(Excerpt from These Are the Faces of Lupus )
Block 16 in Glitter Gulch, at the beginning of the twentieth century, was home to brothels and gambling parlors. Local residents recall that prostitutes in scanty attire used to sit on porches and wait for their clients to call. Glitter Gulch, and Block 16, were both testaments to the fact that through much of Las Vegas’ history, the city owed its economic existence to the patronage of men – men who worked the gold and silver mines in one century and men who constructed Hoover Dam in the next.
By the time Benny Binion built the Horseshoe Casino on a plot that abutted Block 16, the seedy gaming parlors and brothels had been bulldozed and converted to parking lots. Not that Benny would have objected to the brothels, or any other income-producing enterprise. Legend has it that he had fled to Vegas from Dallas back in ’46 because the Chicago mob and local politicians muscled him out of town. The way some tell the story, Benny left behind in Dallas a legacy of multiple murders, bootlegging and organized gambling rackets.
When Benny Binion set up business in Glitter Gulch, Vegas was a pretty open town, but not open enough for Benny. He didn’t like the $50 limits that were traditionally placed on wagers, so he raised the limit to $500, and then he removed the limit altogether, (on first bets). Binion’s Horseshoe Casino became the first establishment to offer a no limit game. It was also the first casino to put down carpet (instead of sawdust) on its floors.
If Benny was anything, he was an original. Thus, in 1970 he began a new tradition, one which today has grown to attract draws participants and spectators from around the globe. It was Benny who hosted the first World Series of Poker tournament. While the tournament’s million dollar pot was originally the main draw, now the prestige earned by winning the title and the tournament’s gold bracelets are at least as coveted as the cash prize.
Today, Benny Binion and the Horseshoe Casino no longer sponsort the World Series of Poker. Benny died in 1989, and a few years later a corporate conglomerate (Harrah’s) bought the rights to the tournament. Before Benny departed from the poker scene, however, he pulled off at least one more “first”: the Women’s Tournament in the World Series of Poker. In 1986, Barbara Enright became the first Women’s Tournament champion and the first female to claim the tournament’s coveted gold bracelet. Nine years later, she won her second Women’s Tournament, and her second gold bracelet.
Barbara did not rest on her laurels. She continued to enter open (mixed gender) competitions, until, in 1996 she won the World Series Pot Limit Hold ‘em Tournament and, to the surprise of almost everyone (except herself) made it to the finals table in the Main Event – the only woman ever to do so.
In the shadow of block 16, where women were once sold for as little as a dollar and where they whiled their days awaiting the pleasure of men, Barbara Enright played with the best of them – and won. By the time she received her third trophy bracelet in 1996, Barbara had been diagnosed with lupus for twenty years.
Barbara Enright was born on August 19, 1949 in Los Angeles California. In her youth, she was licensed as a cosmetologist and worked at a number of jobs: cocktail waitress, bartender, and stylist for Hollywood celebrities. In the 1970’s she tried her hand at poker in the Gardenia California card rooms, where she did so well that she eventually quit her other jobs and dedicated herself to poker.
Barbara asserts that she has never played a “woman’s” game. She comes at her opponents with decidedly “unfeminine” aggression. Enright explains her success in the traditionally male-dominated poker room: she simply states that she is aggressive and that if a woman is too “soft” in tournament play she cannot succeed. But if she asserts herself and defies the expectations of the men sitting at the table with her, she can do “very well.”
On July 6, 2007, Barbara Enright was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, the first woman ever to be invited into that select academy. As of 2007, it was estimated that her tournament winnings exceeded $1,200,000 , more than any other woman in tournament history (at that time).
Today she lives in Hollywood California with Max Shapiro, a poker player and a columnist for Card Player Magazine.
Barbara once said that her dream was for there to be world peace and free medical coverage for every person. Perhaps the content of this dream was influenced by her experience with lupus. While most of her bios refer to the fact that Barbara has lupus, her challenge with the disease has remained private. Some writers refer to the disease as almost a footnote in her life; many writers do not refer to it at all. It seems that the kind of lupus Barbara lives with and the treatment she receives for it, are very different from the lupus that took Inday Ba’s life.* Since her diagnosis in 1976, Barbara has raised a child, managed a successful career in an exotic profession and earned a reputation for being smart, friendly and focused.
In the storied saloons of Glitter Gulch, where ladies were historically dispatched like grains of sand from the vast and unforgiving Mojave desert, Barbara Enright made her mark. A combination of raw talent, hardscrabble determination and a dollop of luck helped her to secure a place in the history of Las Vegas and the world of professional poker.
* Actress who died or Lupus at the age of 32