Everybody knows that any film “inspired by actual events” takes a fair amount of artistic license. The 1990s mob movie Casino starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone was a massive hit. Here, we look at the facts behind the fiction of the people, places and events.
Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal
In the film, Robert De Niro played Sam “Ace” Rothstein based on Frank ’Lefty’ Rosenthal. Much of their two lives run parallel but there are some differences. For starters, Rothstein was shown managing just one casino – the Tangiers (which was actually The Stardust but the name in the film needed to be changed for legal reasons). Rosenthal actually managed four, including the Stardust.
Tony “The Ant” Spilotro
Joe Pesci’s character Nicky Santoro was based on this real life mob character. Pesci’s resemblance in terms of physical appearance and presence was so convincing to those who knew the real man that many pit bosses had to do double takes when Pesci was on set. At the end of the film, Santoro is grabbed and beaten to the brink of death before being buried in a cornfield. Spilotro’s fate was nearly identical – he was beaten to death in a cellar and buried in a cornfield.
Geri McGee (Rosenthal)
The real person on whom Sharon Stone’s character Ginger McKenna is based had a little more artistic license. In the film, she had one child with Rothstein. In real life, Geri and Frank Rosenthal had three children. She was a socialite and casino showgirl, but the real McGee was not a prostitute as suggested in the film. She died in 1982 aged 46 of a drug overdose and found in a hotel lobby. They had been divorced for a year. Suspicion that it had been a mob murder took years to die down. In the film, McKenna dies in the exact same way with suspicion of mob involvement. It is known that, like in the film, she had an affair with Spilotro.
The Stardust Casino
As mentioned above, the Stardust was used for the featuring casino. Demolished in 2006, it was still operational during filming and features real scenes of casino life. Scorsese insisted on using the casino and was allocated one small part of it. The gaming we see going on in the background is real. For authenticity, the director also used real deals and Pit Bosses for the gaming scenes.
According to the book’s author Nicholas Pileggi, Rosenthal was a meticulous person who micromanaged some things in his casinos. One of these things was indeed how many blueberries should be in each muffin.
One pivotal scene sees casino managers using a hammer to smash the hand of a man caught cheating. When questioned, Rosenthal said that such measures were taken against cheats, including a crushed hand. However, the events leading up to the violent incident was slightly different. It had been part of a large and well-organised scam that had cheated several casinos on The Strip. The intent was to send a message to other would be cheaters.
The Other Punishment
The most gruesome scene in the film though goes to the one where they put a rival’s head in a vice. According to witnesses at a trial, Spilotro did indeed do exactly what was portrayed in the film. They beat a man to within an inch of his life. When he failed to deliver a name, they put his head in a vice and tightened it until his eyes popped out of his skull. Only then did he confess to the name of his accomplice. Afterwards, they slit his throat.
The FBI Bungle
The FBI agents charged with monitoring mob activity in the film ditch their light aircraft on the fairway of the golf course. In the film, they ran out of fuel. In real life, they ditched because the plane was experiencing mechanical problems.
The attempted assassination of Rothstein really was based on a failed assassination of Rosenthal from 1982. Leaving a restaurant, he got into his car and turned the ignition. The explosion failed to kill him. This is where art imitates life as the events in the film are identical to what really happened. A metal plate under the seat saved Rosenthal’s life, just as it did Rothstein’s. The plate was not an “insurance policy” but a manufacturer alteration to correct a balance problem.