Martin Scorsese’s 1995 movie Casino had “classic” written all over it from the moment it was announced. A director at the top of his game, Hollywood darlings Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone in lead roles and a plot that was based on real events in a world that seems made for the big screen.

After all, casinos have all the ingredients: big money, glamour, financial risk and that edginess that there could be more at stake than betting chips. The film also benefits from being based on the real world exploits of one Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a Las Vegas casino manager turned mobster.

But how much of the movie is based in fact and how much was artistic imagination? The answer might surprise you.

Rosenthal never had a gaming licence

The part about the lead character setting up a casino and making millions without even being licensed sounds like pure imagination. In these days of regulation and accreditation, whether you are putting a bet on a sports game or playing blackjack online at Casino Kiwi on the other side of the planet, you know there is no way of setting up a viable casino business without being licensed.

But back in the 1970s, the real-life Rosenthal had never applied for a licence, and his mob connections meant he would have probably not been granted one anyway. The solution was to give Rosenthal a low-profile title at the casino to keep him under the radar.

The love triangle really happened

How many times have we seen a movie based on real life where an affair is included as a side plot, just to add a little more spice? But those who were around at the time have confirmed that the affair between Rothstein’s ex wife and Nicky Santoro really did happen. Whether it resulted in quite the same repercussions as it did in the movie, however, is another matter.

Rosenthal survived a car bombing

If an affair between the leads is one vital ingredient, a good explosion is another. But again, the car bomb scene is based on a real event, which was reported in the local press. The question of how he managed to walk away is one of those examples of truth sometimes being stranger than fiction. A metal plate under the driver’s seat literally saved his backside that day.

McKenna died of a drug overdose

One of the most tragic moments in the movie is when Rosenthal’s ex wife succumbs to a drug overdose and is found dead. In the movie, the tragedy takes place in a motel, while the real life Ginger McKenna (Geri McGee) was found unconscious in the lobby of the Beverly Sunset Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. She died three days later in hospital.

Toxicology tests found high levels of alcohol, cocaine and Valium in her system, and the death was ruled an accidental overdose, although her sister always maintained that Geri was murdered because she “knew too much.”

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.