Wednesday, June 27, 2007


One of the most colorful people who made Las Vegas the city it is today was Benny Binion, so beloved that the city erected an equestrian statue of him in downtown Las Vegas (take that,Bugsy Siegel!)

Lester Ben (Benny) Binion was born in 1904 to horse trading parents who were constantly traveling around rural Texas. He never stayed in one place long enough to attend school. He learned enough to live by his wits, by running errands for gamblers and directing people to the clandestine gambling joints, which catered to the cowboys and the roughnecks in the oilfields.

At age 18, he moved to El Paso where he learned the art of bootlegging. After being arrested and convicted a couple of times, he promised the judge that he would get out of the liquor business.

Instead, he started a numbers racket. Nowadays, the State controls that and calls it the State Lottery. But back in the 1920's and 30's and to some extent today, entrepreneurs ran their own (illegal) lotteries. Eventually, he graduated to floating crap games in hotel rooms in the oilfields of Beaumont, Texas. Although
his reading and writing abilities were suspect, he could count better than most people, and he became a successful gambler.

Unfortunately, success in illegal activities brings unwanted attention, both from law enforcement and crossroading crooks. In 1931, Binion shot and killed a fellow bootlegger, Frank Bolding, after Binion accused Bolding of stealing liquor from him.
In the confrontation, Bolding reached for his knife, and Binion, rolling backwards off a log, shot him in the neck. He was convicted of first degree murder and received a 2 year suspended sentence. The sentence was lenient because, apparently, the man he killed had a reputation for violence, and the authorities believed that Binion had done them a favor by killing him. Several years later, Binion killed a rival numbers game operator who had shot him in the arm. The court found him innocent because of self defense.

By 1946, Binion was prominent in Dallas gambling circles but violence between gambling rivals was escalating, and nobody in the business was safe. The last straw came when his favorite politicians were voted out of office and "reform" candidates were elected. It was time to head for the high country.

In the same month that Ben Siegel (his enemies called him Bugsy) opened the Flamingo casino, Benny Binion piled his family into the station wagon along with a suitcase full of money, and headed to Las Vegas where gambling was legal. He bought into a small casino in downtown Las Vegas, and in 1951, he opened his own casino, the famous Horseshoe. The big attraction for gamblers was that Binion would accept any size bet, provided that it was their initial bet. With the highest limits in town, the Horseshoe became a Mecca for high rolling gamblers.

To keep the gamblers in line, Binion nurtured his unsavory reputation from back in Texas by telling many stories about the bad old days in the rackets in Texas.

In 1953, the Feds indicted him for tax evasion (remember Al Capone?), and he was forced to sell the controlling interest in the Horseshoe to pay his legal bills. Nevertheless, he ended up as an honored guest of the government for over 3 years in Leavenworth. The Binion family got the Horseshoe back several years later, but, because of his criminal record, Binion could not hold a gaming license.

Instead, he became a consultant for the casino and initiated new ideas such as comping small time gamblers and slot players with free drinks and meals. Binion said, "If you want to get rich, make little people feel like big people." His most famous idea was the World Series of Poker which he hosted, starting in 1972, with 8 players. The WSOP was actually begun by Tom Morehead from Reno, but Binion took it over and, by revising the rules to resolve the tournament over a short time period before people got bored, made it a major commercial event. The first winner was Thomas Austin Preston, a/k/a Amarillo Slim. (See April 18, 2007 issue of KENSUSKINREPORT). The WSOP, with national TV coverage, now attracts thousands of players annually, even despite the $10,000 entry fee. The key to its popularity was that any schlepper with $10,000 to buy in could compete with the pros and maybe even win.

Binion had no office in the casino, but informally held court in a booth in the hotel coffee shop. He didn't require appointments, but he would talk to ordinary people as well as congressmen and judges, often telling colorful stories of rodeos and crap games.

He died on Christmas Day, 1989, and over 1000 people turned out at the church. Senator Harry Reid summarized it well, "He's my hero, Nevada is a better place because of him." I guess he was a classic example of rehabilitation--only in Las Vegas can a former crook merit a statue for doing what was illegal in every other state.



Monday, June 18, 2007


I was asked to write this as a public service for the folks in Lake County, Illinois.

Sometimes you want to sue someone, but the amount is too small to make it economical to hire a lawyer. The Small Claims Court is available for disputes up to $10,000.

The most common types of disputes involve home repairs, auto repairs, small debts, etc.

The important point here is you don't need a lawyer to file suit or defend in small claims court. The exception is if you are suing or defending on behalf of a corporation, you can't represent the corporation unless you're a lawyer.

