Money in the Real Las Vegas
Martin Scorsese's 1994 film Casino opens with a ball of flame. Sam “Ace” Rothstein, the character created from the life of the former Stardust casino headman Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, played by Robert De Niro, strides authoritatively out of Tony Roma's restaurant on Sahara Avenue near the Strip and across the parking lot to his Cadillac. He enters the car, turns the ignition, and kaboom! A human in flames hurtles out of the driver's seat, preceded by a blown-off door.
As Rothstein writhes on the ground and the camera pulls away, Joe Pesci, who plays Nicki Santoro, closely modeled on the mobster Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, offers a denouement. “This was the last time two little guys like us ever got this kinda chance and we fucked it up, ” he tells the audience, and indeed the story that follows as a narrated flashback offers a mythologized version of the last days of the mob in 1970s Las Vegas. Derived from Nicholas Pileggi's book of the same name, itself largely based on Rosenthal's reminiscences, Casino purports to tell the “truth” about the demise of organized crime's control of gaming in Las Vegas. 1 In this formulation, two vain and greedy hoods bring down a vast and powerful sub rosa empire. The individual failings of Santoro-Spilotro and Rothstein-Rosenthal are responsible for the demise of lucrative skimming operations at a number of casinos. The end of organized crime's purported control of the town is a casualty of the arrogance and stupidity of the two main characters. Their inability to keep their heads down and their pants zipped ruins the perfect setup: