The big life and fast times of one of the most charismatic and dangerous good ol’ boys in America’s criminal history.
No matter how you approach him, the legendary gambling mogul Benny Binion (1904-1989) was one lying, sneaky SOB, so it’s impressive that Dallas Morning News investigative projects editor and crime novelist Swanson (House of Corrections, 2000, etc.) has dug up this much dirty laundry. In this well-researched and executed biography, the author offers a head-scratching explanation as to how a Texas-bred hillbilly with an IQ in the double digits came to lead a multimillion-dollar gambling empire. Fans of other gangster histories will likely be intrigued by Binion’s arc, which spanned the 20th century and took him from the sticks of Texas to shape the modern-day direction of Las Vegas. Nicknamed “the Cowboy” after gunning down a local rumrunner, Binion soon came to be one of the most dangerous gangsters in Dallas, with several murders executed by his own hand. He admired his own ilk early, going so far as to arrange the delivery of a wreath at Clyde Barrow’s funeral in 1934—from an airplane, no less. In the most damning and fascinating story in the book, Swanson relates Binion’s feud with a long-standing rival, Herbert Noble. After an irate Binion put a price on his head, Noble survived nearly a dozen assassination attempts, all related in detail here. Finally, a car bomb that killed his wife nearly drove Noble over the edge before he finally got himself blown up in 1951. “They said he had nine lives,” said Binion of his foe. “Damn good thing he didn’t have ten.” The later sections of the book will be of interest to poker fans, as Binion retreats to Sin City to buy casinos and accidentally creates a legacy when he founds the World Series of Poker as a promotional stunt.
An entertaining and provocative portrait of a man whose dichotomies were largely a product of the violent times in which he thrived.