Lonnie Theodore Binion (known as Ted Binion) was that rarest of birds: a Native Son of Las Vegas. Brought up amidst prominent privilege as the son of infamous “Benny” Binion, the owner of the downtown “Horseshoe Casino” and founder of the World Tournament of Poker, Ted Binion appeared to have it all. He, along with his brothers and sisters, were on intimate terms with the internal workings of the legendary Las Vegas landmark, taking over for Bennie upon reaching adulthood. On the surface, the Binions not only had the American Dream, with ownership of casinos, a huge ranch in Montana, and money, money, money coming into their coffers on a daily basis, they lived a life most of us cannot even imagine. Sounds good, doesn’t it? They had a large family, received the best education, lived in luxury, had all that money could buy.
As in so many cases, what’s wrong with this picture? So many times we hear of the sons and daughters of wealthy, prominent parents going off the deep end, losing their lives in ruination.
Ted Binion was one of these unfortunate sons, who in spite of having the best money could buy, couldn’t buy himself a life worth living. He had the best, but fell victim to all the worst “Sin City” has to offer, ending in his demise - drug-addicted, barred from the only life he really knew (casino life), his live-in lover and his best friend accused of his murder.
This is a story of excess: think money, think the best food, all you can eat, think drinks, all you can drink, think up all night, partying, topless bars, drugs to keep it going, no limits on what you can have, no boundaries on what you might spend, the best houses, the best cars, clothes, jewelry, whatever!
No limits. This was Ted Binion’s life. Every man’s dream, so it seems. But, alas, it wasn’t the answer. Conversely, Ted Binion was also known as a caring, helpful person, who would put himself out to his friends and neighbors - a man at the mercy of opposing forces.
In his days managing the Horseshoe, Binion saw a constant flow of money that led him to develop an appreciation and eye for quality silver. He began to collect, becoming fascinated with the artistry and variety of coinage that numismatists are prone to.
He not only began to collect, but being a man of excessive tastes, he began to hoard. He found and stashed every kind of silver coin he could get his hands on, eventually filling a vault beneath the gambling hall he called home with 46,000 pounds of mint silver coins.
This is a story, not only of Ted’s tragic life, but of the silver he loved and its journey from the vault under the Horseshoe to its newly-constructed home under the Nevada desert, to you, the reader of this story, and how it all ties in.
In our society, precious metal in and of itself has value. But we, beings who love a story almost beyond where we should, are endlessly fascinated with the story behind things, the story behind celebrities, historical figures, great works of art, greatness on any level. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be greatness, as long as the telling of the story is great.
We are a people who love the backstory, especially if it concerns someplace we’re familiar with, and how many of us have frequented the Temples to Money that is Las Vegas?
We (although we’re warned not to), love to worship at the Golden Calf, and hope it’s also being served on the buffet table. Hey, it’s what our economic system is all about.
Our system may not be perfect and may cause a lot of secondary problems, but for right now, it’s all we’ve got. What’s that old line? The man who dies with the most toys at the end wins the game? If we begin to see things in terms of systems and games, everything looks a little different. It’s all a matter of perspective and perception.
So, this is the story of Ted Binion and the backstory of his Silver Hoard , an amazing collection of silver coinage (described in more detail below) and how you might get your hot little hands on some of it, should it be of interest to you.
Silver in any form is expected to greatly rise in value in the next few years, and for those of you who are numistamistically inclined (there’s a mouthful), this may be your chance to acquire pieces far so beyond the ordinary they almost fall into the “worthy of worship” category. I don’t believe there’s any admonition about not worshiping at the Silver Calf. Certainly, we can understand Ted Binion’s desire to acquire and hoard these treasures, even if we can’t quite understand his loyalty to that which brought about his questionable end.
As we alluded to earlier, Ted Binion was quite the party animal. He lived hard and fast and loved the ladies. He was known to frequently frequent a famous Las Vegas establishment of titillation by tit-elevation known as Cheetah’s – a place known for it’s scantily-clad lovely ladies.
Therein, he met a surfer-girl named Sandy Murphy. Ms. Murphy had just lost over $10,000.00, her life savings, playing blackjack at Caesar's Palace. It was initially reported that in order to cover her losses, Ms. Murphy took a job as a topless dancer at Cheetah's, but Murphy claims that she was working at the club as an independent contractor selling costumes to the dancers who worked there. In any case, it was where she and Binion hooked up.
