Slim ‘n Benny ‘n Betty — The Old Days at the World Series
“Amarillo Slim” Preston and I escaped the crowd in the poker room during the ’99 World Series of Poker for an intimate conversation in the midst of a few hundred of our closest friends in the sportsbook at the Horseshoe where the fast-talkin’ Texas toothpick, the most famous poker player in the world, rolled out a string of stories like a kitten playfully unraveling a ball of twine. First there were the Benny Binion tales, then the Betty Carey episode followed by the infamous “I’ll slit my throat if a woman ever –” misquote. Enough verbiage to choke a horse, as Slim himself might say.
“The ol’ man willed me his horse when he died,” the venerable story teller reminisced in the soft tones of the South and muted hues of yesteryear. “I have his personal horse at my ranch right now — why, I knew Benny Binion better than anybody alive. I met him when I was a kid in Texas, back when I thought that I was just being mischievous, but the government thought that I was bein’ a little more than that. I was a little rowdy and Benny liked that. And he could trust me. I wasn’t this big around, but I wouldn’t give a grizzly bear the road.”
Dana Smith: Do you miss him?
“Amarillo Slim” Preston: Yeah, I do. I introduced Benny’s daughter Brenda to her husband, you know. She wanted to go to a pool tournament at the Stardust years ago and Benny wouldn’t let her go alone, so she comes to me and says, “Slim, will you take me to the pool tournament?” And I said certainly because it was all right if I took her, you understand. Nick was a young, good looking Greek boy and I introduced them there.
Dana: Did you and Benny play poker or do business together?
Slim: I never played poker with him in my life, but he played my ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล hand for me one day at the Horseshoe. “Lemme sit down her,” he says. I said OK and just walked off. When I came back, a crowd had gathered around and I thought, “What in the hell, I guess the ol’ man’s pissed off all my chips.” Right about then somebody bet and he just moved in on ’em. After the guy threw his hand away, Benny says to me, “Look at my hand, see what I got.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, I didn’t have my glasses on and I couldn’t see my hand, but I didn’t want nobody to know it.” That ol’ sonnagun bet all my money and didn’t even know what he had!
Dana: What then?
Slim: I was doin’ a lot of TV after the World Series first started, so I’m in Mountain Home, Arkansas, buying some registered Hereford cattle from the Rockefeller Corporation. I was gonna “A-I” ’em, that is artificially inseminate them. Them poor ol’ cows get milked twice a day and only get to mate once a year — just seems like they deserve a better fate than that. Anyway, I’d done the Johnny Carson show three or four times by then, and Tom Snyder and I had gotten to be friends — he had the Tomorrow Show right after Carson’s Tonight Show. So Snyder’s show coordinator runs me down back there in Arkansas saying, “Slim, we want you to come do the show on a certain date because Bob Hope’s gonna be on then and he makes Snyder nervous and we know that you’ll relax him.”
“I’ll come on the condition that I can bring my own guest” I said.
“Well, we don’t do that,” he answered.
“Suits me,” I said and hung up the phone. So the next time they called, it was Snyder himself on the phone.
“Slim, who would you bring?” he asks.
“I’d bring Benny Binion,” I said.
“Sure you will!” he answered. You see, the whole world couldn’t get Benny to do a TV show because he didn’t want no publicity. “But if I bring him,” I said, “you’ll have to give us the whole show.”
OK, but bring one other guest, too,” he answered.
So I brought Benny and Joe Bernstein, the gambler, on the show with me and we put on an hour’s commercial for the Horseshoe. Me ‘n Benny had made up a signal so that if they asked him something and he was in a jam to answer it, I could take him off the hook. So, somebody asks him, “Benny, why is it that those places out there on the Strip in Vegas have a $500 limit and you’ve got no limit?” I thought oh, how’s Benny gonna handle that one?
“Well, they got great big hotels and little biddy bankrolls,” he said. “I got a little biddy hotel and a great big bankroll.” It went over good. About a minute later somebody asked, “But Mr. Binion, aren’t you afraid that somebody will break the bank?”
