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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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No Way to Treat a Gaming Legend

6 March 2001

I was happy to see Jack Binion come to Illinois. I was sad to see him go. He doesn't know me from Adam. All I know about him is what I've read in the papers. But not long ago I did have a chance encounter with the man, and it told me a lot about what kind of gambling entrepreneur he is, why he has been so successful, and why it's the gambling world's loss that he was forced out of Illinois.

One evening my wife and I were having dinner in the buffet at Empress Casino in Joliet, Ill. I happened to look up and see Jack Binion, all by himself, take a walk through the buffet line to check out what was being served. He was very unassuming, and if I hadn't recognized him he would have blended in as just another gambler taking a break. He made himself a salad, picked out a seat, and sat down with his customers to eat.

What Jack Binion brought to the Illinois riverboat casino market was what he has brought to all the gaming markets he has ventured into. A passion for, and a thorough first hand knowledge of, gambling. He brought a hands-on business style and a rare fervor to an industry that is dominated by corporate types in Armani suits hidden away in ivory towers far away from the slot machines and gaming tables.

Jack Binion may very well be the last casino owner to bring a "family owned and operated flair" to his business. He, of course, is the son of the late Las Vegas legend Benny Binion, founder of the famed Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas and the man famous for taking any size bet and for giving his customers what they wanted: Good food at a good price, and a good gamble.

Jack learned the casino business at his father's knee. He watched his dad venture to the casino floor and give blackjack dealers a break. When Benny dealt the cards every blackjack was worth 2 to 1 and on occasion he was even known to deal himself cards until he busted. Jack grew up with the sound of cards being shuffled, the roar from the craps tables, and the sounds of coins cascading from slot machines.

I'd venture a guess that there are some high-level casino executives in America today who wouldn't bet that an elephant is heavy. I'd bet some of them would cheer for a seven during the middle of a hot roll at the craps table, and I'd bet some of them would split their tens at the blackjack table. But not Jack Binion.

Apparently, from what I've read, Jack Binion isn't a saint. He never claimed to be one. He's a casino owner. A gambling man. But declared " ethically unfit" to run a casino in Illinois? How unfair!

It has been disclosed that Binion's Horseshoe Gaming, Inc. had received heavy fines for the manner in which it conducted gaming business in other states. The fines were paid. There were no legal convictions. If being fined was a reason for being kicked out of doing business, Jack Binion would have a lot of company.

In declaring Binion unfit to run a casino in Illinois, the Gaming Board also stipulated that he is not required to admit any wrongdoing. The action they took will in no way influence the way other gaming jurisdictions regard him. He remains licensed in Indiana, Mississippi, and Louisiana. But he's not good enough for Illinois. It just doesn't make sense.

In 1999, Binion was granted persmission by the Illinois Gaming Board to purchase the Empress Casino Joliet. It issued him a casino owners license. Now less than two years later they've changed their minds, even though the same evidence that was used against Binion to kick him out was present when he was invited in.

Jack Binion has upgraded the food service and quality of the restaurants at all the properties he owns. He has beefed up the player's club programs, increased the stakes at his games, preserved the best table games rules in the market, and overall had a positive and favorable impact on what really counts, the gambling public.

At least in Illinois, he deserved a better fate.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp