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A Trip to Binion's

A Trip Through Poker History at Binion's
by Chad, Poker Pro,

In September 2008, I took my first trip (of legal age) to Las Vegas. As a die-hard poker enthusiast, I knew I had to hit all of the world-renowned poker spots and experience all of the excitement and history myself. Such places included Bobby's Room at the Bellagio, visiting the luxurious poker room at the Venetian, and the Freemont Experience. It was here, in downtown Las Vegas, where over forty years of poker history unfolded at the Binion's Horseshoe Casino, now known simply as Binion's. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed to visit this historic landmark, and I made it a priority during my trip.

I didn't know what to expect as I took a ten-minute taxi ride downtown. I had read stories of the Horseshoe's decline after Benny Binion passed in 1989 and the takeover by Becky Binion-Behnen in the late 90s. Players such as Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese even boycotted the W.S.O.P. for a number of years because of Becky's management. She supposedly did such a terrible job that she was forced to sell the casino, and the W.S.O.P. rights, to Harrah's. With all of that in mind, I wasn't expecting anything too extravagant. As I made my way toward the poker room, I wasn't overly impressed. There were only two or three cash games taking place, and approximately thirty empty tables (although I later learned these were tournament tables, and Binion's still runs great tournaments daily). The casino itself seemed shoddy and rundown; however, as I continued to walk around, my breath was taken away as I beheld both the W.S.O.P. Wall of Champions and the Poker Hall of Fame. These were images burned into my poker mind through years of watching the W.S.O.P. on ESPN. Here I was, standing next to the photos of poker champions and icons in a place where they had made poker history. The same players and professionals that I had long admired and watched had stood where I stood, saw what I saw. The feeling was immeasurable. The point really hit home when I came across a poker table-top hanging on the wall that was signed by hundreds of poker pros. Everyone from the poker world had signed it . . . Brunson, Ulliott, Hellmuth, Negreanu, Ivey, Hansen, Harman, and many more.

Binion's Autographed Poker Table

After snapping a few photos, I made my way up the escalators to Benny's Bullpen. This was the room where the W.S.O.P. was held from its beginning to 2005 (since the rights had been sold and the fields were numbering in the thousands, Harrah's moved the W.S.O.P. to the Rio), and a rush of poker nostalgia rushed over me. The room was completely empty of people, simply housing a number of round tables. I walked in as the door shut behind me, and stood in awe. This is where Johnny Chan had won back-to-back championships in 1987 and '88, where Hellmuth shot his arms up in victory in 1989, and where Stuey "The Kid" Ungar redeemed himself in 1997 (although the final table of that event was held outside).

Benny's Bullpen

Even though Binion's cannot compete with the glitz and glamour of resorts on the Vegas Strip, it still encompasses Benny Binion's motto: "Good food. Good whiskey. Good gamble." Although poker has expanded to locations all over the world, and even though the W.S.O.P. has moved on to bigger and more accommodating locations, Binion's is the go-to place for poker history and is a museum unto itself. I highly recommend that any serious poker player take a few hours to experience Binion's on their next trip to Vegas, and to appreciate the fact that if it wasn't for that place and its people, poker wouldn't be as popular and widespread as it is today!


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