Lester “Benny” Binion was born in 1904 and died in 1989. He was a Texas man from Pilot Grove. Benny’s parents were not ones to set down roots. He and his family travelled around Texas, so much so that Binion never attended any school. By 18, Binion moved to El Paso. He started bootlegging. By the 1930s he had been arrested twice and convicted for bootlegging. He even promised the judge at one point that if he was not thrown in jail he would quit the liquor business. Instead of staying with moonshine, he turned to gambling. There were quite a few illegal lotteries out there, so he just went to the big cities to join a few of these games.
After the government stepped in around 1936, Benny Binion decided to head back to Texas and set up craps games in hotel rooms. He set up shop near the Beaumont oilfield due to the money that was always there. Hijackers often tried to get the winnings, so Benny carried three guns with him at all times.
It is said that in 1931 Benny killed a fellow bootlegger during an argument. He stated the man was going to stab him, so he killed him first. It is one of the reasons he ended up in court. He was given a two year suspended sentence since the dead man was noted for his violence and killer instincts. In 1936, Benny killed a rival operator who pulled a gun on him. Benny had put his arms up in defense and was shot in the armpit. Benny grabbed the gun and turned it on the numbers man. In this court appearance he was found innocent.
Violence continued to increase during the late 30s and mid 40s. It was enough to make Binion move to Las Vegas after several of his rivals died. One of the rivals actually saw his wife blown up by a car bomb. He felt it was Benny who had killed his wife, so he rigged a small plane to fly over Vegas and drop them on Binion’s house. He did not manage this feat as the police caught him, but the rival died due to a bomb under his mailbox.
In 1947, Binion put his money into J. Kell Houssels Las Vegas Club. In 1951 he opened the Horseshoe Casino. Binion was known for creating the biggest action in town. Two years after opening however, he had to sell controlling interest due to legal costs. The court in Texas was trying him for racketeering charges. He was given three and a half years for income tax evasion. It would take more than ten years for Binion’s family to get control of the casino again. Binion was unable to hold a gaming licence again, so he had to rely on family. Binion started poker games in the 1970s, which helped lead to the WSOP.
Benny died in 1989 of heart failure. His life was packed with dangers, but he did manage to live beyond them.