A pal of mine named Andy Hughes has been around the Las Vegas gambling scene since 1980.
If he hasn’t seen it all, then he’s seen most of it.
Andy enjoyed my recent series on Binion’s Horseshoe and offered a few of his own stories that he personally witnessed. I’m posting them here with his permission. A bit of an encore.
By the way, Andy is one of the most knowledgeable casino chip collectors in the world. One of the top authorities in the trade. I encourage you to visit his website here, which shows many very rare and highly-collectable casino chips: NEVADA CASINO CHIPS–OBSOLETE COLLECTION
Note: This is the final segment in my trilogy on the closing of Binion’s Horseshoe, which happened ten years ago last week (January 9th, to be exact). Read PART 1 here and PART 2 here.
I needed a band.
Not just any band, but a country-western band. And I didn’t know shit about country music. Didn’t know where to go. Didn’t know where to turn.
Just three days removed from the start of the 2003 National Finals Rodeo and 85,000 cowboys trucking into town, the transformation of Binion’s Horseshoe was nearly complete. Slot machines and gaming tables had been wheeled out. A dance floor the size of a full-length basketball court was in place. A brightly-lit elevated stage had been especially constructed for the occasion and made the Horseshoe suddenly appear as inviting as any real nightclub in the city with live music. Sixty-two cocktail tables were positioned around the dance floor’s perimeter. Candles were even found in the warehouse and were placed upon the tabletops, so smokers could light up easily (this was before many casinos instituted non-smoking policies). Giant metal tubs were set up about to be stacked with ice-cold longnecks. We smoked enough bar-be-cue to feed half of Las Vegas. The party was about to begin.
Note: Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the closing of Binion’s Horseshoe. Read Part 1 HERE.
It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.
Everyone in Las Vegas had a hard-on for the Horseshoe. A raging hard-on with razor blades. We had a virtual enemies list as long and wide as The Strip. In fact, it would be easier to list those who didn’t want the Behnen’s completely out of casino business.
Ever since the carnival that was the Ted Binion murder trial some four years earlier, local media enjoyed a field day airing out the dirty secrets within the crumbling building at 128 E. Fremont Street. During that period you couldn’t open up the city’s two newspapers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal or the Las Vegas Sun, without reading yet another embarrassing story about the casino and its epic degree of dysfunction. Mind you, this was from a local press that was generally friendly towards the casino industry.
Naturally, as troubles mounted towards the end, the phone calls came straight to me. It got the point where I got so tired of telling reporters, “no comment,” that I stopped answering the phone. I figured a line in the next day’s newspaper like, “Horseshoe management could not be reached for comment,” came out a hell of a lot better than the ever self-incriminating “no comment,” which is kind of like taking the 5th Amendment.
Ten years ago today, a Las Vegas landmark was forcibly shut down.
Binion’s Horseshoe, the crumbling ruin of a former empire and the final vestige of the Old West that had once transformed dusty Las Vegas into a neon-lit magnet of vice, shuddered its windows and padlocked its doors. The official order to close came by hand when a posse of armed U.S. Marshals barged in the front entrance, went straight to the casino cage, and presented a legal notice to confiscate all the cash inside. Gaming operations were to cease immediately.
Federal marshals and agents from the Nevada Gaming Board ended up as the Horseshoe’s last guests. It was a sad final chapter of what had been a ruinous downfall, a stunning tumble from being widely beloved as a true gambler’s paradise and the poker pinnacle of the world, topped by the crown jewel of hospitality. And this was all about to disappear. Forever.
I was there when it ended. When everything came crashing down. When many lives were wrecked temporarily, if not ruined for a long time. When tears were shed. When there was no time to say goodbyes.
The rise of Binion’s Horseshoe has been well-documented. Today, I’ll like to share some stories about the downfall.
Archie Karas shown at a craps table at Binion’s Horseshoe, circa 1995, during the greatest run in gambling history. (Photo courtesy of Sexton’s Corner)
If the legendary man who nearly “broke the bank at Monte Carlo” has a modern-day reincarnate, he is most certainly Archie Karas.
The Greek-born immigrant who arrived in the United States penniless as a teenager made headlines between 1993 and 1995, going on what’s been described as the greatest run ever in gambling history. A short time before Christmas Day, he arrived in Las Vegas with $50 in cash and ran it up to a figure reported as high as $45 million. The story goes, at one time during his hot streak, he possessed every single $5,000-denomination chip at Binion’s Horseshoe and very nearly ended up holding the note to the place.
But the odds inevitably caught up with Karas and just as effortlessly as he won it all, he lost it all back. Within a few years of the run of a lifetime, Karas was allegedly seen sleeping in a borrowed car during most nights out in a casino parking lot.