To file suit without a lawyer, in Lake County, go to the Clerk of Circuit Court in Waukegan and obtain the forms. The Clerk will give you a pro se booklet, which will illustrate the procedure and show how the forms are to be completed without a lawyer's help. Pro se is not to be confused with pro bono, which means you're a fan of that U-2 guy. On the Complaint form, you must describe in general terms why you think the Defendant owes you money. If there is a contract or promissory note relating to the dispute, you should attach a copy of that document. You sign the Complaint and file it with the Clerk. There is a filing fee which is based on the amount of the suit--generally it runs between $100 and $200. If you win the case, the Defendant must reimburse you for the court costs.

If you can show that you are indigent (we know you're indignant), the court has authority to waive the filing fees. For example, if you are on public aid or food stamps, you probably qualify. If you claim to be indigent, but you're really not...well let's not go there.

You must fill out a summons form, in which you choose the next court date, which the Clerk will sign. After filing the suit, you must serve the summons and complaint on the Defendant. Normally, you do that by delivering the papers to the Sheriff who, for a fee based on distance, will serve them on the Defendant. You must give the Sheriff the address of the Defendant. The Sheriff will not locate him for you. Because it's a civil case, there are no Carmen Miranda warnings.

If the Defendant lives in another county, you would deliver the papers to the Sheriff in that other county, along with the fee.

If the Sheriff is unable to find the Defendant, the Judge will continue the case, but the court will have to issue another summons, called an alias summons.

Keep in mind that some Defendants are professional deadbeats who will make every effort to avoid being served. There was a 2002 movie, Serving Sara, where process server Matthew Perry attempts to serve the elusive Elizabeth Hurley with divorce papers. The rival process server was Vincent Pastore, formerly of the Sopranos. The movie is definitely worth seeing, just because of Elizabeth Hurley. However, when they were giving out Oscars, they must have overlooked this movie.

If you can locate the Defendant and serve him, he will have to file an appearance by the Return Date, which is the date you chose when you filed the lawsuit. If he does not appear, you can obtain a judgment from the Judge and then proceed to collect from the Defendant. If he does appear, the trial is generally two weeks later, and you and the Defendant will tell your stories to the Judge who will decide who wins. You don't have to come up with Perry Mason stuff like "if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit". Just give a straight and honest assessment of the facts.

If the Judge rules in your favor, you are allowed to take steps to collect the money from the Defendant. Hopefully, he will pay voluntarily. If not, you can garnish his bank account if he has one, or garnish his wages if he has a job. This can be a long and tedious process.

Once again, if you have a lawyer, legal fees to collect the judgment could cost more than the judgment amount. If you're on your own, there could be much time involved. The Clerk has the proper forms, but you may need to drag the guy into court to make a sworn statement of his assets under oath. That is called a Citation to Discover Asets. If the Defendant doesn't show in court after being served with that Citation, the Sheriff can do a body attachment (same as an arrest). The court will try to help, but won't give you legal advice. You must do the legwork yourself.



Tuesday, June 12, 2007


The Chicago White Sox have had a long tradition of weak hitting, but often they have been able to win despite their hitting ineptitude. Here are two examples over the years:


On April 22, 1959, the White Sox offered a glimpse of how they would go on to win their first American League pennant in 40 years. Against the woeful Kansas City A's, the Sox scored 11 runs in the 7th inning despite making only 1 hit, a single, which was the only ball hit out of the infield the whole inning. The inning went like this:

With righthander Tom Gorman pitching for the A's, and the White Sox leading 8-6, Ray Boone grounded to shortstop Joe DeMaestri who threw wild to first base for an error. Al Smith bunted and was safe when third baseman Hal Smith fumbled the ball. John Callison singled to right field, for the only hit, scoring Boone, and when rightfielder Roger Maris fumbled the ball, A. Smith scored also, and Callison went to third base.

Luis Aparicio walked, and quickly stole second base. Bob Shaw, the Sox relief pitcher also walked. The A's replaced pitcher Gorman with Mark Freeman.

Earl Torgeson, pinch hitting for Sammy Esposito greeted Freeman with a walk, forcing in Callison from third base. Nellie Fox walked, forcing in Aparicio. Jim Landis made the first out, by grounding out to the pitcher who forced Shaw at home plate.

