Blood Aces by Doug J. Swanson

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Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker REVIEWED by By Investigative Crime Journalist Clarence Walker: truecrimewriter83@mail.com

Texas outlaw Benny Binion was an amazing character.

In fact, he was many characters all wrapped up into one – A Texas cowboy, famous casino owner, a poker pioneer, gambler, a smooth-talking businessman, a ruthless gangster with organized crime connections, a killer…and the founder of the World’s Poker Series, a series held each year in Las Vegas that showcases the best players from around the globe.

The life story of Benny Binion had to be told in all its splendid glory and spellbinding details.

Douglas Swanson has written a highly remarkable book about the life of Benny Binion Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.

Blood Aces is the definitive biography of a Texas outlaw who played important roles in making Las Vegas the world’s most famous gambling empire. Blood Aces may sound like a fiction novel, but it is a true-life book, which comes compellingly alive.

People are fascinated by the Sopranos, Mafia dons, hit men, drug kingpins and flashy criminals.

But meet Benny “Cowboy” Binion, a real-life Texas gangster.

Swanson, a Dallas Morning News Investigative Project Editor, writes in Blood Aces. “The nation’s history is packed with legendary outlaws. But none of them can match Binion’s wild, bloody, and American journey.”

“As much as anyone,” says Swanson, “Binion made Vegas a mecca for high rollers”.

Binion’s poker games became a big hit when Binion and close friends played a few rounds in 1970. A shrewd money-maker, Binion figured out that poker games could make money at his Horseshoe Casino.

Benny Binion At His Horseshoe Casino.
Benny Binion At His Horseshoe Casino.

Showing deep affection for gangsters, Benny Binion, the man known as “Cowboy” once hired an airplane pilot in 1934 to drop a floral wreath at the gravesite of outlaw Clyde Barrow (the second half of Bonnie Parker, as in “Bonnie & Clyde”).

Benny Binion was a modern day Billy “the” Kid. As a killer, Binion’s oft-remarks were, “I ain’t killed nobody that didn’t deserve it”. Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong

As a killer, Binion’s oft-remarks were, “I ain’t killed nobody that didn’t deserve it”. Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong…and my enemies can do no right. Do your enemies, before they do you.”

Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong, and my enemies can do no right. Do your enemies, before they do you.”

When FBI agents pursued Binion for his involvement in the murder of Bill Coulter, a former FBI agent, and a Russian guy named Louie Strauss, Binion, in a moment of rage, told a reporter: “Tell them FBIs’…I am still capable of doing my own killing!”.

When Herbert “the Cat” Noble refused to give Binion 40 per cent of his gambling operation, Binion tried to kill Noble 11 times!

Binion’s crew finally succeeded by killing Noble…on the eleventh try. Previous attempts to kill “Cat Noble” included bombs that didn’t go off, shots that either hit Noble (but he survived) or multiple shots that missed Noble. On one attempt, the killers blowed up Noble’s car, then went back to Binion to claim a $25,000 reward, but Binion broke the sad news, that they killed Noble’s wife, not Noble.

It took eleven attempts, but old Cowboy Benny finally killed the “Cat.”

Benny “Cowboy” Binion was a modern day Billy “the kid” or Jessie James, but Binion had much more money. Much more.

Binion was dangerous as a rattlesnake, but also he became a “super rich” gangster, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Inside Binion’s Horsehoe Casino he allowed regular customers and tourists to take pictures standing outside a glass-plated showcase filled up with a million dollars.

Binion’s wealth influence and power connections led him into the circle of some of America’s most notorious and prominent people, as well as those abroad. Blood Aces retrace Binion’s footsteps all the way from the back woods of Texas to the West Coast, where he settled in Las Vegas.

Arriving in Vegas from Texas during 1940s’, Binion, as a southern style gambling boss, forged close relationships with Mafia players like Meyer Lanksy, Bugsy Siegel, Tony “the Ant” Spilotro, Mickey Cohen, and billionaire Howard Hughes. He surrounded himself with a host of well-connected people with political power, capable of making things happen. Or make things not happen.

Gifted with razor-sharp intelligence, boldness, folksy charm, and having the heart of a cold-bloodied killer, Benny Binion opened Las Vegas Horseshoe Casino & Hotel on Freemont street in 1951. And he became the most revered figure in the history of Las Vegas gambling.

Benny Binion was a true pioneer who understood the makings of a successful casino by offering patrons a better deal for their money – good food, fine whisky, lovely-looking women, private rooms, and beautiful central air suites to sleep in. If customers so desired, Binion had limousine service to drive customers to and from the airport.

Binion’s formula for running a business was simple: cultivate the big boys, own the cops, and kill your enemies.

For decades, Benny Binion’s name and hellish reputation has echoed throughout Texas and Las Vegas history like old ghost stories and never-ending gangster lore, but author Douglas Swanson may be the first writer to cobble together all the nitty-gritty exclusive details together.

Blood Aces captures the essence of Benny Binion’s dirt-poor childhood life growing up in Texas, all the way to his gigantic rise as boss of the “numbers rackets” in and around Dallas Texas. “He came from nothing,” writes Swanson, “or the nearest thing to it”.

VERDICT: Blood Aces is a page burner. It’s hard to put it down without going back to it.

Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker is published by Viking Press.

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