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THE NATION

U.S. Shuts Binion's Casino in Las Vegas

January 11, 2004|From Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — A landmark hotel-casino was closed indefinitely Saturday after federal agents shut down the casino floor and seized an estimated $500,000 to pay for unpaid employee benefits.

The front doors were locked and yellow police tape greeted visitors to Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino, a downtown Las Vegas fixture for 52 years and home to the wildly popular World Series of Poker.

"It's the end of an era," said Jim DiGiorgio, an adult film director who was among the guests told to find a new hotel Saturday.

Some 900 Binion's employees were left without work after owner Becky Binion Behnen agreed to close the property until she could find enough money to reopen it, said Keith Copher, chief enforcement officer of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Gamblers watched in disbelief Friday night as U.S. marshals shut down the casino floor. The agents were enforcing a court order against the property, which has not paid about $3 million in pension and health-insurance benefits since last summer for an estimated 400 union employees, said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Union Local 226.

"This was a desperation measure on our part," he said. "It's never good when something like this happens." He added that the union will help its members find other jobs.

During an emergency meeting Saturday of the Nevada Gaming Commission, Behnen agreed to a suspended gambling license and will have to show she has obtained the property's minimum bankroll requirements before reopening, Copher said. He declined to say what that amount would be, citing confidentiality requirements.

Behnen did not attend the brief meeting in Las Vegas, but her lawyer appeared on her behalf. Copher said she promised the commission that she would honor all bets and jackpots won at the hotel-casino.

Behnen did not return calls seeking comment, and messages left for her lawyer were not immediately returned. Phones rang unanswered at the hotel-casino Saturday afternoon.

Legendary cowboy Benny Binion founded the casino in 1951 in downtown's Glitter Gulch. Binion's became popular as a high-stakes gambling spot where reportedly no bet was turned away.

Binion, who died in 1989, began the World Series of Poker in 1970 and watched the annual tournament grow into poker's premier event.

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