WSOP Poker Legends, Benny Binion

Benny Binion has to be one of the most colourful characters in the long, convoluted history of poker and without him the game would never have been given the recognition it so enjoys today.

Benny Binion – cowboy, mobster, murderer, tax evader & celebrated father of the WSOP!

Binion clearly always lived on the edge – the son of a horse trader, Binion learned the finer points of gambling from his father’s contemporaries, the cowboys, who he never, ever forgot and up until his dying day he paid all the entry fees for all cowboys to championship events.

He was lured by the promise of easy money and initially turned to moon shining, the illegal manufacture of alcohol, but when he got into trouble with the law he set up a lottery, his first experiment in gaming. This too was illegal and destined for failure. Binion became more and more entrenched in the dark and seamy side of life and in the 1930’s he was convicted of murder. He fortuitously only had to spend a short time in prison but by the 1940’s Binion was the reigning Mafia boss in Texas!

Binion’s tenure as the Don of Dallas was short lived and by 1947 he had to flee Texas ahead of the Chicago-based mob who had demanded his territory. He ran for Las Vegas and a couple of years later had two casinos to his name – the Westerner Gambling House & Saloon and the famous Binion’s Horseshoe. He effectively cornered the early gaming market by setting towering limits on bets but this did not endear him to the other Nevada casino bosses.

Initially Binion’s high limit games engendered death threats from his competitors but they eventually capitulated and set similar high limits in their casinos.

Birth of the WSOP

Binion was famous for organising heads-up showdowns , the most eminent of which was the epic contest between Johnny Moss and ‘Nick the Greek’ Dandalos. The match lasted five months and at the end of it all ‘the Greek’ had lost over $2 million, and that was almost sixty years ago!

Binion latched on to the popularity of these poker confrontations and in 1970 he invited six high stake gamblers to take part in the ultimate challenge, at the end of which a vote was taken to determine the overall champion – Johnny moss was crowned the first Tsar of the felt tables. A year later the freezeout format with a $10 000 buy-in was introduced, and viola, the WSOP was born!