The True Events That Inspired the Film “Casino”

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Inside an empty movie theater looking towards the projector that is shining forward.
BetMGM Sep 06, 2023, 3:10 PM

The world of online casinos can feel quite distant from the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. But there’s one movie that bridges this divide, transporting viewers back to a time when the mafia ran the casino industry in Sin City.

And that’s none other than the 1995 classic “Casino,” a movie as gripping as it is iconic.

Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, “Casino” is more than just a thrilling tale of mob-controlled gambling operations in Vegas. Deep-rooted in reality, this cinematic masterpiece delivers a riveting portrayal of the tumultuous world of power, corruption, and friendship gone awry.

Delve into the intriguing real-life events that inspired this film and learn about the gritty realities behind the glamorous façade of 1970s casinos.

The Plot and Cast of “Casino”

“Casino” has Robert De Niro portraying the charismatic Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein. Rothstein is a gambling prodigy handpicked by the mob to oversee operations at the Tangiers Casino. His unfaltering dedication and meticulous eye for detail make him a phenomenal success in the industry — boosting the casino’s profits to unprecedented heights.

The story becomes more complicated with the introduction of Nicky Santoro, a violent mob enforcer portrayed with remarkable intensity by Joe Pesci. Santoro’s volatile temper and reckless actions soon attract unwanted attention, jeopardizing the discreet operation Rothstein is striving to maintain.

Completing this formidable trio is Ginger McKenna, played by the stunning Sharon Stone. McKenna’s turbulent relationship with Rothstein adds another layer of complexity to the plot. Her troubled past and uncontrolled substance abuse further stoke the fire.

As the story unfolds, the audience is drawn into a world of power struggles, betrayal, and dramatic downfalls.

Is “Casino” a True Story?

The characters of Rothstein and Santoro are based on actual people: Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro.

The Real Rothstein

The character of Rothstein is based on Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal. In reality, Rosenthal did run four casinos for the mob, including the Stardust. His skills and innovation transformed the face of sports gambling, and he was indeed known for running one of the most successful sports books.

Rothstein’s downfall in the movie, like Rosenthal’s in real life, was due to his association with Santoro, a reckless enforcer causing chaos in Las Vegas.

The scene where Rothstein survives a car bomb assassination attempt is based on a real attempt on Rosenthal’s life in 1982. The car Rosenthal was driving at the time of the explosion had been made to withstand such an attack — a feature that saved his life.

Remarkably, Rosenthal never held a gaming license. He cleverly circumvented this by taking a position as the casino’s entertainment director, which was a role that didn’t require a gaming license but gave him the power to run the casino.

Despite his numerous illegal activities, Rosenthal was only ever officially tied to one criminal act — his arrest for attempting to bribe a college basketball player.

The Real Nicky Santoro

Anthony ‘The Ant’ Spilotro, the real-life Nicky Santoro, was a made man (one of the lowest members of a crime family, similar in position to a soldier) in the Chicago Outfit. He was sent to Las Vegas to protect the mob’s interests and was notorious for his violent and volatile nature.

In an interesting twist, while the movie portrays his brother as an accomplice, in truth, Michael Spilotro was just a small-time player in organized crime, not the partner-in-crime he’s depicted as being in the film. Michael’s main role was running a restaurant in Chicago.

The scene where the Santoro brothers are brutally beaten in a cornfield is shockingly accurate. The real Spilotro brothers met a similarly gruesome end, and were discovered in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.

The movie also accurately illustrates the mob’s influence over the casino industry during the 70s and 80s, highlighting dark truths like the mob’s violent methods of handling debtors and the corrupt system of skimming money off the top of the casino’s profits.

Just as “Casino” gives audiences an intense look at the real-life events and characters of the mob-driven Las Vegas gambling world, it’s also interesting to explore the reverse — how such influential films shape the culture and perceptions of online casinos and gambling.

Where To Watch “Casino”

With its intricate plot, outstanding performances, and stark depiction of the casino world, “Casino” is a must-watch ready to be streamed on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. For those who prefer purchasing or renting films, it’s available on Google Play Movies & TV and Apple’s iTunes store. If you’re fascinated by the history of gambling and casinos, this classic casino film will give you a true-to-life glimpse into their complicated past.

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Planning a gambling-themed movie marathon? Discover a handpicked selection of the greatest poker movies ever made. These films are not only entertaining, but they also provide valuable insights into the strategies, psychology, and intense drama of the game. 

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Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.