‘The Rest Is History. I Killed Him.’ The True Story Behind ‘Casino’

We are familiar with this famous movie that told us the story of mob life in this thriving, young city that has always been rumored to harbor such evil doings. According to Cullotta, the tough guy that made his way to Las Vegas in the late 70s and the one who’s life this movie is loosely based upon, “It’s about 75% to 90% accurate. They got to juice it up. It’s a movie. Real life is boring. Movies, that’s what they do, they juice them up. I was the technical consultant on the movie. Nick Pileggi did a tape on me. If it wasn’t for me, there would be no book ‘Casino’, and there would have been no movie ‘Casino.’”

His role was portrayed in the movie by Frank Vincent. However, this is just one story that was told about this growing desert town. The real story began when the mafia began their tyranny of the desert town long before the era in which the film depicts.

The mafia’s control over this gambling city began way back when:

1947 photo of the outdoor swimming pool at Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel.

According to UNLV Associate History Professor, Michael Green and author of the ‘History of the Silver State’, “The state of Nevada legalized gambling and reduced the residency requirement for divorce; both of which were designed to get people to come here, like the place, and stay here and invest. But if they didn’t, at least they would spend some money while they were here.” Also, “World War !! Was a key turning point thanks to a lot of military bases being built in Nevada and the surrounding states. Also, in 1941, the first hotel on the strip opened – the El Rancho Vegas – on April 3. It had about 65 rooms so it wouldn’t exactly fit in today. The El Cortez opened the same year, downtown, and that may have been the first Lansky/Siegel property. It’s also in 1941 that Nevada legalized off-track betting which made the race wire very profitable, and that’s really what excited the interest of Lansky and Siegel. The hotel business followed.”

This was the place that practically started the Vegas mafia.

This including skimming from profits which led to the ultimate murder of Siegel himself for doing the skimming! Michael Green says that things moved quickly after that, “The Thunderbird is built soon afterward and that’s tied to Lansky. The Desert Inn is being started. . . In comes Moe Dalitz and the Mayfield Road Gand from Cleveland, and you do have, at this point – a proliferation of mob ownership and investment.”

Kefauver vs. Crime 1951:

The mob continued to infiltrate the Las Vegas area by purchasing land for cheap, specifically the road to Los Angeles. Green also points out, “ These were professionals at running casinos, at gambling. They’ve been involved in these activities for a long time. It was not as if there was a group out her training them. We did not have a hotel college then. These were the guys with experience. That certainly helped them – they knew how to run these operations. The truth is, the mob here in the ‘50s would be, compared with the mob of Frank Cullotta’s era, boring, because they didn’t have burglary rings and killers running around. These were business people.”

Another thing that pushed the mob to its iconic status was the lack of investigations of the backgrounds of the casino owners. Also, then gambling was legalized in Nevada, it was stated that the county would police their own turf which turned out to be inadequate in managing the magnitude of the operation. This only helped the mobsters take control over everything. This was easy to overlook though because the mafia was making a lot of money for the state.

So, it turns out that the skimming operation, as portrayed in the movie ‘Casino’ was real. However, this operation had its mishaps which often led to greed, murder and mismanagement.

Life in the ‘Casino’ era:

The ‘60s and ‘70s brought forth a new wave of gangsters, including Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal played by Robert De Niro in ‘Casino’ as Sam “Ace” Rothstein who was a mastermind at gambling. He’s the one who took the time to learn all of the stats and the conditions of those that he was betting on. For example, he knew all about the sports and athletes such as whether or not who was sick and who wasn’t. He was tight with the trainers who let him know who had a cold or even a tooth ache! This information was key for him to profit off of his gambling efforts.

The former associate of “Lefty” was Frank Cullotta grew up with another man who made his way into the mob scene. His name was Anthony “Tony” Spilotro and he was sent to Vegas by the Chicago mafia to help control their interests in the casinos there. Joe Pesci’s character in ‘Casino’ was loosely based on Tony’s life.

“Tony” was tied to at least two dozen murders.

However, in the movie ‘Casino’ the only life long friendship that was portrayed was between “Tony” and “Lefty” played by Pesci and De Niro’s characters. However, according to Cullotta, “I know Tony didn’t grow up with this guy, but they say he’s a childhood friend. That’s bullsh*t. Tony probably met “Lefty” somewhere around in the ‘60s, because I know in 1961, when I first met “Lefty,” he was by Tony’s house and he was gambling. They were playing gin. And Tony beat him out of a lot of f*cking money and if this was his good friend. . . I know Tony and he wouldn’t gamble with good friends. Tony was close to “Lefty” but he didn’t grown up with him like I did.”

Cullotta and several associates were known in those days as the “Hole in the Wall Gang” because they were known for going through the walls of homes, banks and other places to burglarize them. According to Cullotta, “We didn’t just go around burglarizing any house. We used to have information. We did it on tips. Information from insurance agents, people that worked in casinos – friends of friends that knew friends have money and, of course, we game them 10-20% of whatever we made.” In the process murder played a role in Las Vegas. However, much of this began to come to an end when The Federal government began to probe into the mob dealings in the city. That’s when the game began to end.

Tony Spilotro’s grave.

In 1960, the Black Book was created to keep gangsters off casino premises. These new regulations aimed at banning certain people from the casinos and they were named in this Black Book. During this decade, Bobby Kennedy, brother of president J.F.K., was tasked with dismembering the organized crime that was still going on in Vegas. This led the passage of the Corporate Gaming Act in 1969 which changed the law so that only key stockholders and executives were able to be licensed to own a casino. Before this, anyone who owned part of a casino could be licensed. However, the mob was strong enough to find a way around this and so the RICO act was passed in 1970 which “allows prosecution and civil penalties for certain acts (including illegal gambling, bribery, kidnapping, murder, and money laundering performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.” It had been used to gather whole groups of criminal empires at a time. Years of trials and testimonies followed.

Tony Spilotro Chicago Perp Walk.

Professor Green talks about the fall of the mobsters saying, “Back in the ‘70s, these mobsters were at discos, they were at restaurants, and by ‘97, the last remnants were at a used car dealership. I think that speaks to how far down they’ve gone.” Eventually, the system beat them.

These day, Cullotta says, “I think there’s thieves out here. I doubt there’s organized crime, outfit or syndicate out here. I don’t see that here. I don’t feel it. I don’t hear anyone talk about it. It’s definitely not in the casinos. All the corporations are in the casinos now. There’s no more organized crime in these casinos at all. I’m sure there’s some guys that still do it, but they’re not high-rollers. They’re not big guys.” They are all gone.