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Best of Howard Schwartz

Gaming Guru

 

Binion Biography; Pitching Aces Timely New Arrivals

13 February 2004

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 missionā€¹to 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.

Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com