Is the movie ‘Casino’ based on a true story?

The simple answer is yes, it is. Although by no means a biographical account, the movie ‘Casino’ was inspired by the non-fiction book ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas’, written by Nicholas Pileggi, which wasn’t published until after the fictionalised film version had been released. Fanciful though the narrative may be, each of the main protagonists in the movie is based on a real-life individual and most, but not all, of the memorable events really did take place.

Mobster Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro, was inspired by Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal, who did indeed manage Mafia-controlled casinos in Las Vegas – albeit the Fremont, Hacienda and Stardust, rather than the Tangiers – in the Seventies and Eighties. Rosenthal, like Rothstein, had no gaming licence and, following a hearing with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, at which his application for a licence was denied, he was subsequently officially banned from all casinos in Nevada in 1988.

So, too was his associate, Anthony ‘The Ant’ Spilotro, who inspired the character Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, who suffered the same fate in the movie. In reality, Spilotro was included in so-called ‘Black Book’, which lists those banned from entering casinos in Nevada, in 1978. His high-profile misbehaviour ultimately led to his demise; he was beaten to death – as was the Santoro character – along with his brother, Michael, in 1986 According to real-life hitman Frank Cullota, played in the movie by Frank Vincent, Spilotro did actually put the head of Billy McCarthy, one of the men who had committed the unauthorised murders of the Scalvo Brothers, Ronnie and Phil, into a vice and tightened it until his eyeball popped out, as graphically recounted on the screen.