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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Top 10 facts and scenes from the movie ‘Casino’

23 Nov 2020

By Gary Trask
You’re sitting on the couch, TV remote in hand, moments before packing it in after a long day and heading to bed. But just as you hit that power button, you stumble upon a favorite movie.

Suddenly, time stands still.

Fast forward an hour later and you’re still in the exact same spot, enjoying the show as if it’s the first time you’ve seen it, even though you can pretty much recite all of the words before they come out of the actors’ mouths and you know exactly how all of the different plot twists and turns will play out.

It’s the ultimate litmus test for an all-time great movie. And for me, Casino lands right at the top of the list of films that lure me in every single time.



Of course, considering my affinity for casinos, sports betting, Las Vegas and Mob movies in general, this should come as no surprise. But my fascination with Casino goes far beyond those inherent interests. The combination of those factors, along with the powerful cast and brilliant screenplay, is what truly make Casino one of those “I-can’t-take-my-eyes-off-it” movies.

So, since this week marks the 25th anniversary of Casino hitting the big screen, let’s take a deep dive into some of the more memorable scenes, characters and factoids that made this Martin Scorsese masterpiece an instant classic.

10. The book
Scorsese usually receives most of the plaudits for Casino but the movie is based on the book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, the non-fiction work of crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi.

According to a biography about Robert De Niro written by John Baxter in 2003 and creatively titled, De Niro: A Biography, Pileggi had already written the book and wanted it published in advance of the film version, but Scorsese tried to convince him to release it after the film. They compromised and the book came out a month before the film was released.

Pileggi also wrote the book Wiseguy and co-wrote the screenplay for the classic mob movie, Goodfellas. Speaking of which, in the De Niro biography, Baxter writes that, “Casino is Goodfellas on speed.”

Can’t agree more.

9. Snubbed by critics
I don’t claim to be Siskel or Ebert, but the lack of hardware Casino earned is mind-boggling.

Sharon Stone, who absolutely nailed her role as Ginger, won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Drama, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, but ultimately lost to Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking).

Scorsese was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Director and lost out to Mel Gibson for Braveheart, which is difficult to argue with, but that’s about it for major awards. I defy anyone to watch this film and tell me that it didn’t deserve more accolades.

8. The cast
Despite the lack of awards, the performance by the entire cast was breathtaking. De Niro was, well, De Niro, absolutely owning his role as Sam “Ace” Rothstein. Scorcese and De Niro had collaborated seven times before Casino, so this was a no-brainer.

Like De Niro, Pesci was born for the role of Nicky Santoro, the bombastic right-hand man of Rothstein. The scene where Nicky squeezes a wise guy’s head in a vice is about as gruesome as it gets and one of the most chilling scenes comes when Nicky finally meets his demise and is beaten and buried alive in a cornfield. Pesci broke a rib during this scene, according to IMBD.com.



In her best performance since Basic Instinct, Stone, as mentioned above, was excellent, as was Don Rickles (God rest his soul; maybe the funniest man in history?). Kevin Pollak and James Woods, who are both regular participants at the World Series of Poker, were also fantastic, as was Frank Vincent, who I believe has been in every single mob-themed TV show or movie ever made, and I’m perfectly fine with that.

7. The casinos in Casino
The movie’s plot surrounds a Chicago mob outfit asking Rothstein to run the operations at Tangiers Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Rothstein’s character was inspired by the real-life, legendary mobster, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who, in addition to secretly running four Nevada casinos for the Chicago Mob, was a renowned sports bettor and handicapper.

Tangiers is also fictional and was based on the former Las Vegas Strip casino, Stardust, one of the property’s run by Lefty. Although it’s not mentioned by name in the film, "Stardust," a song by Hoagy Carmichael, is heard on three different occasions during the film.

After nearly five decades on the Las Vegas Strip, the Stardust Resort and Casino closed in 2006 and was demolished a year later. The new Resorts World, a $4.3 billion mega-resort, is scheduled to open next summer on the land where the Stardust once stood.

Most of the film’s casino scenes were shot at the former Riviera on the Strip and since they didn’t want to close the property, everything was shot between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. “The Riv,” which closed in 2015 and was eventually demolished, was a popular location for Las Vegas-themed movies, including The Hangover, another instant classic, and 21, which was inspired by Ben Mezrich's best-selling book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions.

Another now defunct Las Vegas property, the 31-story, space needle-shaped Landmark Hotel, located on the north end of the Strip across from the Convention Center, stood in for Tangiers for all of the exterior shots.

