Binion Biography, Pitching Aces and Horse Racing . June 2004

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Binion Biography, Pitching Aces and Horse Racing

Book reviews by Howard Schwartz (Manager of the Gambler's Book Shop in Las Vegas)

With the closing of Binion’s Horseshoe Club (hopefully it will re-open for the World Series of Poker under the new ownership of Harrah’s) and the anticipated, full-of-new-faces opening of the 2004 baseball season, what could be finer than to have two new books arrive at Gamblers Book Shop for two distinct, but clearly, most- interested audiences?

Jim Gatewood has written a fascinating, in-depth biography of Benny Binion (294 pages, indexed, illustrated, hardbound, $41.50). Fascinated with the many stories, legends of Binion, Gatewood, a native Texan was a man on a mission—to write the definitive work on Binion, who died in 1989.

This is both a story about Ben Lester Binion, who came up the hard way but learned from some of the toughest individuals about the business of gambling, and of his impact on Las Vegas. The book covers a span of about 60 years, beginning in the 1920s, when Binion moved to Dallas from his native Pilot Grove, Texas and met men like Warren Diamond the “Czar” of the big city’s gambling operations. Diamond described Binion ate age 19 as “street-wise, polite and full of dry wit.”

Few know how Binion learned about the games in which he would later reap millions in profits as a casino owner. In Dallas he began his education at a craps table at the St. George Hotel. One incident when a high roller lost $40,000 on a single roll of the dice stayed in his memory forever. As Gatewood describes the event, Binion “...knew from that day forward that the no limit crap game contained all the excitement of being alive. It was an exhilarating experience, known only to a chosen few.” Sixty years later, Binion accepted a single craps wager of more than $700,000 and lost, but later won much of it back from the same man. Big, no-limit, high-stakes gambling was a theme on which Binion established his Las Vegas reputation.

Gatewood quotes Meyer Lansky as describing Binion as “a cross between John Wayne and Jesse James,” after meeting him in Texas.

The book does not get to Binion’s arrival in Las Vegas until page 249. I wish it started earlier, but Gatewood’s book is set more in the direction of Binion’s earlier days. This seems to be where readers and Binion fans want to know more, and for them, the book does its job. There’s an occasional incorrectly spelling of names like Bugsy Segal (should be Siegel), Henry Claiborne (should be Harry Claiborne) and Nick Dondoles (should be Dandalos), but these are minor flaws in a historical, colorful look back at one of the most flamboyant and controversial men to ever have an impact on Las Vegas.

Phil Erwin’s Pitching Aces 2004 (153 pages, 5x8, plastic spiralbound, $22.95) is a tremendous time-saver for the serious baseball handicapper doing research on how pitchers performed in 2003 and how they did lifetime against every other team.

For example, looking at Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox (the book lists pitchers in alpha order, Anderson to Zito) you can see his lifetime record for the past three years at 51-30, then it lists his home record for that period at 24-11, away at 27-19, what his ERA was at home and away for the three years; his day-night record for the three years home and away. You can isolate his record on grass and turf for three years; his ERA on grass or turf for those three seasons; his record by the month for 2001-2003 (he’s 13-2 for May and has an ERA of 1.98). Then there’s three years against every major league team and the ERA for those three years. Finally, the book reflects if you had bet on Martinez as a home or away favorite how you would have done and how often his team went over or under.

Martinez by the way is 11-0 lifetime versus Seattle and 14-3 against Tampa Bay. There are 149 starting pitchers in Erwin’s fine compilation.

Horse Racing

On the horse racing front, two new books for 2004 are the Triple Crown Handicapper (97 pages, 8x11 spiralbound, $$29.95), which should prepare serious handicappers for betting the Kentucky Derby (May 1) Preakness (May 15) and the Belmont Stakes (June 5).

This book is for those who look for trends, patterns, some common denominator in the three big races, such as  how often favorites have won ; running styles; number of races as two-year-olds or three year-olds; money earned; number of days between last Derby prep and first Saturday in May; workout analysis; Beyer patterns; trainer records in the Derby; post position angles. This is an enormous time-saver and a solid, specialized reference.

Jay and Mike Helm of City Miner Books have produced a Turf Trainer Guide (2004) (99 pages,  8x11 spiralbound, $35). The book references every known turf winner at the top 40 tracks in the U.S. from Jan. 2002 to Dec. 2003. It covers the major circuits in California, New York, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia.

Beneath each trainer’s name, each of his turf winners is listed by year, class, track, distance, jockey, owner, sire, odds and important changes—such as coming off a layoff or claim, switches in distance and jockey, shipping in, dirt-to-turf, blinkers and first-time lasix. The guide identifies who the go-to price jockey for each trainer is, as well as who his sharp turf owners and sires are.

(The books mentioned here are available from Gambler's Book Shop, 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Call l-800-522-1777 from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday Pacific time to order, using only MasterCard, VISA or Discover card (no Amex accepted). You may order through the store web site at and view the store's 1,000 books, videos and computer software. You may also call or write and ask for the free 80-page catalog to be sent to you. The store, founded in 1964 by John and Edna Luckman, is located about two miles from Downtown Las Vegas, and the same distance from where the Strip begins, a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)