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Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Blog, General Poker, Las Vegas, Personal, World Series of Poker | 2 comments

Digging through the Dust: How the 2004 World Series of Poker Almost Didn’t Happen



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.

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Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 in Blog, General Poker, Las Vegas | 4 comments

Binion’s Horseshoe Bonus Stories



Andy Hughes


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

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Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 in Blog, General Poker, Las Vegas | 5 comments

The Closing of Binion’s Horseshoe (Conclusion)



Photo by Ulvis Alberts (2002 WSOP)


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.

Only, we needed a band.

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Posted by on Jan 10, 2014 in Blog, General Poker, Las Vegas, World Series of Poker | 5 comments

The Closing of Binion’s Horseshoe (Part 2)



With Becky Binion–Behnen in 2003


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. 

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Posted by on Jan 9, 2014 in Blog | 18 comments

Ten Years Ago Today: The Closing of Binion’s Horseshoe (Part 1)




Today is January 9th, 2014.

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.

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