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

‘Found’: Author and climber a 20-year veteran of mountain rescue

In her second book, Bree Loewen shares her experiences of volunteering with Seattle Mountain Rescue.

Secret garden: Privacy trees that won’t outgrow a small space

These plants offer some height to block out unwanted sights without taking over your yard.

Stock your winter bookshelf with these animal and nature reads

Four new books cover outdoors topics from butterflies to wolves.

The Shed Players recently released their new album “Our Shingle Most Favorites.”
Listen here: Josh Clauson, The Shed Players release new CDs

This feature is all about Snohomish County’s homegrown talent: locals who make music and record it.

Newfangled cooker isn’t for those with tried and true methods

Columnist Jennifer Bardsley recently succumbed to peer pressure and purchased an Instant Pot.

Now is the time to assess your student’s back-to-school plan

Take a good look at how your kids are managing their new routine, class, teacher(s) and homework.

Author’s talk of birds and clouds kicks off Marysville series

1. Birds and clouds Marysville’s Outdoor Adventure Speakers Series is kicking into… Continue reading

How to shop in the street markets of France

It’s the best way to connect with the nation’s farmers and artisans.

Oprah Winfrey joins ‘60 Minutes’ for 50th anniversary year

The media giant debuts on tonight’s show, reporting on a story about America’s political divisions.

Most Read