Author tells story of wild ride of Benny Binion

  • By Bruce DeSilva Associated Press
  • Thursday, August 21, 2014 12:04pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

“Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker” (Viking), by Doug J. Swanson

Benny Binion, native of tiny Pilot Grove, Texas, began his career as a crooked horse trader, graduated to bootlegging, took over the policy racket in Dallas, broke into the big time by opening the Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas, launched the World Series of Poker and turned the once back-alley game of Texas Hold’em into a worldwide spectator sport.

Along the way, as author Doug J. Swanson tells it in this new biography, “Blood Aces,” Benny cavorted with gangsters; corrupted cops and U.S. senators; and ordered an untold number of murders. Among the dead was his chief Dallas rival, Herbert Noble, who survived 11 attempts on his life — but not the twelfth.

Despite the bodies Benny left in his wake, the law barely laid a glove on him. A target of federal investigations for decades, he did just five years behind bars for tax evasion.

And on Benny’s 83rd birthday, the likes of Gene Autry and Willie Nelson joined 18,000 people in serenading him at a Nevada sports arena.

Swanson, an award-winning Texas reporter, researched his subject meticulously, going through court records and FBI files and interviewing survivors who know parts of the tale. The result is not only a fine biography but also a history of the pre-World War II rackets in Dallas and the birth of Vegas as seen through the lens of charming but ruthless Benny.

The book’s characters are a parade of the era’s leading figures, from billionaire Howard Hughes to poker idol Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston. There are gangsters: Tony Accardo, Clyde Barrow, Mickey Cohen, Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo and Meyer Lansky. Crime busters: FBI directors J. Edgar Hoover and William Sessions, and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Politicians: U.S. Sens. Estes Kefauver and Howard Cannon, and Congressman (now U.S. Senate majority leader) Harry Reid. Entertainers: Don Ameche, Jerry Lewis, Clark Gable, and a famous stripper named Candy Barr. To name a few.

Swanson is a fine writer, spinning the tale with the verve and humor he displayed in previous crime novels including “House of Corrections.”

More in Life

Co-owner Jason Parzyk carries two growlers to fill as he serves up beer at Lake Stevens Brewing Co. The first brewery in the city is celebrating one-year anniversary this weekend. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Beer of the Week: Lake Stevens Brewing Co.’s Sour Imperial

The beer has a depth and a complex flavor profile that goes beyond just another barrel-aged stout.

Legendary bluesman Curtis Salgado to play Arlington show

The Northwest blues-soul-funk-R&B living legend performs with Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons Nov. 18.

This year’s Snohomish Blues Invasion has an all-star lineup

Proceeds send the CD Woodbury Trio and the Benton-Townsend Duo to the International Blues Challenge.

Schack holiday show features Northwest watercolor artists

The free exhibit also will have three-dimensional works, such as jewelry, glass, ceramic and wood.

‘Three Billboards’ rooted in Frances McDormand’s rigid role

The actress of “Fargo” fame gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this black comedy on human nature.

‘The Hate U Give’ shows the burden of being black in America

Angie Thomas’ story of a teen girl covers the challenging experience of African Americans.

A merry Christmas concert with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

The Christian music stars will perform at Xfinity Arena with Jordan Smith of “The Voice” on Nov. 18.

‘Veep’ production postponed during Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ treatment

The 56-year-old star has been documenting her breast cancer fight on social media.

The Rucker Hill house is featured in the Twin Peaks series in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Living happily ever after in the ‘Twin Peaks’ house

Everett homeowners snagged a role in the recent reboot of the 1990s cult classic show.

Most Read