IRS SHUTS DOWN BENION'S HORSESHOE IN LAS VEGAS
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IRS SHUTS DOWN BENION'S HORSESHOE IN LAS VEGAS
Sat Jan 10 17:38:16 2004
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Today: January 10, 2004 at 13:30:30 PST

Agents shut down gambling at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas
By ADAM GOLDMAN
ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAS VEGAS (AP) - U.S. marshals and agents from the Internal Revenue Service shut down gambling at Binion's Horseshoe hotel-casino Friday, enforcing what authorities said was a federal court judgment for nonpayment of union benefits.

The hotel remained open and guests were being allowed inside the downtown property, known widely as the host of the World Series of Poker.

But roulette wheels stopped, blackjack games ended, slot machines were silenced and gamblers were told to cash in their chips about 7:30 p.m. Agents seized money from casino cashiers and sent at least some employees home.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Steven Carpenter told The Associated Press the agents were enforcing a federal court order stemming from unpaid employee union benefits. He said Nevada gambling regulators would determine when or if casino operations could resume.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Phil Raymond, 48, of Santa Barbara, Calif., who was staying at the hotel with 23 friends from around the country. Raymond and Todd Sawyer, 39, of Los Angeles, said they were unsure what would happen to tens of thousands of dollars they said they and their friends bet on weekend sporting events.

Horseshoe owner Becky Binion Behnen and her husband, property boss Nick Behnen, did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.

Another deputy U.S. marshal, Fidencio Rivera, told KLAS-TV the agents were trying to recover $1.9 million in union benefits.

"They didn't say anything," Al Napolitano, 57, a cook at the casino. "They just shut it down."

Phil Cornell, a waiter at Binion's steakhouse, showed The Associated Press a letter he was given, dated Friday, from Culinary Union Local 226 in Las Vegas. It said the federal court judgment was for in contributions to union health and pension plans.

"The Horseshoe has not been paying these contributions since last June," the letter said. "It is sad that the Horseshoe has come to this."

Binion's Horseshoe has been a fixture in downtown's Glitter Gulch since 1952. It was founded by legendary cowboy Benny Binion, who used high-stakes gambling to raise the profile of his casino and Las Vegas. It has hosted the annual poker tournament since 1970.

The hotel-casino has been in financial trouble in recent years, and the Internal Revenue Service filed a second tax lien Dec. 19 claiming $2.5 million in back taxes. On Nov. 5, a first IRS lien claimed $5 million in unpaid payroll taxes dating to 2002. A Phoenix-based IRS spokesman said at the time that the liens didn't mean the tax agency would seize the casino.

The Culinary Union, Nevada Power Co. and the downtown Fremont Street Experience, a casino business district that operates a downtown pedestrian mall and canopy light show, have also claimed they were owed money.

Becky Behnen has been negotiating with Harrah's Entertainment Inc. over the rights to the Horseshoe brand in Nevada. Harrah's in September bought Horseshoe Gaming Holding Corp., a riverboat gambling company owned by Behnen's brother, Jack Binion, and said it was interested in acquiring from Behnen the exclusive rights to the Horseshoe name in Nevada.

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