COLUMN: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
August 16, 2000
A $5,000 Horseshoe chip may lead to new evidence in the Binion Case
High stakes gambler Bob Stupak was notably the best friend of former Horseshoe owners Jack and Ted Binion. Stupak is still often shown gambling at the Horseshoe on national television reruns. Stupak was a regular in the Horseshoe poker room during the Binion's proprietorship.
The Binions ran the club until the unfriendly takeover by their estranged sister Becky and her husband Nick Behnen in June 1998. Stupak and a number of other high rollers have stopped gambling at the Horseshoe following the takeover because of reported hostile treatment by Nick Behnen.
Observers believe that the Behnens have suffered financially without Jack and Ted's high rollers. The dismantling of the casino's million-dollar display may be an example of how winnings have leveled off for the Behnens.
Becky was recently shown on TV at her brother Ted's grave. Some viewers thought, based on the sibling's well-known animosity, that the news cameras showing up just when she decided to visit the grave was an indication that the event was staged.
One day in November 1998, following Ted's death, Binion friend Bob Stupak tried to cash $250,000 worth of $5,000 chips. Stupak also attempted to retrieve two safe deposit boxes full of cash he had on deposit in the casino's cage.
Nick and Becky Behnen unexplainably refused to cash Stupak's chips or return his currency. Stupak loudly protested and was eighty-sixed permanently from the casino.
Bob Stupak had at least a half-million dollars in one hundred-dollar bills stored in the Horseshoe's casino cage at the time. The Behnens showed no intention of returning the money.
Nick Behnen is not licensed as an employee of the Horseshoe and is not entitled to exercise authority in the casino. Stupak described Nick as being the person who made the decision to throw him out that morning and keep his two boxes of money.
The week of this occurrence, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission was in town and the eyes of the nation were on the hearings at the MGM. Also in town was nationally known gambling critic the Reverend Tom Grey, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. Rev. Grey was my houseguest.
Then in a stroke of genius, Stupak donated one of his $5,000 chips to Grey's Methodist church in Illinois. Grey and Stupak both knew that the Behnens would not cash the chip, however Grey accepted the chip as a donation to a Chicago inner city youth group nonetheless referring to it as "the coin of the realm." The rest is local history.
The following day Rev. Grey and I visited the Horseshoe to attempt to cash the chip. We were immediately ordered to leave the casino by a man named Perkins. He summoned security guards while shouting at Rev. Grey and myself. We exited without protest. Grey left town that afternoon and entrusted his chip to me.
Later that day I informed Bob Stupak of the rude treatment we had received at the Horseshoe. He was not surprised and had alternative plans. Meanwhile, Rev. Grey contacted the national media and told them of our experience. The story began to spread in papers across the country.
"Las Vegas Casino Refuses to Honor its Own Chips."
Bob Stupak ask me to meet him at 3PM in front of the Horseshoe. When I arrived with the chip, Bob, his attorney Jim Jimmerson, two Nevada Gaming Control agents, and a plethora of news media greeted me.
Against the orders of Horseshoe security officers, we entered the casino. I walked up to the cage and politely requested that they cash the chip. Becky and Nick Behnen were present and ordered the cashiers to ignore my request. I persisted as the TV cameras rolled.
Then, to my delight, the two Gaming Control agents identified themselves and ordered the Behnens to cash the chip. Becky Behnen continued to refuse to make the redemption. The agents then ordered Behnen to bring Stupak's cash boxes to the counter. Behnen complied and had the two boxes brought out.
I stood by while cashiers counted at least $300,000.00 in one hundred dollar bills. Bob Stupak shoved the cash into several plastic "Fabulous Las Vegas" shopping bags purchased at the gift shop.
I asked the Gaming Control agents what they were intending to do since the Behnens were still refusing to cash the chip. They replied that they had to speak to their superiors. I commented that if this had happened at Stupak's old Vegas World they would have put a padlock on the door! Nick and Becky Behnen obviously had more clout than Bob Stupak that day.
The next day Stupak and I met again in front of the Horseshoe at 3PM. In addition to the now familiar assemblage of reporters and cameras, the entire UNLV football team surrounded Bob!
He had hired thirty muscle-bound football players to accompany us back into the Horseshoe.
We marched past protesting security guards and headed directly to the casino cage. I politely presented the $5,000 chip to be cashed and was not surprised to be refused again.
We drove back to attorney Jimmerson's law office where I filed a lawsuit against the Behnens and the Horseshoe Club on behalf of Reverend Grey and myself.
The lawsuit described the Behnen's clear violation of Nevada Gaming law by them refusing to cash their own chips. The briefs from the lawsuit were immediately shared with gaming authorities in Carson City, and the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.
Carson City promptly started a thorough investigation. The Behnens began to waiver. We decided to let the gaming officials handle the problem and dismissed the lawsuit in expectation of the Behnens being brought into line.
Nick and Becky Behnen were bringing embarrassment upon their own industry through their refusal to abide by state law.
Their obvious vendetta against brothers Ted and Jack's best friend could have cost them their gaming license if it continued and they were beginning to realize it.
Later that day I had the opportunity to meet with several long time
Horseshoe employees. I listened attentively to their version of what was
They said that on the days that Ted and Jack were vacating the casino, both brothers had gone into the casino cage and emptied the racks of $5,000 "chocolate chips." The employees stated that when Ted left in 1996, and when Jack left in 1998, the brothers were still the owners at the time and had every right to take the chips.
The employees went on to say that the Binion brothers were planning to cash the chips all at once to break the bank and take back the hotel. They were supposedly just waiting for the Behnens to have a dry spell and deplete the reserves enough to not be able to cash the chips all at once - a serious violation of state law.
I was also told that Ted had boasted of having "taken care" of Jan Jones when she was running for Governor and that he was going to get his gaming license reinstated if Jones was elected.
One old timer told me that Jack and Ted's closest friends were the ones who would have tried to cash the chips and that the "test" would be if I could get the chip I then had in my possession cashed. If so, then all the chips would arrive on a selected day in the future, the bank would be broken, and Jack and Ted would repossess the club from their sister and her husband.
Then events changed drastically. Ted Binion died under mysterious circumstances.
I was told that Ted was paranoid about his safety during the weeks leading up to his death and he had asked old friends to stay close to him day and night. I was told that someone had broken all of the lenses on the eight security cameras surrounding Ted's house on the evening before his death.
Ted Binion died the day following Jan Jones' visit to his house to pick up her $40,000 campaign contribution. Contrary to a widely held suicide theory He obviously thought he would live to see the day when she would return his favors.
Reverend Grey's chip was cashed twelve months later in July 1999, one day before the Gaming Commission was to hold a public hearing on the Behnens refusal to cash the chips.
The Behnens have since cashed all of the outstanding "chocolate chips," and still own the Horseshoe Club.
A retrial of the accused murderers of Ted Binion is being considered, and Jack Binion has recently been rejected for a gambling license in Illinois.
If a new trial is granted, the story of the infamous $5,000 chip may resurface to be tied into a rambling scenario of conspiracy and intrigue intended to shift the blame for Ted's demise to yet unidentified parties.
Former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner Steve Miller writes a weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune. Visit Steve's website at: http://www.stevemiller4lasvegas.com