Binion's Horseshoe


Binion's Horseshoe

Binion's Horseshoe, also known as the Horseshoe Casino or simply The Horseshoe, was a hotel and casino located in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada on what is now the Fremont Street Experience. The casino was named for its founder, Benny Binion and had 366 rooms, three restaurants and a rooftop pool.

The property is still open, but Harrahs owns the The Horseshoe brand name. As of 2008 it is owned by TLC Corporation and runs under the name Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel.

Binion also instituted high table limits. When he first opened the Horseshoe, he set the craps table limit at $500--ten times higher than any other casino in Las Vegas at the time. Ultimately, Binion's raised the table limit to $10,000 and even eliminated table limits completely at times, which was an immediate hit.

Unlike other casinos, the emphasis at Binion's was on gambling, not on big performing acts. The casino was also very egalitarian; there were no private pits for high rollers.

Binion's entire family was involved in the casino. His wife Teddy Jane managed the casino cage until her death in 1994. His sons, Jack and Ted, supervised the games. His daughter, Becky (later Becky Binion Behnen), managed the kitchen.
The Horseshoe brand was used for several casino properties owned by the Binion family members. While not part of the same company, the other Horseshoe Casinos were owned by Jack Binion, a co-owner of Binion's.

History

Benny Binion bought the Eldorado Club and Apache Hotel in 1951, re-opening them as the Horseshoe Casino. He styled it like an old-style riverboat, with low ceilings and velvet wallpaper. It was the first casino to have carpeting, as well as comps that were offered to all gamblers. Benny believed that small-time gamblers should get the same comps as those who bet big money.

Benny served time in Leavenworth Penitentiary from 1953 to 1957 for tax evasion. He sold his share of the casino to fellow gambler Joe W. Brown to pay approximately $5 million in legal costs. It was generally understood, however, that Brown was only a caretaker, and Benny regained controlling interest in 1957. He did not regain full control, however, until 1964.

While Brown operated the casino, he installed the famous $1 million dollar display on the casino floor. He sold the display in 1959 and it was later recreated using 100 $10,000 bills by Benny in 1964. The display became one of the casinos attractions.

As a convicted felon, Benny was no longer allowed to hold a gaming license, so his sons took over day-to-day control when the family bought out Brown. Jack became president while Ted became casino manager. Benny remained on the payroll as a "consultant" until his death in 1989.

In 1970, Jack began hosting the World Series of Poker (WSOP) at the Horseshoe. Eventually, the WSOP became the largest set of poker tournaments in the world. In 1988, the Horseshoe expanded by acquiring The Mint, a high-rise hotel on the west side of the casino. The expansion of the casino from this purchase provided room for Binion's first poker room.

Ted was under constant scrutiny from the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1986 onward for drug problems and associating with known mob figure "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein. He would ultimately be banned from even entering his family's casino. In 1998, he was stripped of his gaming license for his continued association with Blitzstein. He was forced to sell his 20 percent interest to his younger sister, Becky.

In 1998 Becky Behnen acquired controlling interest in the casino following a protracted legal battle with her older brother Jack. The battle ended with Jack being bought out while retaining a 1% interest in the casino so that he could retain his Nevada gaming license. Jack moved on to other gambling interests. Behnen became president of the Horseshoe while her husband, Nick, took over as manager.

Behnen implemented several cost-cutting measures, most of which were unpopular with the gamblers. Among the most notable was the removal of the Horseshoe exhibit that held $1 million, having been sold to collector Jay Parrino, that had served as a backdrop for free pictures of visitors.

She also made changes in the distribution of the money from the entry fees in the World Series of Poker that were unpopular with the casino dealers, and closed a popular restaurant in the casino. Benny had used one of the tables in the restaurant as his office. Despite these measures, the Horseshoe became bogged down in debt. Under her father and brothers, the Horseshoe had reportedly been the most profitable casino in Las Vegas (it was privately held, so it never had to report its earnings).

Behnen also attracted the attention of the state regulators by failing to keep sufficient funds available to pay winners in the casino cage. Bob Stupak also drew negative publicity to the casino when he tried to redeem his $5,000 casino tokens, some of which were stored in the casino's own safe deposit boxes, and Becky refused to honor them.

Behnen's undoing, however, was a dispute with the unions that represented some of the Horseshoe's employees. In November 2002, the Culinary Workers Union and Bartenders Union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Behnen hadn't signed a collective bargaining agreement and had fallen behind on medical insurance and pension payments. The parties a settlement in March 2003 in which the Horseshoe signed the collective bargaining agreement and agreed to pay the owed money. However, the Horseshoe fell behind on its payments, leading a federal judge to issue two separate judgments ordering the Horseshoe to pay over $1.5 million. The judgments gave the union the right to seize the money if regular payments weren't being met.

However, the casino stopped making payments in June. After holding off numerous times, on December 5 the Culinary Union obtained a court order authorizing the seizure of up to $1.9 million from the Horseshoe casino cage. The seizure took place on January 9; ultimately federal marshals and IRS agents seized $1 million in order to satisfy debts owed to the Southern Nevada Culinary and Bartenders Pension Trust Fund and to the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union Welfare Fund. The seizure effectively depleted the Horseshoe's bankroll, forcing it to close. A day later, the hotel was shut down as well, and Behnen reached an agreement with the Nevada Gaming Commission to keep the casino closed until its bankroll was replenished.

A few days later, on January 23, Behnen reached a deal to sell the Horseshoe to Harrah's Entertainment. The deal closed in March 2004. Almost immediately, on March 11, Harrah's sold the Horseshoe to MTR Gaming Group. Harrah's retained the rights to the Horseshoe brand and the World Series of Poker when it sold the casino and hotel, but sold the Binion's brand. The land the casino sits on is still leased from multiple owners.

Binion's reopened in April 2004, with MTR Gaming operating the hotel and Harrah's Entertainment operating the casino, while MTR Gaming completed the process of acquiring the required gaming license. Harrah's continued to operate the casino under a temporary contract with MTR Gaming until March 11, 2005 when MTR Gaming Group officially took control of the operation of the casino and renamed it Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel.

MTR Gaming remodeled both the casino and hotel after the purchase. A notable feature of the remodeling was to replace the casino's worn carpet with surplus carpeting that Benny Binion had stored since initially carpeting the casino. (Credit: Wikipedia).

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