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October 25, 2014

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City Defers Horseshoe Club License

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Sun File Photo

Binion’s Horseshoe owner Bennie Binion is shown in this March 1978 photo. Binion’s is the first downtown casino to have carpeted floors, free drinks for all players and limo service to and from the airport.

Application by Dr. Monte Bernstein for a gambling license to reopen the former Eldorado Club was stalled for an indefinite period by city commissioners last night in a heated session with the prominent doctor, during which city officials inferentially challenged his ability as a gambling club operator.

But Benny Binion, rebuffed by the State Tax Commission and denied a license to operate the establishment, won a liquor license in connection with the reopening of the club, after commissioners praised him as "an asset to the gambling industry."

Appreciating the commissioners' approval of the liquor license, Binion asked that they hold up the tavern permit until the club obtains approval of a gambling license.

In recent action of the State Tax Commission, Dr. Bernstein was granted a license but Binion was turned down. The position was reversed at last night's commission meeting.

Commissioners Wendell Bunker and William Peccole both pointed to Binion as one whose association with the corporation "would be a chief asset." They said they could not understand the state's position in denying him a license.

"His position is the same as when the state granted him a license previously in the operation of the Westerner Club," they said. "We cannot understand the logic behind the state's refusal."

However, Binion accepted the city officials' unanimous approval, although commenting that the bar license is ineffective without the gambling license.

"One cannot operate without the other," he added.

The commissioners' attitude presaged a "get tough policy" on the issuance of licenses.

Commissioner Bunker remarked that "too many out-of-state people are getting jobs in gambling halls here, denying employment to local residents."

Perplexed by the commissioners' action deferring license approval, Dr. Bernstein demanded to know "what's wrong."

"It's getting to a point where local residents can't get jobs any longer in the casinos," Bunker asserted. "IT appears that too many outsiders are coming here for preferential jobs."

Then Bunker lashed into Bernstein, demanding to know "who's putting up the bankroll in the gambling operation."

"It'll be my money," Bernstein retorted, seating under the bulldogging of commissioners' questions fired at him. He removed his coat. His shirt soiled by sweat, Bernstein asked for a momentary pause to relax.

"I have a headache," he said, adding "this sort of thing makes me upset and nervous."

The commissioners called for a five-minute recess and retired to the mayor's back office.

When the session reconvened -- and with Lt. Gov. Cliff Jones among those in the chamber audience -- Bernstein explained that while most of his money will comprise "the bankroll," he intends to borrow "some funds" and loan the cash to the corporation when and if the old Eldorado reopens under the name of The Horseshoe Club.

Extensive repairs and refurnishing, underway during the past several weeks, are almost complete and operators had intended to reopen next Friday.

Bernstein, who holds medical honors from a number of governments in Europe and India, has an interest in the Golden Nugget, but this fact "held no water" with city commissioners.

"Ownership of stock doesn't necessarily mean you'll make a good club operator, which in this case appears to be a necessity," Mayor C. D. Baker said.

Commissioners referred to Bernstein's earlier operation of the Eldorado Club which he shut down after a dispute with landlord P. O. Silvagni, forcing the dismissal of some 250 workers.

Bernstein said his differences with Silvagni precipitating the club's closing, "had been settled," and that a lawsuit against Silvagni "had been dropped."

In explaining his associates, Bernstein told the commissioners "no one connected with the corporation has any criminal record."

In recounting financial transactions involving Binion's interest in the corporation, Bernstein disclosed that the former Texas gambler "has invested more than $300,000 in the establishment."

He said Binion had paid of all of the outstanding debts--involving some $50,000 incurred by the old Eldorado operation.

Binion, it was explained, had brought Silvagni and Bernstein together enabling them to "kiss and make up."

Binion bought Silvagni out, including lease concessions on the slot machines, in an agreement calling for the payment of $175,000. Under terms of the contract, Binion paid Silvagni $50,000 down with the balance to be paid over a two-year period.

Although Lieutenant Governor Jones said he was appearing on behalf of a client on another issue, he jumped to Bernstein's defense during the discussions, explaining he previously represented the doctor on other legal matters.

"Dr. Bernstein has been in the gambling business for many years. He is one of the large owners of the Golden Nugget," the state official explained, contending this fact established him as a capable club operator.

Jones expanded Bernstein's earlier declaration that reopening of the club would mean the employment of at least 250 local people, whom the doctor explained already had been contacted to stand by.

At this point, Mayor Baker asserted:

"I don't like the insinuation that the board's decision in withholding approval of the gambling license means loss of jobs to local people."

He added, "We're not responsible. The cause for this action lies there," Baker said, pointing to Bernstein.