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Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker Hardcover – August 14, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1ST edition (August 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670026034
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670026036
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Technically, a biography, but it reads like the best kind of crime drama—where you find yourself rooting for the bad guy.”The Daily Beast
“[A] slam-bang thrill ride of a biography.... Mr. Swanson, an ace investigative reporter who writes with a pulp-fiction swagger just right for his story’s cuttroat anti-hero, is above all a historian who fixes Benny Binion in the context of his times.... The World Series of Poker now takes place not at the Horseshoe but in the impersonal and cavernous convention halls of the Rio Hotel.... It is somehow reassuring to know ‘Blood Aces’ will keep alive the story of how the great spectacle came to be, and of the violent man who dreamed it up.”—Peter Alson, The Wall Street Journal
“If Binion had shuffled the deck himself, the beneficent, sometimes brutal gangster with the cocky grin and country twang couldn’t have been dealt a more winning hand than born storyteller Swanson as biographer.... Swanson, who got interested in Binion while covering the gambler’s World Series of Poker, presents an especially well-crafted, fastidiously vetted and fun-to-read account complete with Benny-isms.... For a book with a high body count, it’s full of history, humor and little-known facts.”Austin American-Statesman
“A hard-edged history lesson about a Las Vegas casino man and his family in the days before our corporate media marketing when into overdrive.”Las Vegas Review Journal
“A book that’s practically crying out to become a feature film. Binion would be quite memorable in it as a cowboy-hat-wearing version of Don Vito Corleone or Tony ‘Scarface’ Montana.”—Fort Worth Star Telegram

“Laugh-out-loud funny—odd, since it’s about a semi-illiterate gangster who left a trail of dead bodies from Dallas to Las Vegas. But Benny Binion was in many ways a true visionary, even if his methods and materials were far from ethical.... [Swanson] does a bang-up job with this book.... Names of famous people who knew and liked Benny Binion pop up like weeds on the pages of this highly readable biography.  He wasn’t a nice guy at all, but he remains a legend.”—Fort Worth Weekly
Fascinating, not only as a biography of a Las Vegas business icon but as a look at how the city operated in its golden era of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s... Blood Aces has a true-crime feel, but to describe it as such gives it short shrift. It’s deeper than that.... In a way, it’s like Binion himself. The small-town Texan spoke and acted like a hick, with rumpled shirts and too-short ties. But the persona hid a complex, intelligent and, yes, infamous man.”Las Vegas Sun Review

Binion’s name has floated around the edge of the history of Texas, Las Vegas and organized crime for decades, but Swanson is the first to put all the pieces together.... A cracking good biography, courtesy of a writer who writes the way Binion lived: fast and on the money.”—Allan Barra, The Dallas Morning News

“Swanson captures his subject in all his antiheroical glory, uncovering sordid tales of fast living, corruption, and even murder.”Charleston City Paper
“If the late Benny Binion’s life was ever to be made into a movie, now with Sam Peckinpah long gone, the rightful heir to what amounts to a biographical gold mine should fall to Quentin Tarentino.  If and when that movie does get made, let’s hope the masterful film director bases his first script on the new book written by Doug J. Swanson.... Where author Swanson excels is in the juicy narrative, which is not only a page-turner filled with anticipation, but an often wickedly funny guilt trip for the reader.  Explosions, shotgun blasts, and cold-blooded murders become moments of belletristic beauty.”—Nolan Dalla
“[A] rollicking biography... A great piece of narrative nonfiction that reads like, well, a great crime novel. When Las Vegas gets its faux Mt. Rushmore (and can that day be far off?), Benny’s mug will be there, right alongside Bugsy’s.”—Booklist, starred review
Armchair detectives and other aficionados of the history of thug culture in America will feel a warm glow of assurance at the first few paragraphs of Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker....[Swanson] brings new credibility to the subject without trying too hard to mythologize him and, wisely, without trying to make him seem likable. No one ever said you have to be likable to be interesting.”—The Austin Chronicle
“Fans of other gangster histories will likely be intrigued by Binion’s arc.... The later sections of the book will be of interest to poker fans, as Binion retreats to Sin City to buy casinos and accidentally creates a legacy when he founds the World Series of Poker as a promotional stunt.... An entertaining and provocative portrait of a man whose dichotomies were largely a product of the violent times in which he thrived.”Kirkus
“Prepare to meet one of the great unknown crime kingpins in American history: Benny Binion, a semi-literate, grammar-murderin’, Stetson-and-boots-wearin’ Texas hick who presided over an underworld of cowboy gangsters every bit as unique, lethal, and compelling as the Cosa Nostra. In Blood Aces, Doug J. Swanson has written a terrific, propulsive account of a man and a subculture I can virtually guarantee you know little or nothing about. This is dazzlingly original stuff, and it’s entertaining as hell.”—S.C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon

“What happens in Vegas... starts in Dallas? Welcome to the world of Benny Binion, the cowboy with a second-grade education who helped create Sin City and laid the groundwork for modern-day spectator poker. Steeped in lore and backed by meticulous research, Doug Swanson’s Blood Aces gives readers an intimate and in-depth look at a key era in the history of American capitalism. You may have heard of Bugsy, Lansky and Cohen, but welcome to the Wild West of gambling populated by folks like Ice Pick, Horse Face and The Human Clay Pigeon. Prepare to be Binionized.”—Denise Kiernan, author of The Girls of Atomic City

“Doug Swanson is one terrific reporter and writer. In Blood Aces, he delivers not just the facts, ma'am, but an appalling yet wickedly humorous portrait of the Godfather of Glitter Gulch, a warm-hearted family man and cold-blooded killer who pioneered Vegas odds-making and launched the World Series of Poker.”—James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street and Cowboys Full

