Book Review: Lone Star (In)Justice

This biography of the gambling, murdering Binion captures his wild character without trying to make him likable

Lone Star (In)Justice

Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker

by 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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
<i>Outside Looking In</i> by T.C. Boyle
Outside Looking In by T.C. Boyle
With this novel about Timothy Leary and LSD in the early Sixties, T.C. Boyle has written a mighty book – and a gift

David Gaines, April 12, 2019

<i>Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing</i> by Robert A. Caro
Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro
The author of The Path to Power shares the methods and motivations he employs while producing his award-winning biographies

Roberto Ontiveros, April 5, 2019

More by Jesse Sublett
Top Books of 2018 That Make the Past Present
Top Books of 2018 That Make the Past Present
Whether in biography, graphic novel, crime fiction, or retold Greek myths, these books brought history to life

Dec. 28, 2018

Legerdemain Man Ray Anderson
Legerdemain Man Ray Anderson
The fact that magicians around the world revere the magic man of Esther's Follies is no illusion

Nov. 30, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

July Is Crime Month: 'Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binionthe Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker', the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker', Doug J. Swanson

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle