For the last six years, the Wrangler Gold Buckle Gala has kicked off the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s opening week in grand style.
That was certainly the case on Monday night, when hundreds of industry leaders gathered to honor 2014 Legend of ProRodeo recipient Benny Binion at Michael Gaughan’s South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa. Nearly 500 guests flocked to the South Point’s Grand Ballroom for the fun and festive evening, and it was a Who’s Who of the rodeo world and Las Vegas dignitaries.
The VIP-like list of attendees included PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman, PRCA Chairman of the Board Keith Martin, various members of the NFR Committee, Las Vegas Events Board of Trustees members, Hall of Famers like Harry Vold, Cotton Rosser and Mike Cervi, Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn and poker Hall of Famer Doyle Brunson. In addition, the late Binion’s daughter, Brenda Michael, and son, Jack, were among the Binion family members who were there to honor their father.
The night also included quality entertainment by the Bella Electric Strings ensemble, a female Elvis impersonator, dancing showgirls and an appearance by Miss Rodeo America 2014 Paige Nicholson. Live and silent auctions, coupled with a first-class dinner, heartfelt speeches and considerable camaraderie, made the night one to remember.
ProRodeo Hall of Fame announcer Hadley Barrett served as the emcee and had fun telling stories about Binion along with the likes of Wrangler NFR General Manager Shawn Davis, Wynn and Gaughan, and the lighthearted banter made event even more enjoyable for the hundreds in attendance.
Those who knew him best were highly complimentary of the night’s honoree, who helped spearhead the charge to bring the Finals to Las Vegas in 1985.
“I’ve never seen somebody with more foresight than Benny Binion,” Davis said of Binion, who passed away in 1989. “Benny always understood things without having to be told about them.”
Gaughan remembered his late friend fondly and told a story about when Binion convinced him to serve on the Las Vegas Events board after Gaughan had turned the position down. It was a reminder about the power Binion carried with him throughout his life.
“I sit next to Benny in the Hall of Fame, and that’s a great honor,” Gaughan said.
Wynn entertained the crowd with stories about riding horseback with Binion and beamed with pride when talking about the larger-than-life man.
“Benny Binion, I’m proud to say, was a man that I got to know,” Wynn said. “He had a quiet sense of power and confidence that had an effect on other people. I loved every minute I was ever around Benny Binion.
“If anybody deserves to be in any Hall of Fame, in my book, it’s Benny Binion.”
Michael accepted the award on behalf of the family.
“It’s just such an honor for my father and all of us, and there are just so many wonderful friends here,” she said. “I’d like to thank everybody so very much.”
The live auction, conducted by Carla Harrison, raised $35,650 for the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, effectively achieving the night’s other main purpose of raising funds for the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Hall.
In another interesting moment of the night, Barrett drew applause when he thanked Davis for having the courage to cast the deciding vote that brought the NFR to Las Vegas in 1985.
The evening-capper was a performance by country recording artist Eddy Raven, who played his yet-unreleased song “Jesus and the Cowboy” that was inspired by Binion. Raven has had six No. 1 hits since breaking out in 1962, and his song was a great end to a top-notch night.
I had always heard great things about the Gala and had always wanted to attend, and I’m so glad I was able to this year. If the rest of the 10-day extravaganza is like Monday night, it’ll be yet another banner year for the Finals.