Sherman Lollar, the Sox catcher, walked, scoring Torgeson. That was all for Freeman, who was replaced on the mound by Lefthander George Brunet who couldn't find the plate either. Boone walked, forcing in Fox. Smith walked, scoring Landis. Callison didn't walk. However he was hit by a pitch, scoring Lollar. Lou Skizas ran for Callison. Aparicio walked, sending Boone walking home for the 9th run of the inning. Shaw, the pitcher, struck out this time. However, Bubba Phillips, pinch hitting for Torgeson, walked, scoring Smith with the 10th run of the inning. Fox walked for the second time in the inning, scoring Skizas. Finally, Landis grounded out again mercifully ending the inning.

Totals for the inning: 11 runs, 1 hit, 3 errors, 10 walks, 1 hit batsman, and 3 runners left on base. The Sox won the game 20-6. Nellie Fox, a future Hall of Famer drove in 4 runs in the game without getting a hit. The Sox won the pennant while hitting the fewest homers of any team in the league, but they lost in the World Series to the LA Dodgers.

Some of the other names may be familiar. A's right fielder Roger Maris was traded to the NY Yankees the next season and, in 1961, hit 61 homers, eclipsing the long held record set by Babe Ruth. You can check out the Roger Maris exhibit in a shopping mall in Fargo, ND which Dianne and I did. Aparicio also was elected to the Hall of Fame for his brilliant fielding. Al Smith had a glass of beer poured on his head in the 1959 World Series in a famous photograph as he was watching a Dodger homer sail over his head. Ray Boone's son Bob became a major league catcher who holds the record for most games caught. His grandson Aaron hit a homer to win the pennant for the NY Yankees. George Brunet, the A's hapless pitcher, went on to become one of the greatest pitchers in the Mexican League and pitched there into his 50's. He was elected posthumously to the Salon de la Fama, the Mexican Hall of Fame. He also holds the Minor League record for strikeouts with over 3,100 strikeouts.


July 1, 1990 was one of the most unusual games in the history of Chicago's Comiskey Park. The NY Yankees, in most years a dominant team, had their problems that season. Their righthanded pitcher, Andy Hawkins, pitched a no hit game against the Chicago White Sox, but managed to lose 4-0.

For seven innings, Hawkins dominated the Sox, and after he retired the first two batters in the eighth inning. Sammy Sosa (yes, THAT Sammy Sosa) was safe on an error by Yankees third baseman Mike Blowers. Hawkins then got rattled and walked the next two batters, loading the bases. Robin Ventura hit a fly ball to rookie left fielder Jim Leyritz, normally a third baseman, who muffed it, and all three runners scored. The next hitter, Ivan Calderon hit a fly ball to right field where Jesse Barfield lost the ball in the sun and dropped it, scoring Ventura. The bottom line: 4 runs, no hits, 3 errors, 1 man left on base. The Yankees were unable to score in the 9th inning and lost 4-0.

The killjoys at the office of Commissioner Fay Vincent decided not to give Hawkins credit for a no-hitter because the White Sox did not bat in the 9th inning, and so Hawkins pitched only 8 innings.

That's all for now.



Monday, June 11, 2007


One of the greatest sports legends of the 1950's was a tall (6'9"), gangly basketball player named Bevo Francis who dazzled the sports world by scoring 116 points in one game, while playing for tiny Rio (pronounced RYE-o) Grande College in Wellesville, Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachians. Towering above most of the players of that era, Francis could shoot the ball from inside or outside from what is now considered 3-point range. For the 1952-53 season, he averaged over 50 points per game, although the NAIA didn't recognize some of the games as "official" because they were played against junior colleges, military bases and bible seminaries. So, according to the NAIA, his official scoring average was only 48.3 points per game, which is still the record.

From today's perspective, one rarely sees one-man teams anymore, and certainly not winning teams, although this year's Cleveland Cavaliers, starring LeBron James, may be a limited exception.

One could rightfully wonder how Mr. Francis ended up at a college like Rio Grande which had just 94 students, of which 56 were girls. The season before Mr. Francis arrived on campus, the team won 4 and lost 19. Mr. Francis was recruited by major colleges, but stood by his small town high school coach who took the job at Rio Grande.

The college gym had no showers (the players ran across to the dorm), a leaky roof and a tile floor, and it seated less than 200 on folding chairs. Bevo wasn't there for the social life; he got married during his sophomore year in high school, and his oldest child, Frank, was born the following year.

Bevo's real name was Clarence, but his father was called Bevo, named after a popular beer of which he was fond. Clarence was called Little Bevo, until he outgrew his father. He missed two school years because of anemia, but he was tall for his age, and he practiced incessantly on the local ball courts, developing an outstanding jump shot. He earned a reputation as a playground legend, and when he entered Wellesville High School, it was rumored that his parents were given a house to induce Bevo to enroll there. The superintendent believed that where there's smoke, there's fire, and ruled him ineligible for his freshman and sophomore years in high school. His coach, Newt Oliver, kept the faith, and finally got Bevo for his junior year, and he didn't disappoint. He averaged over 30 points per game and made the Ohio All-State team. He was ineligible his senior year because he turned age 20.

