‘Casino’ Movie’s Anniversary Celebrated in Las Vegas, Recalling City’s Mafia History

Posted on: November 19, 2020, 01:21h. 

Last updated on: November 20, 2020, 04:04h.

The movie Casino’s 25th anniversary took center stage in Las Vegas this week. The movie recalls an era when mobsters operated casinos in Sin City.

Casino movie
Director Martin Scorsese’s 1995 movie ‘Casino’ is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas has a display featuring items from the movie. (Image: Hollywood North Magazine)

The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas celebrated the anniversary with a sold-out presentation on Thursday, featuring author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, appearing virtually, and former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Goodman’s wife, Carolyn, is the current mayor. A restaurant at the Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas is named after him. In special dinner events at Oscar’s Steakhouse, he discusses Las Vegas history and his work as a lawyer representing accused underworld figures. Memorabilia at the restaurant and menu items also reflect his experiences.

The 87-year-old Pileggi co-wrote the screenplay with director Martin Scorsese. Pileggi is a former Associated Press reporter living in New York City. The movie is based on Pileggi’s 1995 nonfiction book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas.

Pileggi and Scorsese also co-wrote the Mafia movie Goodfellas, which premiered in 1990. It is based on Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, about New York gangster Henry Hill.

The 1995 movie Casino is a fictionalized account of Mafia associate Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal’s troubled marriage to Geri Rosenthal, a former topless dancer at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. During their marriage, Geri Rosenthal became romantically involved with mobster Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro.

The movie also focuses on skimming operations in Las Vegas. During this era, untaxed gaming revenue illegally was sent from Las Vegas casinos to crime families in the Midwest.

In the movie, Robert De Niro plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a character based on Rosenthal. Sharon Stone portrays his wife. Joe Pesci plays the Spilotro-inspired character.

The characters’ real names were used in the book, but changed in the movie for legal reasons, Pileggi said.

Car Bombing

Rosenthal ran the Stardust Hotel and Casino and three other Argent Corp. resorts in Las Vegas for Midwestern Mafia bosses. A high-profile figure, Rosenthal hosted a television talk show with guests such as Frank Sinatra.

In 1982, Rosenthal survived a car bombing outside a Tony Roma’s restaurant in Las Vegas. He later moved away from Southern Nevada. The car bombing has never been solved.

Rosenthal died of an apparent heart attack in Florida in 2008 at age 79. Geri Rosenthal died in Southern California of an accidental overdose in 1982. She was 46.

Spilotro, also known as “Tough Tony,” was the Chicago Outfit’s overseer in Las Vegas from the early 1970s into the 1980s. Spilotro and his brother, Michael, were beaten to death in a 1986 Mafia hit in the Chicago area. The brothers were buried in an Indiana cornfield.

In his career as an attorney, Goodman represented Spilotro. Goodman appears briefly in the movie.

Casino Exhibit

In celebration of Casino‘s anniversary, the Mob Museum has an exhibit on display featuring memorabilia from the movie. The museum is housed in a former federal courthouse.

The display includes movie props representing the Tangiers Casino, the name used for the Stardust in the film. Resorts World Las Vegas is being built on the Las Vegas Strip where the now-demolished Stardust once stood.

Other items on display at the exhibit include an original movie script that Frank Cullotta donated to the museum. Cullotta was a childhood friend of Spilotro’s in Chicago.

In the 1970s, Cullotta moved to Las Vegas to serve as Spilotro’s lieutenant. Cullotta was a consultant for the movie and had a brief role as a hitman. He died in August at age 81 of COVID-19 complications.

The Casino exhibit is on display at the museum until Nov. 14, 2021.