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The Independent Culture
BINION'S HORSESHOE in Las Vegas, the very heart and soul of poker, has been sold. The question is: will the World Series of Poker continue? This spring festival of poker is far and away the high point of the year for all serious poker players. Can it possibly not be held on its 30th anniversary next year?

The answer is both Yes and No. Fantastic as it is as a celebration of poker as well as a tournament venue, the World Series is not universally popular within the Binion family. Jack himself has always supported it and personally opens the World Championship with his time-honoured command: "Shuffle up and deal!" This year a record field of 350 players filled the arena, which is a tented space set up next to the hotel entrance.

But the shifting of slot machines out of the area designated for poker, and the general disruption to the regular operation of the casino, is resented by some members of the family. There is also a high cost in comps and free-loading for the players. All in all, the World Series probably costs the casino a couple of million or so. The marketing value of the event, however, is priceless. It serves to broadcast Binion's name far and wide - but that is a theoretical gain, which casino operators with their eye on the bottom line may not always appreciate.

This has been one of the problems that have caused bad blood within the family. It was no secret in Vegas, after old man Benny Binion was called to the great dealer in the sky, that Jack fell out with his sister Becky. Or that his brother Ted was refused a gaming licence and had a very public dispute with the authorities over his drugs record and reported Mafia associations.

Now the knot has been cut. Becky, Jack's sister, has bought out the other family members' stakes in the Horseshoe, so ending her lawsuit with Jack. The deal was brokered by Jack himself, who retains a 1 per cent share in the business for technical reasons. He will now concentrate full time on his highly successful casino interests in Mississippi and Louisiana. Becky Behnen (her married name) becomes the property's sole owner.

So where does that leave the World Series? If Becky decides to continue to run it at the Horseshoe, well and good. That is where it belongs. But if she decides against it (the Hall of Fame event in August has already been cancelled), someone else will certainly take it over. The Rio, behind the Mirage, has shown the way, by staging a major event of its own last January. Alternatively, the name World Series of Poker, itself a valuable asset, could be licensed to another operator. One way or another, under one name or another, the World Championship will surely go on.