At that point, Coach Oliver moved on to coach the Rio Grande Redmen and brought his star player, Francis, who hadn't graduated from high school, with him. No problem. The coach enrolled him at the local high school to complete his missing credits. "Don't worry about passing English, you can speak English."

This scenario sounds like a bad Gabe Kaplan movie (see Fast Break, 1979) , but Coach Oliver was a promoter in the tradition of P.T. Barnum. He knew he had a prize in Bevo Francis, and assembled a weak schedule designed to showcase Francis' offensive talents. He raided the Athletic Dept. treasury for $25.00 to ensure that the NCAA would include Francis' scoring figures in the national weekly statistics.

Oliver was quoted as saying, "I knew that people wouldn't pay to see five players score 15 points each; I knew they would flock in to see one player score 50."

And that they did. On January 19, 1953, Francis scored 116 points against Ashland (KY) Junior College, which the NCAA didn't recognize because Ashland was not a four year college. The score of the game was 150-85. On January 24th, he scored 68 points against Mountain State Junior College in a 133-82 victory. That season, he also scored 76 against Lees College and 72 against California State, as the Redmen won all 39 games, blowing out cupcake opponents by big scores. The public loved it, and as the season wore on, reporters were swarming all over the campus. Francis scored 1954 points that season, and broke almost every offensive record in the book.

The following season, Coach Oliver got down to business scheduling bigger name opponents, all on the road, because big time basketball powers would never travel to such a podunk campus. He tried unsuccessfully to schedule Ohio State, and he still maintains that the Buckeyes were afraid to play them. He scheduled games against basketball powers such as Creighton (win), North Carolina State (loss), Providence (win), Villanova (loss), Wake Forest (win) and Arizona State (win) .

The Redmen got their big break in New York's Madison Square Garden against Adelphi before a crowd of 13,000, as Francis scored 28 points in the first half, but only 4 in the second half in a losing effort. Stage fright. The next night, Rio Grande dropped an overtime thriller to Villanova in Philadelphia 93-92, as Francis scored 39 points. But the Redman rebounded and beat Providence in the Boston Garden, as Francis lit up the Friars for 41 points. Then they beat Miami in Florida 98-88, as Francis scored 48. At the Christmas tournament in Raleigh, North Carolina, they lost to NC State by 15, as Francis scored 34, but beat Wake Forest on a last second jump shot by you know who.

On February 2, 1954, in a 134-91 win over Hillsdale (MI) College, he hit the jackpot, scoring 113 points, despite being guarded by 2 or 3 players at a time. Not known for his passing ability, or finding the open man, Francis took 70 shots, making 38, along with 37 of 45 free throws. If they had the 3-point shot in those days, he might have scored 135.

Shortly after his sophomore season in which Rio Grande won 21 and lost 7, and Francis was voted to the All American Second Team, he was suspended from school for missing classes and midterm exams (they do that?). He signed a professional contract with the Harlem Globetrotters to play for the Boston Whirlwinds, the all-White patsy team that barnstormed with the Globetrotters, and lost every game because that was in the script. "We'd play two quarters and then be the clowns," Francis said, "It was a dog's life." But he made $12,000 per year which was a lot of money in those days.

He never played in the NBA, although drafted by Philadelphia. He found that he could make more money barnstorming, but eventually he gained weight, lost his shooting touch and competitiveness, and went to work in the steel mills, loading trucks for almost 20 years until the plant closed in 1982. Now retired, and 74 years old, he lives quietly with his wife, Jean, in Highlandtown, in Eastern Ohio, in the house they bought in 1954. He spends much time outdoors, hunting and camping.

People still remember Bevo Francis. NBA scouts described him as one of the greatest shooters of all time, from either inside or jump shooting from 20 feet. Many coaches and writers of the day were quoted as describing Francis as the greatest basketball player in history (pre-Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, etc.)--in a class with then superstar George Mikan of the Lakers. But he burned out as quickly as a shooting star. He is still remembered at Rio Grande University, which now has 2200 students. The university hosts a basketball tournament each year in honor of Bevo Francis and Coach Oliver.



Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Recently, I was scanning a list of college team nicknames, and I'm astounded by their originality. We certainly have many predictable ones like Wolves, Wildcats, Bears, Tigers, Spartans, etc.

But some of the others are entertaining. For example, consider the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savages, the alma mater of controversial basketball and movie star, Dennis Rodman.

