Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker
This biography of the gambling, murdering Binion captures his wild character without trying to make him likable
Reviewed by Jesse Sublett, Fri., July 4, 2014
Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Pokerby Doug J. Swanson
Viking, 368 pp., $27.95
Armchair detectives and other aficionados of the history of thug culture in America will feel a warm glow of assurance at the first few paragraphs of Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker. Doug J. Swanson's new biography of Texas gambling kingpin Lester Ben "Benny" Binion starts with the description of three hoodlums preparing a 1951-style IED in the dirt road in front of the mailbox belonging to Binion's longtime Dallas rival, Herbert Noble. Noble had acquired the nickname "the Cat" because this was the 12th documented attempt on his life. No. 13 would not be necessary.
It's the perfect beginning to a book about Binion, who got away with murdering so many of his rivals that his best known quotation was made in response to a snide denial that he was in the habit of hiring assassins: "I'll do my own damn killing."
Born in Grayson County in 1904, Binion found school not to his liking. Horse trading was his first calling, then moonshining, bootlegging, and the numbers racket. Binion rose to the top of the gambling and organized crime scene in Dallas in the Thirties, then in the late Forties, he moved out to Vegas where he made friends with power brokers in officialdom as well as the mob. Binion's top achievements were founding the original Binion's Horseshoe, establishing no-limits gambling in Vegas, and creating the World Series of Poker.
This is at least the third biography of Binion and, for my money, the best and most readable. A longtime reporter for Dallas Morning News, Swanson is also the author of five detective novels. He brings new credibility to the subject without trying too hard to mythologize him and, wisely, without trying to make him seem likable. No one ever said you have to be likable to be interesting.