Blood Aces shines a rare spotlight into the American city that is singularly emblematic of unfettered political corruption. Swanson captures the hidden history of Las Vegas, whose outsize culture of greed draws unmistakable parallels with the nation at large. A compelling narrative full of outlandish characters, Blood Aces is a fast-paced read as enlightening as it is shocking.”—Sally Denton, author of The Money and the Power
Blood Aces delivers the best of everything—a tale of two cities (Dallas and Las Vegas), a primer on the history and nuances of gambling (poker and dice, especially) and, above all, the many adventures of the one and only Benny Binion, who could charm or kill with equal ease. It’s a fascinating slice of colorful Americana delivered with insight and sly humor by Doug J. Swanson, one of the best historian/storytellers around. Unlike Binion’s crooked cons, Blood Aces is a sure thing for every reader.”—Jeff Guinn, author of the New York Times bestseller Manson

About the Author

Doug J. Swanson is the investigative projects editor at The Dallas Morning News. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing and is the author of five crime novels, for which he was a finalist for the Edgar Award.

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Customer Reviews

This is a true story, told masterfully.
Dan Carswell
Fantastic story that's even more fantastic for any person who has ever lived in or visited Las Vegas.
William L. Shankel
More than highly entertaining and a very good read.
Preston Oade

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By robvegaspoker on August 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
If you love Las Vegas and poker as much as I do (and I do a blog about both), this is a must read.

Benny Binion played such a big part in the history of Vegas--and the history of poker in Vegas, this is as much a history book of Vegas as it is a bio of a very colorful man. And "colorful" is quite the understatement. There were really two Benny Binions....the cold-hearted gangster you didn't want to get on the wrong side of, and the very civic-minded entrepreneur who helped build the Vegas we've come to know.

The book reads like a crime novel, but you'll recognize some real people in it, especially if you know Nevada politics and/or the world of professional poker. Swanson has done meticulous research and tells Binion's story in a fast-paced, exciting fashion.

I couldn't put it down, eagerly looking forward to the next colorful character that Binion would meet, help, bribe, or send off to the next life.

I also found the early part of the story, when Binion was learning his trade in Texas, riveting as well.

Highly recommended if the subject matter is of interest to you.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Pierulla on August 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
OK I've lived in Texas over 70 years and been card carrying member of Binions players club since 1969. So I might be a little biased.
I got the book out of the mail box an hour ago and I'm sad to say I don't think I'm going to get much sleep for the next couple of days.
Never heard of Mr. Swanson buy he grabbed by the short and curlies and won't leg go. There's more honest Texas history in these first fifty pages than I was exposed to in all my tears, meant years (spell check is smarter than I) of education Texas gave me.
I can not overstate how exciting this book is regarding the birth and development of the Texan mind set.
I could go on and on but I have some serious reading to do.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Talvi TOP 100 REVIEWER on August 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I found this to be an interesting read and really respect the challenges the author faced in writing a biography of Benny Binion. He's a character who didn't leave any letters/papers and certainly worked hard to reinvent himself constantly and whitewash the past. Most of what author Swanson had to work with were hearsay, interviews, and sources that often were biased (newspaper, police blotters, etc.).

The book tracks Binion's life chronologically - from humble origins in Texas, his crime sprees in Dallas, and then fleeing to reinvent himself in Las Vegas. Along the way a lot of lawmen would try to bring him down; they ended up bribed, intimidated, stalemated, or dead. The parts of Binion's life are broken down into three sections: Texas, Las Vegas, and then reinventing himself yet again in Vegas after jailtime.

At the same time, we learn a lot about the circumstances in which Benny Binion operated and the people he befriended or fought. As an example, I had no idea that Texas and Fort Worth were lawless out of control towns even well into the 1950s. I think most of us grew up with the glamor of Dallas, the TV series. Also, one of Binion's supposedly vicious hitmen was the father of actor Woody Harrellson. It's tidbits like those that make the read interesting.

Other aspects made me wince, though. That McCarran (for whom the Las Vegas airport is named), looks to have been firmly in Binion's pocket - as well as many others who also clearly benefited from illegal activities. The book is more of a frightening statement about America and American corruption.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
You think of Las Vegas, and anachronistically or not you think of gangsters with Italian surnames and nicknames like “Jimmy the Weasel.” A gangster with a cowboy hat instead of a fedora, that’s not the usual image, but it is one drawn in full in _Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker_ (Viking) by Doug J. Swanson. Swanson is a reporter in Texas, where Binion (“The Cowboy”) hailed from, and though he has written mystery crime novels, this is his first nonfiction work. It is nonfiction, but it is hard to believe that such a figure as Binion existed, and was influential and was respected by many, even those to whom he was no threat. He was a threat to many; one famous poker player said, “No one in his right mind messed with Benny Binion.” Swanson shows that if you want to understand Las Vegas, you have to understand Binion. “There is simply no one,” Swanson writes, “who went from murderous street thug to domineering crime boss to revered businessman to civic treasure like Benny Binion.” You can tell this is quite a trajectory, and it is quite a story, both shocking and fun to read about.

Binion had little schooling, and was essentially illiterate, but as a kid learned horse-trading and swindling from his father, and he went on to learn to operate various gambling games in El Paso and Dallas. He wasn’t above shooting a troublemaker and employed brutality liberally when he had to; whenever he had the chance to be a benefactor, though, he took it, and he paid off handsomely to keep out of trouble. He would eventually spend time in jail for tax evasion, but none of his bloody crimes would get him more than probation.
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