The teams of Nova Southeastern University of Fort Lauderdale, FL. are called the Sharks. I don't know the reputation of their law school, but I'm sure their graduates inspire fear and respect.

Bethany College is called the Swedes. Then there is the Norse of Northern Kentucky University. If they play the Flying Dutchmen of Hofstra University or the Saxons of Alfred College, they can re-create the Thirty Years' War. You probably don't want to invite the Idaho Vandals to visit your facility.

Do the teams at the Haverford College Fords get new cars from their alumni boosters? I checked, but there is no team called the Chevies or the Plymouths. However, there are the Lancers of South Carolina Lancaster, and even the Richmond Spiders, who once upset the Indiana Hoosiers in the NCAA basketball tournament. Chicagoans remember the Loyola Ramblers, who rolled to the 1963 NCAA Championship in basketball.

In football, every coach wants some big and fast players. You might support the Tufts University Jumbos, or the Pittsburg State (KS) Gorillas, but the College of Insurance (NY) Turtles would probably not impress them. Even extinct animals have their followers, like the Mastodons of IUPUFW (Indiana U. Purdue U. Fort Wayne). Some other exotic animals include the Cal-Irvine Anteaters, the Cal. Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, Virginia Tech Gobblers, Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos (their law school probably has Kangaroo moot court), Connecticut College Camels (their power walking team would walk a mile for a Camel), Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, Bryant and Stratton College (OH) Lemmings (I'd be concerned about their leadership courses) , and the Oregon Tech Hustlin' Owls (I'm sure you can come up with some Hooters' jokes).

Many colleges were founded by religious organizations, and some of the names reflect that. For example the Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishops, the Yeshiva University Maccabees, the St. Joseph College (ME) Monks, the Oklahoma Baptist Prophets, and the Earlham College (IN) Hustlin' Quakers.

If the coach is seeking an easier opponent, consider the Amherst College Lord Jeffs. You wouldn't expect the home of Emily Dickenson to have a fearsome name. Then there is the Illinois College Blue Boys, which aptly describes the University of Illinois football team in recent years, but that's a different school. Or perhaps the Heidelberg College (OH) Student Princes or the Wayland Baptist (TX) Flying Queens. Actually, that last one is the name of the women's basketball team only.

If you're wondering about Slippery Rock College (PA), their teams are The Rock, which will sit well with fans of the Flintstones.



Saturday, June 2, 2007


Recently, we had the opportunity to watch the 70th Scripps National Spelling Bee on prime time TV, an unusual sporting event which ran overtime and displaced Grey's Anatomy. The spelling bee is a uniquely American concept which I can describe with some experience as the one-time 8th grade spelling champion at the Myra Bradwell School.

The competitors are all boys and girls between 9 and 14 years old, many of them home-schooled. Their teachers, of course, are highly motivated, as are their students. That's not an indictment of the public school system, of which I'm a product, but I'll leave it at that.

Spelling bees work only in English speaking countries. For example, in Spanish and most foreign languages the spelling of words is predictable and follows strict rules. English, however, borrows words from many languages, and the spellings of those words reflects the origins of the words. The contestants are allowed to ask various questions about the words such as their etymology (history of words), alternate pronunciations, and even to hear the word used in a sentence.

Between 1999 and 2006, five of the national champions were the children of Indian immigrants. One possible reason is that, in Indian households, several languages are spoken, and another is that the parents are, in most cases, highly educated academics or scientists who instill the love of knowledge in their children.

The contest is highly competitive because of the prizes. The winner this year (2007), 13 year old Evan O'Dorney, of Danville, California, won more than $45,000 in cash and prizes. He correctly spelled serrefine which isn't spelled the way it is pronounced. While spelling ability in itself will not guarantee future success, many of the past champions have gone on to be doctors, lawyers and academics. I know many people in those professions who cannot spell worth a darn, but are still successful--courtesy of Spell Check. In some cases, past champions leave the spelling championship off their resumes because of concern that a prospective employer will think they peaked at age 13. But they get lifetime bragging rights and can probably win a lot of bar bets.

Some of the past winning words include mneme, truttaceous, euonym, oneiric, loxocosm, appoggiatura, logorrhea, syllepsis and xanthosis. Although they are considered English words, I would challenge anyone to use those words in a sentence or write a poem using those words.

Here is my attempt to do so:

There once was a girl named Mimi,
Who correctly could spell mneme,
Truttaceous, Xanthosis,
Cretaceous and Syllepsis
But messed up on euonym-e.

Well, I'm just learning how to do this. Next time, I'll give you some more limericks.