CASINOVILLE: web comic - crooked casino
Ted Binion
1943 - 1998

 

Ted BinionLonnie Theodore "Ted" was a wealthy gambling executive and one of the sons of famed legendary Las Vegas casino magnate Benny Binion, owner of of the Horseshoe Casino. Ted Binion Binion had a brother, Jack, and three sisters, Becky Binion Behnen, Brenda and Barbara.

In 1964, Ted's father, Benny Binion, got out of prison and regained control of the Horseshoe Casino, after previously selling his controlling interest to cover his legal costs defending himself from tax evasion. Since Benny was a convicted criminal, he was no longer allowed to hold a gambling license to run a casino in the state of Nevada. His sons Jack and Ted took over the day to day operation of the casino and Benny remained on the payroll officially as a "consultant." Jack became casino president and Ted became the casino manager. In that role, Ted was the face that was most seen around the casino floor during the peak hours and became well-known as the host of the poker tournaments.

Ted was an avid reader and a history buff, and was also mathematically gifted - easily able to mentally calculate odds or the "house take" in gambling transactions. He was also generous and was known to help friends in financial straights.

Binion loved living the high life and partying, schmoozing with high-profile guests, and flirting with attractive women. He was arrested in 1986 on drug trafficking charges and began drawing attention for his connection to organized crime figure Herbert Blitzstein. He later testified before the Nevada Gaming Commission that he'd been involved with drugs on and off since the mid 1980s. But after he lost his license he became even more involved in drugs, especially use of marijuana, the prescription drug Xanax, and the street drug tar heroin.

By the mid-1990s, drug problems and associations with criminals had Ted Binion in hot water with the Nevada Gaming Commission. He was provisionally banned from even entering his family's casinos. He struggled to avoid falling afoul of Commission drug tests, and at one point shaved off every hair on his body to avoid a hair test that would reveal his history of usage. By 1998, Ted Binion had been permanently banned from casino business and he was never to be associated with the famous Horseshoe Casino again. Inside the basement of the casino was Ted's silver collection, housed in a vault at the Horseshoe. When Ted's ties to the family casino were severed, he had to either sell his silver collection or relocate it to a secure spot.

On September 17, 1998 Ted Binion was found dead on a sleeping bag on the floor of his home. The cause of death was listed as a drug overdose and was initially treated as a probable suicide. However, further investigation of the case would reveal much more.

After his death, authorities discovered that Ted had a 12-foot deep vault under the desert floor, on a piece of property he owned in Pahrump, Nevada, 60 miles south-west of Las Vegas. The bunker vault contained the six tons of silver bullion, paper currency, Horseshoe Casino chips, and over 100,000 rare coins (estimated to be worth between $7 million and $14 million) that were once housed in the Horseshoe vault. The Pahrump underground vault would play a significant role in the investigation into Ted's death.

After he was banned from the casino, Ted Binion contracted the construction of the vault with MRT Transport, a trucking company owned by Rick Tabish. An MRT vehicle was used to transport the silver from the Horseshoe Casino to the Pahrump underground vault, and the only two people who knew how to get into the vault were Ted Binion and Rick Tabish.

The vault was discovered two days after Binion was found dead, when Nye County sheriff's deputies arrested Binion's associate Rick Tabish along with two other men digging up the silver.

 

Ted Binion's death was initially treated as a probable suicide. The court battle with his sister Becky Behnen (in which she had gained control over the casino) was believed to have played a role. His sister Barbara, afflicted with the same kinds of drug problems, had committed suicide in 1977 which also helped contribute to the perception that he would be vulnerable to suicide. Following the initial post-mortem, Clark County coroner Ron Flud declared the cause of death undetermined. Larry Simms, the Chief Medical Examiner, called it an accidental overdose.

Suspicious, Ted's estranged sister Becky had his estate hire a private investigator to look into any involvement on the part of Rick Tabish or Ted's live-in girlfriend Sandy Murphy. On May 5, 1999, after six months of investigation, Ted's death was reclassified as a homicide.

This led to the murder arrest, in June of 1999, of Sandy Murphy and her lover Rick Tabish. The prosecution's case stated that Murphy and Tabish had conspired to kill Ted Binion and steal his assets, drugging him into unconsciousness. They were each charged with Ted Binion's death, and burglary charges relating to the removal of his fortune from the vault and his home. Ted Binion's murder case attracted national media attention.

The trial came to an end in May 2000. Tabish was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years, while Murphy received a minimum 22-year sentence. Allegedly, immediately following the trial the majority of the jury members were seen at the Horseshoe having dinner with the Behnen family. Seven of the jurors received reward money -- which defense attorney J. Tony Serra later called as bribery -- up to $20,000 each. Later that year, David Rogers, who prosecuted the case, was elected Clark County district attorney and David Wall, who second-chaired the prosecution, was elected district judge.

In July 2003, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned each murder conviction, ruling that Clark County District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure erred in deliberation instructions to the jury.

The defendants were re-tried beginning on October 11, 2004. This time, Murphy, who was represented by Michael Cristolli, and Tabish, represented by famed civil rights lawyer J. Tony Serra, were each acquitted of the murder charges but were convicted on lesser charges of conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary and grand larceny related to the Ted Binion case.

The death of Ted Binion formed the basis for "Burked," a September 27, 2001 episode of the popular TV program CSI. An interesting irony resulting from this was that after the jury in the real-life re-trial found Murphy and Tabish not guilty of murder, news accounts reported that the jurors had been unwilling to find them guilty because the forensic evidence introduced by the prosecution at the real-life re-trial had not met the standards of the TV show.

Ted Binion's murder case was covered extensively in Death in the Desert: The Ted Binion Homicide Case, a book by Cathy Scott, and in Positively Fifth Street, a book by James McManus.

 


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