Las Vegas Hold’em
It’s called Texas Hold’em, but it should be called Las Vegas Hold’em. If it wasn’t for Benny Binion and his eight friends, the world might never have known about the game. In the 1960s and ‘70s, seven card stud was the bread-and-butter game in Las Vegas poker rooms.
In 1972, Benny Binion brought eight of his card playing friends, a virtual who’s who of poker players, to Binion’s Horseshoe to play poker. The game of choice was Texas Hold’em. The friendly poker tournament evolved into the World Series of Poker, making the game internationally famous. It was a huge marketing success and anyone could enter if they coughed up the small $10,000 entry fee.
Here’s the whole story. For several years, the Golden Nugget Casino in downtown Las Vegas, a “sawdust joint,” was the only casino in Las Vegas to offer the game. At that time, the Golden Nugget's poker room did not receive many rich drop-in clients because of its location and rustic decor. As a result, professional players sought a more prominent location. In 1969, the Las Vegas professionals were invited to play Texas Hold 'em at the now-demolished Dunes Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This prominent location, and the relative inexperience of poker players with Texas Hold’em, resulted in the small group of pros making out like bandits.
After a disappointing attempt to establish a "Gambling Fraternity Convention", Tom Moore added the first ever poker tournament to the Second Annual Gambling Fraternity Convention held in 1969. This tournament featured several games including Texas Hold 'em. In 1970, Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to the Gambling Fraternity Convention, a moderately successful tournament. Binion renamed it the World Series of Poker, and moved it to Binion's Horseshoe Casino (pictured above around 1950) in downtown Las Vegas. After its first year, a journalist, Tom Thackrey, suggested that the main event of this tournament should be no-limit Texas Hold’em. The Binions agreed and ever since no-limit Texas Hold’em has been played as the main event. Interest in the Main Event continued to grow steadily over the next two decades.
Before hold’em hit Vegas, every poker room spread seven card stud—for a very good reason. Many casinos hired poker dealers based on how much money they could steal from the pot. Insiders called it a “snatch” game.
Some poker rooms such as Circus Circus were leased by anyone who could come up with the dough. As the gaming commission became stronger and responsibility for the poker rooms fell on the casinos, the game finally turned honest. Now leasing poker rooms was disallowed plus a 10% rake was deemed all the casino could extract from players for the privilege of playing. That was a far cry from the roughly 50% stolen from players previously.
During the first eight years of the World Series, it was always one of Binion’s friends who won: 1972 Amarillo Slim, 1973 Puggy Pearson, 1974 Johnny Moss, 1975 Sailor Roberts, 1976 Doyle Brunson, 1977 Doyle again and 1978 Bobby Baldwin. With the prize money and number of entrees growing, by 2003 there were 800 entrants.
It wasn’t long before hold’em replaced seven card stud in all poker rooms. It took a lot longer for the new game to catch in other states. Now it isn’t unusual for a player to ask a floorman, “How do you play seven card stud?” Unlike golf, a pro can be beaten by a savvy amateur. Popularity of poker surged after year 2000 due to exposure on TV, the Internet and word of mouth. Now if someone doesn’t know about Las Vegas or poker, they’ve probably been living under a rock.