Sandy Murphy's profile on the Court TV's website quotes Ms. Murphy as saying, "I really didn't know who Ted Binion was or what the Binion family was." Binion, age 55, apparently fell for the 23-year-old Southern California girl, who had just made her first trip to Las Vegas. It is reported that Binion and Murphy grew quite close, and on March 7, 1995, Binion moved her into his home on Palomino Lane.
It was not long before Murphy quickly fell into step with Binion’s rich Las Vegas lifestyle, which seems to have included violence, sex, drugs, physical and verbal abuse. Sandy Murphy claims that she was never after Binion's money or that she had any knowledge of his reputation on the local scene.
It seems a plausible story, if you consider she, a pretty 23-year-old, was most likely thrilled she’d found a 55-year-old who gave her a nice house to live in, along with a lifestyle of abuse and degradation.
Enter Part Two of the end-story of Ted Binion. Early in 1998, Binion met and befriended a struggling contractor by the name of Rick Tabish, whom he had met in the restroom of one of Las Vegas' high-end restaurants (…an auspicious beginning).
Apparently, Tabish was not a very savvy businessman because he continually lost money through weak business dealings, and when he met Binion he was running a sandpit and trucking company on the verge of failure. Binion, however, befriended Tabish and invited him to his home. Both Tabish and Binion came from families with successful fathers, and the Binion family had a very large ranch in Montana, where Tabish also hailed from. These factors may have been the common bond that drew them together.
After some bad business with the Gaming Commission, Binion was barred from running the Horseshoe Casino, and his sister was in line to take over. Ol’ Ted had to find someplace to put all that silver. In the interim, Rick and Sandy had become attracted to each other and began an affair behind Binion’s back.
The efforts of his new friend Tabish and his girlfriend Murphy in talking him into liquidating the silver were not well received. Binion felt the price of silver was too low and he wanted to wait for a more advantageous time.
So, in a stroke of brilliance, he contracted with Tabish to build him an underground vault on his property in Pahrump. The vault was constructed, and on July 4, 1998, Tabish filled the vault with 46,000 pounds of silver from the basement hiding place of Binion's Horseshoe Casino. When Tabish had finished and locked up the vault, he asked Binion if he wanted the locks changed and the key back, and Binion declined, stating he trusted his friend.
About two months later, Binion was found dead. On September 17, 1998, paramedics found Ted Binion dead in the den of his Las Vegas home that he had shared with Murphy for about 3 1/2 years.
Initially, investigators thought Binion, who struggled with a drug addiction, passed away from a overdose of tar heroin, Xanax and Valium, drugs he had purchased a day earlier.
The 911 telephone call to police to report the death was made by Murphy an estimated four to ten hours later, and she was reported to have cried to the 911 operator that her "husband" was not breathing (Binion and Murphy were not married).
Rather suspiciously, one day after the death of Binion, Murphy is seen on a videotape pointing out which possessions she wants from the estate; accusing the Binion family of
removing items from the house in her absence and pocketing a wine glass that investigators believe may have contained the drug mixture that was forcibly poured down Ted Binion's throat.
Even more suspiciously, two days after Binion's death sheriff deputies caught Tabish and two assistants, excavating the last of Binion's estimated $7 million of silver coins and bars from the underground desert vault at 2:00 a.m. Their report also stated that they found Tabish's briefcase at the scene containing a safe combination and a handwritten note from Murphy proclaiming her love for him.
These events, along with private investigations begun by the Binion family,
initiated an additional investigation by police. What was thought to be an
overdose now became a murder probe.
The police probe into the death of Binion led to the arrest of Murphy and Tabish about nine months later, and gave the prosecutors the following evidence to present at trial:
Murphy and Tabish began an affair during the summer of 1998.
Tabish bragged about the affair.
Both Murphy and Tabish knew about the $7 million of silver; tried to
convince Binion to sell it; and, knew of the underground desert vault.
The prosecution's medical examiner, Dr. Michael Baden, theorized that
Binion was force-fed the drug mixture which disoriented him, and allowed him to be suffocated.
