In the new series of sketches about life in the world of gambling, we will tell you about the most odious personalities of Las Vegas, who have made their invaluable, and sometimes notorious contribution to the development of the poker world.
And the first hero will be Benny Bignon, who came to Las Vegas right after World War II.
Then few people could have guessed that this man would change the life of the “city of sins” forever.
The motto, “Make the little man feel big if you want to be rich,” quickly turned his freelance casino Horseshoe into one of the best in Vegas.
But the biggest success of genius poker marketing was the invention of the World Series of Poker – WSOP.
So today we will talk about the man who made Las Vegas what it is today – the most magnificent and crazy place on Earth.
Tough times are hardening people up.
When the first journalists and photo reporters arrived in Vegas in the mid-70s to cover the first WSOP series, they were impressed by the charm of Benny Bignon, who was constantly smiling and shaking hands.
As the innovator and author of the new poker festival, which grew from year to year, Bignon seemed too good a person in this card world of “fraud and illusion”.
Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston once said about his mentor such a phrase: “He was the most disciplined bad guy or the worst of the good guys that you have seen in your life.
Bignon’s answer was si mple: “Difficult times harden people.” And he knew what he was talking about.
Born November 20, 1904, in the Texas village of Pylott Grove (194 people), he was doomed from day one to fight for survival in this world.
He was often ill in childhood, growing up a weak child, so his parents sent him to school instead of traditional farm work. However, his father did not give him any special allowances, preferring to raise his son on the principle of “if you want to survive, be able to spin”. And it worked. Left alone with himself and his destiny, young Benny found strength in himself.
The new twist is illegal gambling
The great economic depression of the 30s could not pass by Bignon, who lost his sources of legal income.
This did not embarrass him and he went into “moonshine”, but after the police caught him twice on this case, Benny realized that his talents must be realized in something else.
Gambling! More precisely, illegal gambling, which thrived at a time when a young man with an entrepreneurial streak liked much more, and Bignon saw them as his chance.
He borrowed $50 (big money at the time) and organized his first lottery. A week later, he had $800 in his hands!
On the other hand, even then, in the early 1930s, he begins to get into the police reports due to his wild temperament.
A noteworthy “milestone” in Bignon’s career was a dispute with alcoholic smuggler Frank Bolding, notorious for his cruelty. But Benny managed to almost break his last neck, getting off with a two-year suspended sentence because the court considered his actions self-defense.
However, Bignon’s ambition did not stop him, and soon he moved to Dallas, which had become a large and rich city in Texas thanks to oil production and many cattle farms in the area.
Leaving Texas for a brighter future.
Having founded a small casino, he quickly came to success, eliminating all his competitors at the same time in every possible way. It’s believed that he shot two of them personally.
One was Sam Murray, the other was Ben Fryden. Each of them survived several assassination attempts, most of which involved Bignon. However, the police were only able to bring him in on one case and were soon forced to release him. Once again, Benny was played by a local judge who found only the necessary self-defense in our hero’s actions.
However, do not forget the fact that in Dallas Bignon was with money and could well afford to “lobby” their interests, both among politicians and police. Rumor has it that Benny spent up to 600 thousand dollars on such activities a year!
During World War II, the Chicago Mafia came to Dallas, and in the election for mayor of the city, our hero bet on one of the candidates who could not win the election. In the end, after the division of spheres of influence Bignonu did not find a place in them, and he chose to leave the city.
After taking only Teddy Jane’s wife, his children and the bodyguard of the Golden Dollar, with two million dollars in his pocket, Bignon went to Las Vegas.
The new Eldorado Bignon– The Horseshoe.
Despite the fact that Vegas was also under mafia control at the time, Bignon quickly got back on its feet, buying El Dorado Casino on Fremont Street, renaming it Binion’s Horseshoe.
However, “demons from the past” haunted him in Vegas as well, where he began to eliminate competitors. Especially unlucky was Herb “Cat” Noble, who survived 12 assassination attempts after meeting with “employees” of the Bignon Casino.
And after the explosion of bombs in the car killed Noble’s wife, he was rumored to have hired a plane to load explosives to crash into Benny’s casino, but the police disrupted Herb’s plans. Soon he died from a bomb that was hidden in his mailbox.
But Bignon couldn’t get away with it this time, because the local mafia bosses didn’t appreciate the fireworks that the newcomer had set up on their territory. And they took action.
Back to Dallas, to prison.
In 1951 Benny lost his gambling license and was charged with tax evasion, which in the U.S. has always been a serious crime. He was hinted that if he did not confess to what he had done, the consequences could be much worse.
