Harrah's To Purchase Binion's Horseshoe

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Harrah's Entertainment has signed an agreement to buy the financially strapped Binion's Horseshoe hotel-casino, two days after the legendary downtown property shut down and federal agents seized money to pay for unpaid employee benefits, a Harrah's spokesman said Monday.

Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson declined to say how much the deal was worth, but said his company agreed to assume all the landmark property's liabilities. The deal includes the rights to the lucrative World Series of Poker tournament and the casino's legendary name in Nevada. Thompson couldn't say when the deal would be completed.

The purchase must be approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Thompson said Harrah's had been interested in buying Binion's before it was shuttered Saturday.

"There were prior negotiations but the pace accelerated over the weekend," Thompson said.

Thompson said Harrah's wants to reopen the hotel-casino and put its approximately 900 employees back to work.

Keith Copher, chief enforcement officer of the state Gaming Control Board, said Monday night that gambling regulators will act fast to get the casino reopened.

"How quickly that is I can't say at this point," he said. "The Gaming Control Board will do everything in its power to assist in opening the casino."

Nevada Gaming Commissioner Arthur Marshall said Harrah's could be a boon for the fading Glitter Gulch.

"I hope it will be great for downtown," Marshall said.

Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Becky Binion Behnen, majority owner of the Horseshoe Club Operating Co. that operates Binion's.

The downtown landmark has been run by the Binion family for more than 52 years since it was founded by Behnen's father, legendary cowboy Benny Binion. Benny Binion made the casino famous as a high-stakes gambling spot where no bet too was big. Binion, who died in 1989, began the World Series of Poker in 1970 and watched the annual tournament grow into poker's premier event.

In recent years, the casino had fallen on hard times, fighting to earn a profit and attract gamblers. In the end, one of Nevada's last family run casinos couldn't stave off mounting problems.

The Internal Revenue Service filed a lien against the property in November, claiming $5 million in unpaid payroll taxes dating to 2002. The IRS filed a second lien last month, claiming $2.5 million in back taxes.

Harrah's also took control of a note valued at about $20 million with accrued interest that the Horseshoe Club Operating Co. owed Behnen's brother, Jack Binion. Harrah's signed a $1.45 billion agreement in September to buy Jack Binion's Horseshoe Gaming Holding Corp., its properties and the Horseshoe name outside Nevada.

On Friday, U.S. Marshals enforced a court order, which charges the property has not paid about $3 million in pension and health insurance benefits since last summer for an estimated 400 union employees.

During an emergency meeting Saturday of the Nevada Gaming Commission, Behnen agreed to a suspended gambling license and to show she had obtained the property's minimum bankroll requirements before reopening.

Harrah's operates 26 casinos in 12 states, including Nevada, New Jersey, Louisiana and the riverboat markets of the Midwest. The company is Nevada's second largest employer with 42,000 workers.


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