under Behnen, looks more like an amputee in critical condition. Vendors, including slot participation games, claim they are not being paid and yanked some machines even before regulators moved in. The Fremont Street Experience sued Binion’s for being $2 million in arrears on dues. Even the World Series of Poker has been mired in legal challenges over tip disbursements.

   Last week’s action by the Gaming Control Board marked a new low for the house that Benny built. Agents shut down more than 600 slots and three-quarters of the table game pits because the casino failed to have “sufficient financial reserves,’’ a minimum reportedly set at $1.2 million.

   On the other hand, the poker pit has emerged unscathed. All 14 tables remain open. Binion’s executives blamed the cash flow shortage on an unexpectedly large number of employees cashing their paychecks in-house.

   Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander told GamingToday that Binion’s future prospects “are entirely up to them.” If the gambling hall builds its cash reserves, it can open more games. If reserves fall further, more games will be pulled.

   “We’re monitoring the situation daily. We’re concerned,’’ he said.

   Sources blame many of Binion’s problems on Nick Behnen, who reportedly carries out key management decisions such as hiring and firing — of which there have been dozens over the past few months.

   But Behnen does not hold a gaming license. And state gaming officials were told at the time of Becky Binion’s licensing that her colorful husband would not be involved in any management capacity at the property.

   Neilander issued a brusque “no-comment” when asked about Nick Behnen. But insiders say a full probe of the property’s operation is long overdue, and is probably under way.

   Calls to Binion’s executive offices were not returned.

   Jack Binion also was not available. But one insider said he’s definitely kicking the tires at the sagging property. “Even with all the problems, he just can’t help himself,’’ the source said of Benny’s eldest son.

   Meantime, problems seem to be accelerating at the 51-year-old gambling hall. The main casino cage was closed last month and a once-popular Chinese restaurant was also shuttered, with no replacement in sight. Even the craps pit went dark.

   After gaming agents roped off large sections of the casino last Tuesday, several players headed for their personal safety deposit boxes and took the contents off the premises.

    “You go in some entrances and it looks like a ghost town,’’ said one long-time player. “But then it’s looked that way for awhile.’’