“Well, not really,” he said. “I’ve got a derned good head start on ’em.” I don’t even have a tape of that show, but the Binion family has one.
Dana: There’s more to this story, though …
Slim: Yeah, we took a limo down to Rodeo Drive to have us some suits made. “Slim, tell the driver to turn around and let’s go back over there to get Joe to make up a couple of Western tuxedos,” Benny says. So I tell the driver to turn around and he answers, “OK, but I’ve gotta go down here and turn off and do so and so.” The ol’ man repeats again, “Tell him he needs to turn around now.” He said he couldn’t.
“Ralph, you really do need to turn around,” I insist and finally he did. We were about to get pinched and the ol’ man knew it. Benny was tough, but a lot of people don’t realize that he was a good-hearted, generous man. He was either the gentlest bad guy or the baddest good guy you’d ever seen. And that’s a pretty good epitaph for him.
Dana: There was a story that happened years ago about a remark that you made to a woman at the World Series of Poker …
Slim: This is the factual account: It used to be that we took very few breaks, we played till it was over, but that was before the media got a hold of it. In about the first two or three hours of the tournament, a lady named Vera who wasn’t a very popular person got hold of this many checks. Then we took a break and went into the Sombrero Room where the Associated Press and a bunch of people were yakking with me. So here comes this big woman, Vera, whose family owned some big ol’ cosmetics company, about 1,500 stores. She busts right in, but that was OK with me, it didn’t matter. “Mr. Slim,” she says (she called me Mr. Slim because she was trying to show me some respect in front of the media), “what do you think about a lady getting a hold of that many chips?”
“I think it’s great,” I answer.
“Well, it’s a certainty that I’m gonna win this World Series,” she blurts out.
“Vera, if you win the World Series of Poker you can take a dull knife and cut my throat!” That’s exactly what I said — and I meant it.
“What will you lay to one that I don’t win it?”she asks. Before I could speak up, Frank Gish was standing there and he says, “I’ll lay you 40-to-1.” I was gonna lay her 200-to-1, but she took Frank’s offer for a little bit of money.
Well, I was quoted as saying, “If a woman ever wins the World Series, I’ll cut my throat.” I didn’t say that, but I caught a lot of heat from the gals, the lesser lady players, although when I told the good ones how it was, they knew Vera and understood what I meant by my remark. To this day, I’m still quoted incorrectly.
Dana: You know the great lady poker player Betty Carey quite well …
Slim: Yes, she’s back in Wyoming, has a little girl child, and is completely away from gaming. She showed up in Greenville, Mississippi, a few years ago when I was hosting the opening of a casino there and told me that she needed a job, maybe they’d want her to deal or be a host. “Come on over here, you’ve got one,” I said.
“But you haven’t even talked to them,” she protested.
“I don’t need to,” I answered, “you’ve got a job.” She didn’t work there for too long before she went back home to Wyoming.
Dana: What about the big poker games you played with her?
Slim: Betty is the best woman poker player that I’ve ever seen. Jimmy Chagra bankrolled her with $100,000 to play me head-up out at the ilton the first time she played me, but I had a tell on Betty and I beat her. You see, I got her to talking to me the first time we played and I knew her hand — believe me, I knew her hand. That’s why a lot of people won’t talk to me when I’m playing — they betray themselves. I had heard Betty say that something she was drinking tasted real good, so I knew how she sounded when she was sincere. Then this pot came up — it was so big that a show dog couldn’t jump over it — and I asked her, “How do you like your hand, Betty?” And she says, “Boy, this is a real good hand.” But it didn’t sound the same as before — I knew she was lyin’. So I called her and sure ‘nough, she didn’t have anything.
ow in her defense, a broker from New York staked Betty to play me $100,00 here at the Horseshoe and I beat her the first game. When we got through she said, “We might play again.” So I gave her a $100 bill to call her backer so that I could find out where she was getting that money. Not all trappers wear fur caps, you know.
