In the movie Casino, the 1995 classic paints a fantastic picture of life in Las Vegas when the mob was pulling the strings. From the vicious backroom beatings to the dicing with authorities and larger than life players, the movie is one of Scorcese’s greats. It’s also, largely, based on a true story as told in the novel Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, based on the life of Frank Rosenthal.
Not just that, all the main characters are based on real people. While the bare bones of the plot is all true, you might be surprised how many specific events are true, especially given how surreal they are!
The main character, Sam “Ace” Rothstein is based on the real-life Rosenthal and (because it’s a Scorsese movie) he’s played by Robert De Niro. When asked in an interview about how accurate the portrayal was he said it was about a seven, which I guess we’ll have to take his word for. The broad-strokes of the story are all matters of record but one of the most intriguing is the fact that Rosenthal genuinely did not possess a gambling license. This was probably down to the fact he had quite a lot of ties to the mob and acquiring one would have been incredibly difficult.
While this is surprising, the weirdest part is that the preceding events, where the gambling commissioner comes after him for firing his brother in law, also has a grain of truth to it. In Rosenthal’s own words “while there was a degree of truth to what happened, the way it was put out in the movie was not very accurate”. Yet even this isn’t the most unbelievable part of the story that turned out to be true.
Rosenthal also survived an attempted car-bombing just like Rothstein in the movie. This was because the car he owned at the time (a Cadillac Eldorado) had a thick metal plate to correct a balancing issue. Bet he was glad they didn’t just spend an extra couple of weeks straightening it out.
Ginger McKenna, played by the incredible Sharon Stone, is based on Rosenthal’s ex-wife Geri McGee and according to Rosenthal the scene where they meet is also (kind of) based on reality. The scene where Ginger throws fistfuls of chips into the air to the delight of a crowd is something Rosenthal actually saw happen.
But, he did clarify, that he’d already met her a few times before and was already thinking of dating her by that time. Unfortunately, the negative traits Ginger has in the movie are also present in her real-life counter-part and Rosenthal wouldn’t comment either way in the interview on her presentation in the movie.
Finally we come to Nicky Santoro, based on the real-life Anthony Spilotro and played by Joe Pesci. Anthony Spilotro was a notorious criminal and a close friend of Rosenthal’s. At least, up until a point; their falling out is a main plot point in the movie and also occurred in real life (it’s a popular theory that Spilotro attempted the car-bombing we mentioned earlier). And, much like Santoro, Spilotro met a terrible end.
He was found in a shallow grave, alongside his brother, beaten severely and buried in a cornfield. Though there seems to be little evidence they were alive when it happened and was more of an invention of the movie to add to the brutality. The murders have since been solved, with at least one of the real-life killers serving a life sentence, though they were caught long after the movie had been released.