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"Blood Aces" Review


TitleBlood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker
AuthorDoug J. Swanson
Skill Levelany
ProsIncredible stories from a convicted felon whose exile from Texas led to the creation of the Horseshoe Casino and eventually the World Series of Poker.
ConsVery little about poker. Numerous violent and criminal activities.

Table of Contents

1Prologue: The Happy Racketeer
Part One
5The Roll of the Dice: 1904-1946
7Snides and Dinks: An Education1
17The Bumper Beater2
27Pancho and the Klan3
39Good Friends and a Dead Rival4
49The Thug Club5
61Shoot-Outs and Payoffs6
71The Mob War Is Joined7
81Lit Out Running8
Part Two
91Death and Taxes: 1947-1953
93Mobbed-Up Pilgrims9
105Texas vs. Vegas10
119A Kill-Crazy Man11
135Tears Rolling Down the Man's Eyes12
147The Benny Brand Goes National13
159The Cat's Last Days14
175They Was on the Take15
187No Way to Duck16
197The Great Bonanza Stakeout17
213Whacked Around Pretty Good18
Part Three
221The Ride Back Home: 1954-1989
223The Fireman Gets Religion19
233Strippers and Stooges20
243Charlie, Elvis, and the Revolution21
255Another One Blows Up22
267Heroin and the Hit Man23
277U-Turn at the Gates of Heaven24
289They Do Things Like That25
299Happy Birthday, Dear Benny26
307Epilogue: Back in the Saddle
335Selected Bibliography


Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker tells numerous fascinating stories in three sections about his life in Texas, his settling into Las Vegas and the creation of the Horseshoe Club, and the early years of the World Series of Poker and his later life.

Benny Binion was born on November 20, 1904 in Pilot Grove, Texas as Lester Ben Binion. He wasn't even a teenager yet when he started hanging out with road gamblers then got a job looking out for cheaters. He grew up to be a gambler, bootlegger, and murderer. He ran illegal numbers games and gambling dens. He also became a family man, and when the heat in Texas became too hot for him, because of the newly elected sheriff not the weather, he drove his car loaded with his wife and kids and a million dollars to Las Vegas in December 1946. There, he became a legitimate businessman, albeit one who preferred to do his own law enforcement and may have proffered a few bribes. Despite Binion's questionable activities and his involvement in several murders, he proudly claimed with a clear conscience, "I ain't never killed a man who didn't deserve it."1

Binion bought part-ownership in the Las Vegas Club and then the Westerner but still had dealings in Texas until police raided his North Texas operations and found policy game receipts, ending any hopes that he would move back to the Lone Star State. Instead he purchased the Eldorado for $160,000 and turned it into Binion's Horseshoe Club, which opened in 1951.

Swanson covers the Nick Dandolos vs. Johnny Moss marathon poker game here mostly to debunk it, concluding that it is mostly a "creation myth". Instead, many chapters later, he explains how the World Series of Poker was really born, with the 1969 Texas Gamblers Reunion. The next chapter covers the 1970 to 1972 events in a meager dozen pages. A later chapter discusses the marketing of the WSOP, including Al Alvarez's book, The Biggest Game in Town. Despite the WSOP being his lasting legacy, it plays a very small role in the book, perhaps because poker isn't very exciting compared to rest of Binion's life. None of the 26 chapter names even includes the words "World Series of Poker" or "WSOP".

Overall, Blood Aces is an entertaining biography of Benny Binion's life of danger, vice, and conflict. It explores the life of a prominent person in the history of poker while barely discussing poker. Perhaps appropriately, one of the key figures in the history of poker was once an outlaw. While he tried unsuccessfully for many years to gain a Presidential pardon for his conviction on tax evasion, he himself granted poker a pardon, helping to transform it from a Wild West game played by shady, cheating characters in smoke-filled casinos to a clean game played under bright television lights by respected professionals and countless hopeful amateurs who no longer fear being cheated by other players or the casino itself.