Then people woke up to what I was doin’, how I got a tell on her, and they told her not to talk to me, that no matter what I said she wasn’t to answer me. So, the fourth time we played she came to the table with things in her ears.”I’m ready to play another freezeout,” she says. “Betty, we’re playing Texas rules this time,” I answer. “When you lose one, you must bet two, that’s the way the Texans do.” You follow? So she leaves and comes back with $200,000 to play me. And she broke me in about eight minutes.
I had won the first two matches that we played at the Hilton, plus the first one that we played at Binion’s, but on the last one I got loser because I made her bet two “the way the Texans do.” You see, I knew who her backer was and I wanted to scratch him up a little, win something with whiskers on it you know.
Dana: Has the World Series changed a lot since the old days?
Slim: The Series or the property? The property has changed a lot, but the Series is so big and so successful that you could hold it at Pahrump out there in the hole where Teddy had his silver buried and people would show up. ‘Course, Benny used to serve only premier food, too, but all I know is that I miss him, and not just here at the Horseshoe.
He was at my ranch one time while a buyer from a big stud farm was there looking at a mare that I had. The buyer offered me about three times what she was worth. “You oughta pick out something else,” I said, “I don’t want to sell that mare,” so I sent some of my guys with him to look over some of my yearlings. “If you find something there that you want, fine, but this mare you can’t have.”
Then Benny gets to walking around and looking at that filly and he says, “You know, Slim, she reminds me of the best sonnabitch I ever owned.” And I’m thinking oh, my gawd, he’s putting the touch on me, so I say, “Yeah, but she’s not much ‘count.”
“Yeah she is,” he says. Later we’re riding down the road in my car, he’s staying at my home, and he says, “What do you want fer her?” (He always said fer.)
“I don’t want nothing fer her. You know what I turned down.”
Well, I’ll stand to get robbed a little bit. What do you want fer her?”
“Nothing. She’s not for sale!” So he squirreled up like an ol’ toad, wouldn’t hardly talk to me. About three weeks later I sent one of my rigs up to Montana to Benny’s ranch with a paint llama, a gray mule that Rex Cabo had wanted (he’s a big boss in Texas and was a friend of ours), and that mare that Benny wanted — her name was Miss Flaming Becky. I gave them all to him. That llama was a spotted paint, unusual, that I had brought in from Argentina.
Dana: What an extraordinary thing to do.
Slim: We don’t do ordinary things, hon. Benny didn’t call to thank me, didn’t acknowledge that he’d gotten them, didn’t do a damned thing. So I’m out here in Vegas and I’m up early one morning and Benny calls me — me and him, we’d get up early and go out to get a shave and then we’d eat strawberries, we were both sucker for fresh strawberries.
“What you gonna do this afternoon?” he asks.
“Nothin’,” I say.
“Let’s go to a sale. Wayne Newton’s having a big one out at his ranch.”
“Benny, I don’t own any Arabians (and he didn’t either) and I can rope and drag every sonnabitch Arabian I’ve ever seen faster than he can run.” But we go to the sale anyway. Turns out that they had a longhorn cattle sale, too, and damned if the ol’ man didn’t get to biddin’ and buyin’ and biddin’ and buyin’ and he bought two or three truckloads of them registered longhorn cows and calves and some heifers.
About ten days later I’m back home and my foreman calls me saying, “Slim, what do you want to do with these longhorn pairs that’s down here in this truck?”
“Whose truck is it?” I ask.
“Well, it’s got a T. J. on it (Teddy Jane).”
“Oh, that’s some of Benny’s stock. Just put ’em in a lot and feed and water them, they probably want to rest them because they’re going to Fort Worth or somewhere.” So a while later he calls me back and says, “They’re to stay here.”
I don’t even snap, you understand, I just pick up the phone and call Benny. “What the hell do you want me to do with these longhorns?”
“Oh,” he says, “they’re yours.”
“OK,” I say, never saying thank you or nothing. He had sent me twelve registered longhorn pairs, meaning a cow and a calf. The cows were sucking a big calf and they were heavy springers that probably were six months pregnant with another one. That was the reciprocation that Benny made for my mare. And not one word was ever said.