In “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker,” investigative reporter Doug J. Swanson says the Las Vegas gaming legend funneled information to the FBI for several years after his release from Leavenworth in 1957, where he served three and a half years for tax evasion.
“There’s no one who can match Benny’s story arc: from Texas street thug to crime boss to respected businessman to beloved pillar of the community,” Swanson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “There’s nothing like it in the history of American criminal justice.”
Swanson, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, said Binion, “born in 1904 in a Texas backwater” with a “bad second-grade education” and an IQ of 89, spent his early years living among horse traders and gamblers, and grew up tough.
“As a racketeer in Depression-era Dallas he swam in the same sea of violence and desperation as everyone else. He wasn’t consumed by bloodlust—far from it,” Swanson told the New York Times. “He was a canny, shrewd and pragmatic businessman, though he could barely read or write. He either controlled his rivals or had them killed. And after a tough day of being a crime boss, which might include ordering someone’s execution, he’d make it home in time to have dinner with his wife and kids.”
When Binion was suspected of tax dodging, Herbert Hoover and even President Harry Truman got involved in the pursuit.
“There had been a series of scandals in the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Truman administration was eager to look upright and tough,” Swanson told the Times. “After that came the biggest shocker: once he was out of prison and back in Vegas, Binion flipped and became a confidential informant for the FBI That apparently made Hoover very happy. You try to tell Benny’s friends today that he was an FBI stooge and they refuse to believe it.”
Among those friends is former mob attorney and three-term Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who was interviewed for the book. Goodman disputes Swanson’s findings. “That’s an absolute lie,” he said. “Benny hated the FBI.”