Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blood Aces: A Book Review

Could there be a better book for me to review than the new biography of Benny Binion?

The title of this blog is “Rob’s Vegas & Poker Blog,” because I love Vegas, I love poker and have stories to tell about both.

Benny Binion was not only one of the most colorful characters in the storied history of Las Vegas, but he actually helped make Vegas what it was and what is, perhaps as much as any one person.  He may not have created what we think of as Vegas, but he had a pretty big hand in its creation.

And then there’s poker.  Chris Moneymaker wouldn’t have been able to have had the influence he had if it wasn’t for Benny Binion getting the idea to host a big poker tournament in Vegas.  It wasn’t much at the beginning, but you know what?  Someone’s gonna win $10,000,000 for playing in that little tournament in a few months.

One other thing.  Pretty much every weekend I’m in Vegas, I head down to a casino named “Binion’s” and play some poker.  Of course, no one from the Binion family is associated with that casino any more, but it does still have that famous (and infamous) name.

So he helped invent Vegas, and he more-or-less invented poker in Vegas.  The only way this book could be more up my alley would be if it was called “Blood Kings” instead of “Blood Aces.” 

But Blood Aces it is and it is a terrific book.  It reads like a novel—a crime novel—and it is hard to put down. 

When I started reading it, I planned to kind of skim over the early part of it, the part that takes place in Texas, before Binion moved to Vegas.  But I couldn’t do that.  The stories of Binion in Texas are all too good, too interesting, too amazing to rush through.  Besides, this is where Binion learned his, um, “trade.”  He took all the lessons he learned in Texas and used them to help make Vegas Vegas, and help make Binion a very rich man.

In fact, Binion was well on his way to making Dallas, TX what we would come to think of as Vegas before the government finally, after years and years of trying (but not that hard) chased him out of town.

In his early years, the uneducated Binion learned how to be a gangster.  Whereas some gangsters are more into drugs, bootlegging, prostitution and other sins, Binion’s specialty was gambling.  In Dallas, he catered to both the very rich and the people who were wagering their paychecks.  And next week’s paychecks.

Binion comes across like a character in a movie more than a real life person.  However, the book is so detailed and so well researched (and resourced), you believe every word.

He was one of those guys who, if he liked and you didn’t get in his way, he was the nicest, sweetest, most generous man you’d ever met.

But if you crossed him, if you pissed him off, if you tried to prevent him from doing what he wanted to do, you were dead to him.

And to everyone else, for that matter.

Yes indeed, Binion killed, or had killed, quite a few people.  The ones he didn’t kill, he scared into leaving town or leaving him alone.  Politicians and cops were bought off.  This was in Dallas and Nevada.

Many of the names of the Nevada politicians mentioned in the book, who did favors for Binion (and vice-versa) sound familiar to me, as someone who’s been going to Vegas for many, many years.  He had arrangements with Mayors, Governors, Senators, etc.  Harry Reid, current Senate Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate, is mentioned doing “favors” for Binion.  No doubt Binion contributed generously to Reid’s congressional campaigns back in the day.  But hey, I’m sure Reid would have gone to bat for Binion anyway, right?

All of this is fascinating stuff.  The characters Binion encounters in the book (and sometimes, you know, killed) are colorful themselves.  There’s a rival of Binion’s nicknamed “the Cat” because of the many times he survived attempts on his life at the hand of Binion.  He had 12 lives, not 9 like a cat though.  The 13th attempt on his life proved to be very unlucky for him, however.

Somehow, Binion managed to maneuver his way out of jail for most of his career.  He did finally get time for tax evasion at one point.  But they couldn’t touch him for murder or any of the other more violent things he did

There’s a good amount of discussion of poker and the role Binion played in the WSOP of course, although, it being me, I would have liked more.  Swanson has a lot of great material from Doyle Brunson who he must have interviewed at length.  He could probably couldn’t’ talk to many of the other old time poker players (particularly the ones who have died).  Of course, Doyle is a pretty colorful character himself.

Swanson has produced a fascinating, well-written book on the history of Vegas, featuring gangsters, poker, corrupt politicians, and paid-for cops.  I would have to say it’s a must-read for anyone who likes my blog.


  1. real O.G . i liked the book positively fifth street (or was it fourth). too bad amarilloslim passed away too. i met him only at binion's in 2005.i couldnt fucking believe it.the sad thing , most ppl didnt know who he was( at least at the table .i was playing at).he was cool and nice enuff to chat for a couple of minutes.

    1. Great story about meeting Amarillo Slim, anger. Sad that so few knew who he was.

      When I first starting playing poker, the only poker player my non-poker playing friends knew of was Amarillo Slim

  2. Was hoping to buy this in time for my trip to Paradise in a week . . . but looks like it's not onsale until September . . . Bust be nice being "Rob"

    1. Are you sure Pete? According to Amazon it's available now, and if you order it with 1-day shipping you can have it Monday.

      Were you hoping to multi-task and read it while playing dem good machines over at Caesars?

    2. Good call, sir. I checked initially after you mentioned having given a copy away, and it was set for 9/3. Must have been a mistake.

      Anyway, book ordered. And, no.... no multi-tasking. But, will need some reading material whilst frying in the sun at the Garden of the Gods

    3. Wait, wait....people go to Vegas to hang out in the pool? Really?

      But.....I understand they have a "European" style pool at Caesars. In this case, that's a code word for "topless."

      Why would you bury your face in a book under those circumstances? :)

  3. HAPPY TGIF!!!!!!!!!!!!! BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! freeroll friday on BETCOIN.penny poker, BAJA BLAST,GRAPE APE,and SLAYER'S SOUTH OF HEAVEN jammin on YOUTUBE.I LOVE THIS COUNTRY!!!!!!!!!!!! PEACE OUT BOY SCOUT

    1. then l8r RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDERS BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND MORE WEED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. but more than likely edibles thou. will b out watching the game.if it is on. FUCKING BRONCO DONKEY MOFOS

  4. Rob - thanks for the review. The book is now on my kindle (aka my phone). Anger's mention of Positively Fifth Street reminded me how much I liked that book, so I got that for my kindle as well.

    I'll be at Foxwoods for 3 nights next week, might even play a bit of poker when I'm there.

    1. Thanks, Cranky, hope you like it, I'm sure you will.

      I'll have to check out Positively Fifth Street one of these days.

      Good luck at Foxwoods, #rungood.

    2. WHAT u never read positively fifth street??????????? how about the BIG DEAL or BIGGER DEAL???? COWBOYS FULL????? oh sir

    3. Sad to say since I've gotten into poker I've been reading mostly strategy books.

      And as my blog posts illustrated, I haven't been reading nearly enough of them.

    4. i bet u havent read the Jenna Jameson autobiography either????