Benny Binion – Father of the World Series of Poker
A renowned casino owner and poker buff, Lester Ben "Benny" Binion (November 20, 1904 – December 25, 1989) gave birth to the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which has become the largest and most famous series of poker tournaments in the world.
"The Baddest Good Guy You’ve Ever Seen"
Born and raised in Grayson County, Texas, Binion moved to El Paso at age 17, where he was twice convicted of moonshining.
Binion learned to gamble in El Paso in 1928 when he gave up moonshining and established an illegal numbers game.
In 1931 Binion was convicted of murdering Frank Bolding, who he shot during an argument, but only got a two-year suspended sentence due to the other man’s poor reputation. Binion would later kill a fellow numbers operator who drew a gun on him; he was found not guilty for reasons of self-defence.
Binion was the head mob boss in Dallas by the early 1940s but moved to Las Vegas in 1946 following the arrival of the Chicago mob after World War II.
In 1946, Binion partnered in the Las Vegas Club casino, but left the next year due to bet limit disagreements. In 1951 he bought the building, opening it as the Westerner Gambling House and Saloon.
He also bought the Eldorado Club and Apache Hotel, opening them as Binion’s Horseshoe casino.
Binion changed the face of Vegas casinos with his generous "Good food, good whiskey, good gamble" philosophy.
He served time for tax evasion in Leavenworth Penitentiary between 1953 and 1957, and was banned from ever again holding a gambling license, although in 1964 his family regained control of his casinos.
World Series of Poker
In 1949, Binion arranged a head-to-head poker tournament between Johnny Moss and "Nick the Greek" Dandalos, which went on for five months.
Binion continued setting up heads-up matches between major players over the following years. Then, in 1970, he invited six high-stakes players to compete for cash, with the winner being decided by vote.
Johnny Moss won the tournament, and the next year saw the birth of the freeze-out format with a $10 000 buy-in: dubbed "The World Series of Poker".
The WSOP has been a major factor in the growth of poker’s popularity. In 1973, Binion predicted that one day there would be more than 50 entrants to the World Series; by 2006, the main event alone attracted over 8 700 entries.
Binion was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1990.