The winter of WSOP discontent, in 2004 just before the re-opening.
Writer’s Note: Ten years ago this week, the World Series of Poker was held for the last time in its entirety at Binion’s Horseshoe. What few people know is — the series almost didn’t happen that year. A few months after Chris Moneymaker’s victory ignited the poker boom, the casino was boarded up, padlocked by federal marshals, and eventually sold off to Harrah’s Entertainment. The shuttered building sat dark and vacant during the entire winter of 2004. Yet somehow, by April 23rd the casino was re-opened for business again was ready to host the 35th annual WSOP. This is the story of how that remarkable poker series came to be, against all odds.
Binion’s Horseshoe was a total fuckhouse.
Sure, it was a great place to work when I was there. And I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world. But not everyone saw it that way.
By the time the doors were nailed shut and boarded over with plywood in January of 2004, more than 800 former employees were flushed out into the streets looking for work. That might not seem like a big deal. People lose jobs all the time. But the vast majority of former Horseshoe workers had been around for years, like barnacles attached to a sunken ship. They weren’t just part of the local scene — they were the scene. They’d given their lives to the Binion Family and that grand old building so embarrassingly out-of-touch with the times. Now here they were — mostly older people with retirement plans now stripped away — having to hustle to find a job.
Being somewhere over the rainbow in years made things difficult enough. But then there was the baggage each carried on their backs. One by one we gradually came to realize how deep-rooted our outlaw reputations were within the casino industry. We weren’t black sheep. We were child molesters. No one wanted anything to do with us.
Being a former Horseshoe employee was like wearing The Scarlet Letter. Most former employees who I kept in touch with had serious difficulty finding work. After so much rejection, the explanation became painfully obvious. Why else were so many good people with multiple years of casino experience not getting hired anywhere else — especially on The Las Vegas Strip which at the time was going through a boom period?
As phone calls went unreturned and rejection letters piled up, rather than tout one’s experience as a laid-off Horseshoe employee, some of my former associates began doing what was unthinkable. They left blank spaces on their resumes. If some nosy interviewer in personnel somewhere got curious and asked where they’d been working the past three years, the applicant might as well respond with “serving time.” It was pretty much the same thing. Being associated with the Horseshoe was like getting out of a prison and looking for work while out on parole.
But I was far luckier than most.
In fact, I was probably the luckiest former Horseshoe employee of all.