THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 4th in Series

Casino the Movie

When people ask me if I’ve seen the movie Casino, I tell them not only did I see the movie, I lived it. I’m asked about the movie so often, I decided to go into a lot of detail for folks who want the inside story from a guy who was there.

Back in 1970 I walked into the Stardust and who do I see but all the guys I knew while living at mob headquarters in Chicago. There was Wheels now one of the floormen and Harry Tinderella, another mob guy. There was a former Chicago cop dealing blackjack. I spotted my old friend, former card mechanic Phil Diaguardi, now a shift boss. And Bobby Stella, the casino manager, used to run the Owl Club in Hammond, Indiana for the mob.

In the movie, the Tangiers is actually the Stardust hotel and casino, though filming took place at the Riviera.

Many of the movie’s characters were based on guys I knew. Stevie Blue or Bluestein headed the powerful culinary union in Las Vegas. You couldn’t work as a waitress in any of the casinos unless you joined the union. Steve was Frankie Bluestein’s father. Frankie was maitre d’ at the Hacienda. In the movie, Frankie’s character was killed by the police, imitating what actually happened to him in real life. Steve’s other son, Ronnie, worked at the Fremont Hotel, another Outfit property.

Tony Spilotro, whose name was Nicky Santoro in Casino, was dead by the time author Nick Pileggi interviewed people for his book that they based the movie on. (Joe Pesci convincingly portrayed Tony in the movie.) So it’s mostly Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal’s viewpoint (Ace Rothstein in the movie) that comes across in Casino. Robert DeNiro played Ace. Sharon Stone as Lefty’s wife Geri rounded out the top actors. I never met Geri, but the chip hustler sure knew how to wrap guys around her little finger, including Lefty…and Tony Spilotro, too.

Frank Rosenthal was one of the best sports handicappers and bookmakers in the business. He was directly responsible for bringing sports books to the casinos. The mob and Tony Spilotro made a lot of money off Lefty’s picks. In the movie and real life, Lefty’s car, with him inside, was blown up in the parking lot of Tony Roma’s Rib Shack on Sahara Avenue. He escaped death because his 1981 Cadillac Eldorado had a metal plate under the driver’s side. It was standard equipment for that year and model.

The guy called Tony Dogs in the movie was based on Bill McCarthy. In Casino, he was the guy who gets his head squeezed in a vice to make him give up his partner. He talked after his eye popped out. The incident actually took place in real life at a different time. Bill and his partner, Jimmy Miraglia, were later found in the trunk of a car with their throats cut. It was the classic mob-style ending. Insiders called it “trunk music.” Spilotro told people that Bill McCarthy was the toughest guy he ever met. That’s some statement coming from Spilotro, with double-digit notches on his belt for the guys he allegedly whacked.

Allen Glick, the Outfit’s frontman at the Stardust, was portrayed by Kevin Pollack. Glick secured a loan from the Teamster’s Pension Fund for $67 million to buy the Stardust, Sahara, Marina, and Fremont hotels. I guess the power went to Glick’s head and he thought he owned them. He was very quickly set straight. His business partner, Tara Banks, slated to testify against him before the Nevada Gaming Commission, was shot five times in the head. Her body was discovered in her San Diego home. It’s been alleged the hitman was Tony Spilotro.

Alan King played the part of the teamster official, Allen Dorfman, who was overseeing the teamster’s loans in Las Vegas. When federal indictments came down against the mob for commandeering the funds, Dorfman was shot to death outside a restaurant on a cold Chicago day while his friend watched. Soon after, the slot manager who took care of the Stardust skim, Jay Vandermark, disappeared, supposedly to Mexico under an assumed name, but was actually murdered along with his drug addict son.

The restaurant that was a mob hangout in the movie was based on the real Leaning Tower of Pizza owned by New Yorker, Jasper Speciale. He also ran his lone shark operation there until Tony Spilotro convinced him to retire.

Of course, Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman played himself as Nicky’s lawyer. Tom Smothers did a credible job as Nevada senator and U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. In fact Reid, while on the Nevada Gaming Commission, had heated arguments with Rosenthal during Rosenthal’s licensing hearing as key employee at the Stardust. Rosenthal called Reid a hypocrite for taking Stardust comps for him and his family while opposing Rosenthal in court. Rosenthal shouted that Reid promised he’d back Rosenthal during the hearing. Reid responded that Rosenthal was a liar. Apparently, Reid was also responsible for Rosenthal’s inclusion in the city’s notorious Black Book of excluded persons. Rosenthal retired to Boca Raton, Florida where he died in 2008. Everyone knows what happened to Senator Harry Reid.

The nostalgia of the movie Casino reminds me of Bob Hope’s theme song, “Thanks for the Memories.” Younger readers probably never heard of him.


Anonymous said...

My uncle was Jasper Speciale...the stories I could tell you

mobwriter said...

I KNOW you could! You'd get a kick out of our book, Thief. Your uncle was featured in it. thanks for commenting.


Anonymous said...

I miss old Vegas. I miss The Tower of Pizza. I was devastated when it closed and spent the next 25 years searching for its equal. I finally found a place in Southern Ca called Santino's Pizza. I took one bite and almost cried. It's the sauce that brought back my memories. I remember the dark swankiness of The Tower of Pizza. I remember the wonderful bread and butter and red plastic water glasses served to us before the pizza arrived. I remember Jasper greeting us at our table (we visited a lot), and I remember a grandma type woman in the kitchen. Ahhhh....good times.

Marshall said...

In a way i miss those days .I knew Everyone above and so many more. Most are gone now. The stories are gone too. Sin City is all grown up and it's children have no memory .

Marshall said...

I knew everyone above quite well and miss those days. Most are gone now. The stories too . What is today , Sin City all grown-up without a memory.