As a result, two years later Bignon comes to Dallas, immediately going to jail for 5 years for tax evasion. In addition, he had to sell shares in his casino to cover legal costs. He won’t regain control of the casino until 1964.
But even prison hasn’t tempered Bignon’s appetite. Released in 1958, he returned to Las Vegas and soon made his casino the best in town again.
He was the first to realize that casino players had to be kept “happy” at all times. His know-how was simple: “good food, good whiskey, good game”. But at that time in Vegas lived only about 50 thousand people, and the halls of the casino were small dark and moody places.
And while the rest of the casinos even had sawdust on the floor, Binion’s Horseshoe had everything in their carpets! However, in this way, one of the casino debtors (the owner of the carpet company) paid off his debt.
A revolution in the casino world.
That horseshoe inside Binion’s Horseshoe.
Other innovations in the casino – free alcoholic beverages for customers and top quality food at the restaurant – are also a credit to Binion’s Horseshoe.
In addition, the high rollers of those times relied on bonuses such as free delivery in limousines and daily show programs on the casino stage. At that time, it was a revolutionary approach to casino management.
But despite all this, Benny Bignon remained an ordinary gangster, for most of his opponents simply disappeared in the literal sense.
He continued to bribe the police and local authorities, avoiding serious conflicts with the mafia, and sometimes cooperating with it.
So at the entrance to his establishment was a guard who not only sifted out unwanted troops, but also held special conversations with troubled customers. Sometimes this led to serious physical injuries to the latter.
Over time, Bignon’s suspiciousness led him to paranoid and eccentric antics. So sometimes he would go back to his farm in Montana and pretend to be a bullfighter, hunting with a red rag for a buffalo. Needless to say, the role of the “buffalo” played by his bodyguard “Golden Dollar”, which rides around Bignon on the “Cadillac”, to which the front were attached horns.
Poker comes to the fore
Living in Vegas, Benny presented himself as a man with a new outlook on life who made his own millions. He always liked poker, though he didn’t think he was a good player.
“Amarillo Slim was in the first WSOP.
In 1949, he organized a heads-up (one-on-one game) with large bets for two professional poker players – Johnny Moss and the most famous “gembler” at the time Nick “Greek” Dandolos.
Originally conceived as a tourist attraction, it was the birth of the largest poker event in the world.
The Bignon did, however, have other ideas. For example, he raised his bets in a craps game. In other casinos, the maximum bet was $50, and Benny made – $500. No one’s ever done that before. In the end, people often came to his casino just to see how today’s game would end.
Another Horseshoe casino attraction was a huge horseshoe above human height, inside which there was a stand with a hundred of the rarest 10,000 dollar bills. This million dollars made an impression on any visitor.
And despite the fact that in 1957 he lost his license, the casino was still run by his wife and children. Bignon himself after leaving prison could only sit inside the casino, remaining nominally only “consultant”. In fact, Benny again fumbled ideas, but the main achievement was still ahead.
It’s time for the WSOP.
In 1970, after a weekend playing poker in Renault, Bignon invited poker players to his Horseshoe casino for what he himself called a joke World Poker Championship.
Bignon died the same year that the first bracelet won Helmut.
They only needed one poker table, and the champion’s name was suggested by secret ballot. However, the format was quickly changed to a real game when it turned out that each of the seven players had voted for themselves.
But then in 1970 the champion was Johnny Moss, who won the silver cup and the title of the first champion of WSOP (World Series of Poker).
19 years later, young Phil Helmut won his first bracelet at WSOP, becoming the youngest champion of the series. At that time, 178 people had already played in the Main Event, and the series consisted of 14 tournaments.
A little later in the same 1989 Benny Bignon died of a heart attack. A year later, he was posthumously admitted to the Hall of Fame of poker.
After his death, the casino was run by the Bignon clan worse and worse. Teddy Jane’s widow died in 1994, and two of his children were drug victims.
The rest of Becky and Jack Bignon challenged in court their right to run the casino, which went to the older Becky. However, Jack was left with 1 percent of the shares, which allowed him to have his own casino gambling license.
In 2004, on the 100th anniversary of Benny Bignon’s birth, his Horseshoe casino lost its license due to financial irregularities.
It was soon closed and sold. And although the Horseshoe brand was kept “in the family,” the story of one of the most successful casinos in the history of Las Vegas came to an end.
Let’s add that the WSOP series had already moved to Casino Rio by then, becoming a poker mecca, but that’s another story…