Friday, October 24, 2008

Las Vegas - The Great Days

This photo of me and my brother-in-law Mike P____, which probably dates to 1995, brings back good memories of fun times spent in Las Vegas in days gone by. Binion's Horseshoe was our favorite hangout, both because it had a preponderance of $2.00 single-deck blackjack games -- not to mention craps games that often had table minimums as low as $0.25 -- and because it offered value in other ways: (1) various food specials in the coffee shop (including a late-night $2.99 New York Strip steak special); (2) generous meal "comps" (a tremendous boon to low-rollers); and (3) free photos with $1 million (consisting of one hundred rare and out-of-circulation $10,000 bills). The casino smelled terrible and had oppressively low ceilings, but it also had tons of old-Vegas character and charm. In short, it (along with the Golden Nugget, before it started targeting a more-upscale clientele) was the heart of downtown Las Vegas.

The decline of the 'Shoe -- which coincided with Benny Binion's daughter Becky Behnen's wresting control of the property from her brother Jack -- was a tragedy to those who knew and had come to love the joint. It wasn't a good sign when the new management immediately did away with the free photos and sold all the ten-thousand-dollar bills (I'm informed they fetched three or four times their face value at auction) and then changed a lot of the games to raise the table minimums and to give the house a bigger advantage. Finally, after the daughter and her husband bled the property completely dry, they sold it off to people who were even more greedy and less knowledgeable about how to operate a casino.

Thus, "Binions" (minus the genitive apostrophe and the "Horseshoe" trademark, which was sold to a different concern) sits there on Fremont Street to this day, a sad shell of what it used to be. I haven't been to Las Vegas in over two years and have little idea what's happening there now, but I do know that practically nothing in downtown Vegas is as it used to be. I guess I've changed, too, pretty much having grown out of whatever penny-ante gambling "jones" I once may have had, but I still miss the old days.

[Update: I've now become aware that "Binions" has new owners who reportedly are interested in trying to restore the property to something approximating its former greatness. I doubt that will translate into $2.00 single-deck blackjack, $0.25 craps with 100x odds, and easy meal "comps," but maybe it will mean $5.00 single-deck "3:2" blackjack, $3.00 craps with 10x odds, and a few meal specials. That would be a start -- and if Vegas in general continues to tank along with the overall economy, the downtown properties may start targeting low-rollers again in earnest.]