6. Las Vegas on location
For regular visitors to Las Vegas, there are a number of other recognizable locations throughout the film.

The sad ending for Stone’s Ginger character was filmed inside one of the Cabana suites at El Cortez Hotel & Casino, the classic Downtown Las Vegas casino that we wrote about when it celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016.

One of my favorite spots in Las Vegas for both breakfast and cocktails (not necessarily at the same time, but it has been done) is the famed Peppermill Restaurant, which serves as the location for one of the many testy meetings between Ginger and Ace.

Elsewhere, Nicky stabs an unfortunate soul in the neck with a pen downtown at Atomic Liquors, which is hailed as the oldest “freestanding” bar in all of Las Vegas. Also, the opening scene of the movie, when Ace’s car explodes when he turns the ignition, was filmed in the parking lot of Main Street Station Casino Brewery and Hotel with the California Hotel & Casino as the backdrop.

5. Oscar and Oscar’s
The venerable Oscar Goodman makes his well-deserved presence known in Casino. Goodman plays himself as a lawyer during the divorce proceedings between Ace and Ginger. In addition, the steakhouse at Plaza Hotel and Casino that bears his name — Oscar's — is also used as the location for another memorable scene when our favorite couple argues about spending habits and her former boyfriend, the loathly Lester, played wonderfully by Woods. (Oscar’s is a frequent stop for our visits to Sin City and ranked No. 1 on our list of Top 10 Las Vegas Happy Hours.)

The affable Goodman, who frequents his restaurant and is usually carrying around his signature martini, was a famous mob lawyer for more than 30 years in Las Vegas and began a 12-year reign as the city’s mayor four years after Casino was released. His wife, Carolyn, succeeded him as mayor and still sits in the big chair today.

But at an event last week commemorating the film, Goodman said when people see him they most often say, “There’s the guy from Casino.

4. “$100, whoever hits the plane.”
We finish up with some of our favorite scenes, and, trust me, it was a chore boiling it down to just four of them.

We most certainly could not leave out the part when an FBI airplane runs out of gas while following Nicky during a round of golf and has to the land the plane on the fairway, right in front on Ace's house.



The real Lefty did indeed own a home on a golf course, but this scene was not filmed there. The actual 3,266-square-foot house located at 972 Vegas Valley Drive on Las Vegas Country Club went up for sale in October for $835,000 and a sale is pending, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

3. “Oh, Nicky, I thought you was laying?”
Sports bettors love this scene with Nicky, when he walks into a sportsbook and confronts a bookie about a “misunderstood” wager.

The “confused” bookmaker actually thought Nicky laid the points and lost the bet, when, as Nicky “recalls” he actually took the points and, as a result, should be paid on the spot. Not surprising that Nicky got his roll of dough after a quick conversation.

As Ace says, “when Nicky won, he collected. When he lost, he told the bookies to go fuck themselves.” (Speaking of the “F” word, according to IMBD, it was used 435 times in the movie).



2. “The longer they play, the more they lose.”
A lesson to all of us gamblers. The casino wants you to play long sessions, especially when you’re up big and “playing with the house’s money.”

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a $10 per hand player, or “another billionaire cheapskate,” like the one featured in this scene.



Love the wisdom from Ace at the end of the scene when he says, “In Vegas, everybody's gotta watch everybody else. Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all.”

1. “The town will never be the same.”



The final scene and montage of Las Vegas is both brilliant and prescient. Ace regrettably makes the point that with “big corporations” taking over the city, it “looks like Disneyland.”

For better or worse, this is pretty much exactly what happened to the Las Vegas Strip in the late 1990s and early 2000s when flashy properties like The Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio opened up with exploding volcanoes, pirate ships with shooting cannons, and dancing water fountains out front. Las Vegas was no longer a place to visit strictly to gamble, take in a show and eat a $2 steak dinner. It became and has become more of an “entertainment” destination as gaming revenue on the Strip has been overtaken by revenue for nightclubs, restaurants and other non-gaming amenities.

Or, as Ace Rothstein laments, “Today, it's like checkin' into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today, it's all gone. You get a whale show up with $4 million in a suitcase, and some 25-year-old hotel school kid is gonna want his Social Security Number.”

Las Vegas most certainly has changed dramatically since Ace and Lefty were roaming the streets. Thankfully, we have Casino appearing randomly in our living rooms to help us remember what the “old” Las Vegas looked like in a most entertaining way.
 
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