Benny and Oscar: Two Vegas Bios. July August 2012 . Vol 13 . No. 7

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Benny and Oscar: Two Vegas Bios

By T. Dana Smith (for Howard Schwartz) - Gambler's Book Shop Las Vegas

Las Vegas has had its fair share of movers and shakers who have thrown the dice on Sin City’s future and won a fortune. Few were tougher than Benny Binion, who had a colorful (make that “shady”) past in Texas before he stuffed a few million bucks in the trunk of his car and headed west to escape the well-armed arms of the Texas Rangers.

In I’ll Do My Own Damn Killin’(285 pgs, $16.95), Gary W. Sleeper presents anything but a sleeper in his heavily researched account of “Benny Binion, Herbert Noble, and the Texas Gambling War,” the subtitle of this page-turner that reads more like a whodunit than an historical rundown of the bloody turmoil for territorial gambling rights in the Dallas-Fort Worth of yesteryear. By the time Binion had served a four-year sentence in Leavenworth for tax evasion, most of the top gamblers had left town or retired to Las Vegas, Reno and Cuba. Eventually, of course, he became a mainstay in Vegas, leaving a legacy that included creating the World Series of Poker in 1970 at his namesake Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, and getting the National Finals Rodeo to move from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas in 1985.

In a notable interview for the University of Nevada Oral History Program, the Texas gambling wars came up. “There’s no way in the world I’d harm anybody for any amount of money,” Binion said, “but if anybody goes to talkin’ about doin’ me bodily harm…I’m very capable of really takin’ care of ‘em in a most artistic way.” You’ll get the entire skinny on Binion’s part in the Longhorn state’s wide-open gambling era from Sleeper’s book, where he includes a Binion quote from the Houston Chronicle:  “Used to live dangerous in them days. And I was dangerous. I wouldn’t do to be screwed around with. I used to get a kick out of it. But I don’t do that no more.”

With the opening of the Mob Museum on Valentine’s Day, Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman’s Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas (416 pgs, hardcover, $25.95) by noted journalist John L. Smith is a timely read. Smith chronicles the life of “the happiest mayor” in the world who previously acted as defense attorney for the likes of Tony Spilotro and Jimmy Chagra before his entry into Las Vegas politics. With chapter titles like “The Trouble with Tony,” “Trial of the Century,” “Chicken Wing and the Rats,” and “Devils and Angels,” the book takes an intimate glimpse into the back stories of Goodman’s life, starting with his arrival in Las Vegas in 1964 with $87 in his pocket and the promise of employment in the Clark County DA’s office, to his transition as an attorney for reputed mobsters, and finally to his election as top dog in city hall, a post that his Bryn-Mawr-educated wife Carolyn now holds.

Oscar Goodman has been interviewed by TV personalities Mike Wallace, Dick Cavett and Geraldo Rivera, and he played himself in Casino, alongside stars Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. That’s all a matter of public record—but with his inimitable journalistic flair for story telling, Smith digs deeper to give us an up-close and personal look at the man who is arguably the most colorful politician in Vegas history. Like his books on Vegas movers and shakers Steve Wynn, Bob Stupak and Ted Binion, Smith’s portrayal of Goodman’s career is worthy of (pardon the pun) an Oscar. I’ll lay you 10-to-1 that you’ll enjoy this fast-paced, well documented and entertaining bio.  

These books are available at Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas. You can order them at or phone the store at 1-800-522-1777 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific time. Opened in 1964, GBC is located at 5473 S. Eastern between Tropicana and Russell, just a short drive from the Strip. View the store's complete line of books, CDs, videos and software at the web site.