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Video Vault | Binion's Million Dollar Photo Display

Reported by: Tom Hawley
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Updated: 4/02/2014 9:50 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV — You've heard the expression "You look like a million bucks." Well, no matter how you feel, you can get your picture taken with a million bucks here in Las Vegas.

This tradition dates back to the early 1950s, when Horseshoe Casino owner Benny Binion went to the U.S. Mint and observed the other people on his tour.

"And he figured, 'If I see all these people looking at the money, I wonder what they'd do if they saw it in the casino,'" says David Schandorff, who has been working in Binion's food and beverage department for 45 years.

When the money was first installed, it was actually Joe W. Brown's Horseshoe — the family friend ran the business for a few years while Binion was in prison for tax evasion.

By 1964, that display was out and Binion's was in.

"And word of mouth got around, and everybody would come down here and one thing they had to do when they came to Las Vegas was go to the Horseshoe and have their picture taken in front of a million dollars," remembers Schandorff.

Schandorff has had his own picture taken in front of the display many times over the years. One photo in particular stands out in his memory, when he posed with Benny's daughter, Becky Binion.

"Walking by there, she was getting ready to leave to go home, and I said, 'Let's have our picture taken.' I think I'd just started working in the Sombrero Room at that time, I was maitre d'," says Schandorff. "And she says, 'Oh, you look good in your tuxedo.' So we walked over and had our picture taken by the million dollars."

The photos were free, but they weren't handed over immediately.

"And they would take an hour for it to be developed. And you could come back and pick it up," Schandorff said. "But in the meantime most everybody stayed in here. They gambled. They had a $2 steak while they were here. They'd have a $2 breakfast served during the day."

Part of that matches the memories of longtime Las Vegan Toni Caselli Davenport — except she was too young to gamble at the time.

"We'd go down there, take our picture and, of course, we'd have to wait for it," recalls Davenport. "So if it was an hour or so, sometimes we'd go to the coffee shop ... get the $2 steak dinner."
And she wasn't the only minor to take advantage of the display. Go through the photos, and you'll spot plenty of youngsters.

"I think after some of the football games at Western High School, we'd go down there as a group," says Davenport.

You'll also find solo shots, twosomes, every kind of combination. Beer bottles are often visible. Sometimes people stare straight ahead, and sometimes they mug for the camera.

"Seems like the guys would do it more. They would do funny poses. Like I noticed yours when you were dipping the girl, you know," Davenport refers to one of my personal pictures with my then-finacee. "Those are cute."

It was great fun. Millions of pictures were taken there until 1999. By then, the late Benny Binion's daughter was running the property. She made a decision to sell off the rare $10,000 bills.

Binion's Chief Engineer Mark Burstein was given the task: "Our owner at the time got hold of me and my assistant chief and said we need to get the million dollars out of the display and up to the conference room and executive office so they can slowly take those bills off one by one."

It wasn't easy. By then, the $10,000 notes had been pressed behind lexan glass for 3 1/2 decades.

"Those guys sat up there with some acetone with a cue tip for about three days," says Burstein. "Careful because they don't want to ruin any of the bills, obviously."

The operation was taken care of behind closed doors, and the bills were sold off to collectors. For the most part, the general public did not know.

"We had people coming in for seven, eight years after that almost daily, asking, 'Where do you get the picture with the million dollars?' " remembers Burstein.

Eventually the current owners made a new display.

"Because we were going to try to keep the tradition," says Schandorff, gesturing toward stacks of bills on a table under glass. "And so we came up with the idea to have this here."

The $10,000 bill has been out of circulation since 1969. The current display is made of a combination of many thousands of $100s, $20s and $1s to bulk it up. 

You can get your free picture with the Million Dollars between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily.



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