Tabish's involvement was reinforced by his attempt to excavate the silver.
Murphy was listed as a beneficiary in Binion's Will.
Binion's estate attorney filed a petition stating that Binion told him over
the telephone, "Get Sandy out of the Will if she doesn't kill me tonight.
If I'm dead, you'll know what happened to me."
Binion was dead before the Will could be changed.
Tabish needed money because he was cash-strapped.
Tabish had previous run-ins with the law. He was convicted twice in
Montana, once for burglary and once for conspiracy to possess narcotics.
In addition, he was also charged (along with two associates) in the kidnapping
and torture of business associate Leo Casey in July 1998.
Murphy and Tabish were tried and convicted on May 19, 2000, after an eight
day deliberation by the jury. Tabish was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Murphy received a minimum 22 years. In July 2003, in a 4 to 3 decision the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Murphy and Tabish because of improper courtroom procedures. This led to a retrial, and in November of 2004 a seven-man, five-woman jury returned a verdict after 19 hours of deliberations.
Murphy and Tabish were acquitted of the most serious charge against them, the murder verdict.
The Las Vegas jury cited a lack of medical evidence for their decision.
Through a provision in Binion's Will, Murphy may be able to claim $1.2 million pending the outcome of a wrongful-death suit brought against her by the Binion family.
Where are they now? Both were each acquitted of murder but were convicted on lesser charges of conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary and grand larceny. Murphy was not returned to prison, because of time served. Tabish is expected to be released in 2008.
Note: A prosecution death theory, which the jury ultimately rejected, formed the basis for "Burked," a September 27, 2001 episode of the TV series CSI.
After the jury in the re-trial found Tabish and Murphy not guilty of murder, news accounts reported that jurors had been unwilling to find them guilty because the forensic evidence introduced by the prosecution had not met the standards of the television show.
So, what happened to all of Ted Binion's silver?
In November 2001, Spectrum Numismatic International purchased the coins from the Binion Hoard for $3 million, and the marketing of the coins was assigned to Goldline International, Inc. There were over 100,000 Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars, and an unspecified number of silver Half Dollars.
The coins were authenticated and graded by NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation). A special tag and designation was created by NGC to make these coins stand out as coins with a pedigree. In addition to the special tagging, the silver dollars were marked with the words Binion Collection and the half dollars were marked with the words Nevada Silver Collection.
The coins were sold in a variety of grades up to and including MS-68, and there was a wide array of price points originally starting at $50.00.
The story and court trial over Ted Binion's death has kept America buzzing,
and the coins from the Binion Hoard have given Coin Collectors a piece of modern day history that will live long in the annals of numismatics.
The complete story is far from over, but once the last chapter is written, these pedigreed coins will have a story like no other.
The Binion coins were authenticated and certified by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), one of the nation's leading independent facilities for the inspection, authentication and grading of collector and investor coins. At the completion of their process, NGC sealed each silver dollar into a tamperproof plastic holder showing the coin's year and mint of issue, plus the coin's grade.
A coin's grade is important because it is the primary determinant of the coin's market value.
Mark Salzberg, President of NGC, said, "This is the greatest collection of silver dollars that NGC has ever authenticated."
NGC has also included a unique certification sealed into each protective holder for the historic coins. Each Binion silver dollar features a special NGC pedigree label that for the first time is in a color (green) and depicts three cowboys from the Old West. Each label also reads, Binion Collection and BinionCollection.com to further identify the pedigree and to offer collectors a website with additional information about the collection. "These coins are dripping with amazing originality and historical importance," said Salzberg. He added, "Less than one out of every 1,000 coins NGC grades has a pedigree. Pedigrees add to the collectibility of a coin because they identify it from a historical perspective."
"The coins of the Binion Collection offer an opportunity for both novices and sophisticated collectors to acquire coins for their collections," said Mark Albarian, President and CEO of Goldline. "The price range is affordable—many coins are available for less than $50 with the most expensive over $10,000."
The Binion Collection should be good for the U.S. rare coin market. Salzberg also remarked, "Collections like these bring interest to the coin market. People that never thought about collecting and investing in coins will make a decision to do so because of the press surrounding the Binion Collection."