After more than two months of uneasy silence, Binion's Horseshoe was once again filled with the sound of spinning roulette wheels and clinking slot machines as the landmark casino reopened.
Thousands of loyal customers and curious onlookers flooded the gambling floor Thursday afternoon when the doors to the legendary downtown property swung open under new ownership and management.
Within minutes, every seat was taken, every machine was playing. Gamblers were winning and losing.
Binion's Horseshoe was back.
"I'm absolutely amazed," said Gary Loveman, chief executive officer of Harrah's Entertainment, the company managing the casino and the one that orchestrated its revival in a complex and fast-paced deal designed to rescue the famed casino from financial troubles.
Not much had changed inside the casino that was founded more than 52 years ago by cowboy Benny Binion. Binion put his casino on the map by picking up gamblers at the airport, accepting bets of any size and starting the World Series of Poker in 1970.
He died in 1989 and Binion's slowly declined over the years.
Harrah's officials said they removed about 25 percent of the table games and 400 slot machines to make the casino less cramped.
All the old grimy chips were replaced with clean ones sporting Benny Binion's famous mug. Swaths of the ratty carpet, with its floral pattern and lucky horseshoes, were replaced with identical new rolls found stashed away in a warehouse.
But it was essentially still the same dimly lit Binion's - minus the smoke that would surely return and the sports book that had yet to reopen.
"It's like going back in time," blackjack dealer Michael Frank, 43, said. "It's still Binion's but with that Harrah's flair."
Frank was one of 930 employees Harrah's hired. Almost all the former Binion's workers got their jobs back, Harrah's spokesman David Strow said.
Binion's closed Jan. 9 after U.S. marshals seized cash from the casino to pay outstanding employee benefits. With Binion's in a crippling financial bind, Harrah's seized the opportunity and bought the Horseshoe for about $50 million.
It quickly negotiated a deal with MTR Gaming Group Inc., which will own Binion's Horseshoe through a subsidiary called Speakeasy Gaming of Fremont Inc.
The sale price was about $20 million, MTR's president and chief executive officer Ted Arneault has said. Harrah's retained the rights to the lucrative Horseshoe name and the World Series of Poker.
Harrah's is managing Binion's for a year and has the option of extending the agreement for up to two more years.
Harrah's officials said the 35th annual World Series of Poker tournament is set to begin April 23 at Binion's, possibly the last time it will be held at the casino. More than 1,000 people are expected to enter.
The $10,000 No Limit Hold'em event should conclude by May 28, with the winner taking home a record $3 million. Prize money could exceed $20 million.
"We think with the popularity of poker it will be the biggest tournament ever," said Tom Jenkin, president of Harrah's Western Division.
Benny Binion, Jenkin said, would be happy.
"I hope he's smiling tonight."
On the Net: Harrah's: http://www.harrahs.com/