Jack Binion tapped for WSOP

Oct 19, 2004 5:55 AM


Jack Binion, who hosted the first World Series of Poker at his father Benny’s Horseshoe Casino in 1970, returns to the world of high-stakes poker as the host of the new World Series of Poker Tournament Circuit.

Established by Harrah’s, which this year purchased the rights to the World Series of Poker, the Tournament Circuit will be a nationwide series of poker events culminating in the 2005 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions next summer.

"It is difficult to imagine the World Series of Poker without a Binion," said Ginny Shanks, senior vice president of acquisition marketing for Harrah’s. "Like his legendary father, Benny, Jack has built a reputation as one of the best-known and most respected figures in the gaming industry. Most of the world’s elite poker players have known him for years, and consider him a good friend. We’re honored he’s agreed to join us as we turn the tournament he created into a national circuit."

Binion created the tournament in 1970 when he was president and COO (chief operating officer) of Binion’s Horseshoe. Since its inception the tournament has evolved into the premier high-stakes poker event in the country.

"At Horseshoe, we were proud of the innovations we brought to the industry, including the World Series of Poker," Binion said. "In that same spirit, this is very exciting for me to be a part of this new poker circuit."

The circuit will kick off Jan. 7, 2005 with a 12-day tournament at Harrah’s Atlantic City. Four more events will be held through May with tourneys scheduled at Harrah’s Rincon near San Diego, the Rio in Las Vegas, Harvey’s Lake Tahoe and Harrah’s New Orleans. The top players in these tourneys will receive a berth in the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions.

Choosing Binion to host the tournament events is a stroke of genius for Harrah’s. There are few names more synonymous with the casino industry than Binion”˜s.

Inheriting the Horseshoe legacy from his father Benny, Jack Binion developed the Horseshoe Casino into a Las Vegas icon, renowned for its high limits and generous odds. Horseshoe’s reputation as a pure gambling joint grew, and Binion cemented that reputation in 1970 when Horseshoe hosted the first-ever gambling tournament: The World Series of Poker.

Binion has always recognized the importance of giving his guests the best gamble along with personalized customer service. When the famous Las Vegas Hilton baccarat dealers 14 years ago wanted a casino to book their single weekly football bet, Binion agreed to take the action all the way to their goal of $1 million. Unfortunately for the baccarat dealers, they lost in the 12th week of the NFL season after running up their weekly win to $162,000.

Binion also committed himself to being visible and available to his patrons, oftentimes in the buffet line or coffee shop, where he mingled with customers. And his hands-on management style endeared him to customers and employees alike.
In 1994, Binion brought the Horseshoe style to the Midwest. He established the privately held Horseshoe Gaming Holding Corp., and opened the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana, and later a second Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. Both properties quickly established themselves as market leaders.

In 1998, Binion owned about 43 percent of Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas. But in a dispute with his sister, Becky, he sold his interest and resigned as chief executive officer.

The following year Binion purchased the Empress Casinos in Joliet, Illinois, and Hammond, Indiana. Binion quickly sparked double-digit increases in revenues at the two properties. In 2001, Binion sold the Empress Casino in Joliet and converted the Empress in Hammond to his third Horseshoe property, which became his third market leader.
At the time, the combined Horseshoe properties employed nearly 7,800 people, generated annual revenues of approximately $840 million, and offered gamblers more than 137,000 square feet of gaming space.
"Success," Binion said, "has always been measured by satisfied customers. That’s the one thing I’m most proud of: Our commitment to providing superior customer satisfaction, whether it’s through our odds and limits, our restaurants, or the comfort of our hotels.

"That was the staple of our success in Las Vegas," he continued, "and it’s the reason we were so successful in the Midwest."
That success did not go unrewarded. In September 2003, less than 10 years after starting the company, Binion agreed to sell Horseshoe Gaming and its properties to Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. in one of the largest casino transactions ever. The deal was finalized just a few months ago.
Jack Binion may very well be the last casino owner to bring a family-owned and operated flair to the business. Poker players will be happy to feel his presence once again at the green-felt tables.