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The astonishing story of Benny Binion—a rip-roaring saga of murder, money, and the making of Las Vegas

Benny Binion was many things: a cowboy, a pioneering casino owner, a gangster, a killer, and founder of the hugely successful World Series of Poker. Blood Aces tells the story of Binion’s crucial role in shaping modern Las Vegas. From a Texas backwater, Binion rose to prominence on a combination of vision, determination, and brutal expediency. His formula was simple: run a good business, cultivate the big boys, kill your enemies, and own the cops. Through a mix of cold-bloodedness, native intelligence, folksiness, and philanthropy, Binion became one of the most revered figures in the history of gambling, and his showmanship, shrewdness, and violence would come to dominate the Vegas scene.

Veteran journalist Doug J. Swanson uses once-secret government documents and dogged reporting to show how Binion destroyed his rivals and outsmarted his adversaries—including J. Edgar Hoover. As fast paced as any thriller, Blood Aces tells a story that is unmatched in the annals of American criminal justice, a vital yet untold piece of this country’s history.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Doug Swanson is one terrific reporter and writer. In Blood Aces, he delivers not just the facts, ma’am, but an appalling yet wickedly humorous portrait of the Godfather of Glitter Gulch, a warm-hearted family man and cold-blooded killer who pioneered Vegas odds-making and launched the World Series of Poker.”

    James McManus, New York Times bestselling author of Positively Fifth Street

  • “Prepare to meet one of the great unknown crime kingpins in American history: Benny Binion, a semiliterate, grammar-murderin’, Stetson-and-boots-wearin’ Texas hick who presided over an underworld of cowboy gangsters every bit as unique, lethal, and compelling as the Cosa Nostra. In Blood Aces, Doug J. Swanson has written a terrific, propulsive account of a man and a subculture I can virtually guarantee you know little or nothing about. This is dazzlingly original stuff, and it’s entertaining as hell.”

    S. C. Gwynne, New York Times bestselling author of Empire of the Summer Moon

  • “Welcome to the world of Benny Binion, the cowboy with a second-grade education who helped create Sin City and laid the groundwork for modern-day spectator poker. Steeped in lore and backed by meticulous research, Doug Swanson’s Blood Aces gives readers an intimate and in-depth look at a key era in the history of American capitalism…Prepare to be Binionized.”

    Denise Kiernan, New York Times bestselling author of The Girls of Atomic City

  • Blood Aces delivers the best of everything—a tale of two cities (Dallas and Las Vegas), a primer on the history and nuances of gambling (poker and dice, especially), and, above all, the many adventures of the one and only Benny Binion, who could charm or kill with equal ease. It’s a fascinating slice of colorful Americana delivered with insight and sly humor by Doug J. Swanson, one of the best historian-storytellers around. Unlike Binion’s crooked cons, Blood Aces is a sure thing for every reader.”

    Jeff Guinn, New York Times bestselling author of Manson

  • “‘He was either the gentlest bad guy or the baddest good guy you’d ever seen.’ Friends of Benny Binion had difficulty describing him and his enemies often died before they had the chance. During his long life, Binion controlled the Dallas underworld and created the World Series of Poker and the Las Vegas casino scene that still thrives. Even two murder convictions did not cramp his gangster style, yet this long-lived, enigmatic horse trader’s son was also known for spontaneous philanthropy. Doug Swanson’s biography of this colorful cowboy mobster fills in gaps in gambling history and, just as importantly, keeps us riveted to the page.”

    Barnes&Noble.com, editorial review

  • “Armchair detectives and other aficionados of the history of thug culture in America will feel a warm glow of assurance at the first few paragraphs of Blood Aces...[Swanson] brings new credibility to the subject without trying too hard to mythologize him and, wisely, without trying to make him seem likable. No one ever said you have to be likable to be interesting.”

    Austin Chronicle 

  • “Benny Binion is not as well known as Bugsy Seigel, who created Las Vegas, but, as crime-novelist Swanson makes clear in this rollicking biography, Binion also deserves his place in the Sin City Hall of Fame…Swanson, a Dallas Morning News editor when he’s not writing crime novels, has turned the biography of Binion into a great piece of narrative nonfiction that reads like, well, a great crime novel.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Swanson skillfully brings Binion to life and continually intrigues with the exhilarating account of the history of poker and the decadent metropolis that reminds us that ambition, power, and violence often go hand in hand. This is the madcap, bloody, improbable life of an outlaw who left his mark on Las Vegas, poker, and gambling from coast to coast.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “The big life and fast times of one of the most charismatic and dangerous good ol’ boys in America’s criminal history...[A] well-researched and executed biography...Fans of other gangster histories will likely be intrigued by Binion’s arc...The later sections of the book will be of interest to poker fans, as Binion retreats to Sin City to buy casinos and accidentally creates a legacy when he founds the World Series of Poker as a promotional stunt...An entertaining and provocative portrait of a man whose dichotomies were largely a product of the violent times in which he thrived.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “A compelling narrative full of outlandish characters, Blood Aces is a fast-paced read as enlightening as it is shocking.”

    Sally Denton, author of The Money and the Power

  • Winner of the 2014 ReadWest Award for Literary Excellence in Nonfiction
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month in Biographies and Memoirs
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About the Author

Doug J. Swanson is the investigative projects editor at the Dallas Morning News and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. He is the author of several crime novels, for which he was a finalist for the Edgar Award and won the 1994 John Creasy Award for Best First Book from the Crime Writers’ Association. He is a recipient of the 2014 ReadWest Award for Literary Excellence in Nonfiction.