Casino: 10 Fun Facts About Scorsese's Masterpiece
Thursday 5th December 2019
Though many dismiss Martin Scorsese's Casino as a copycat of Goodfellas, the film is a wonderful piece of art, and here are some fun facts about it.
With the recent release of Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, the acclaimed director returned to the gangster genre that has defined much of his career. It also marked his ninth collaboration with Robert De Niro. However, despite their long-time working relationship, The Irishman is only their first movie together since 1995's Casino.
Set in 70s-era Las Vegas, Casino tells the tale of sports handicapper Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), who is given the Tangiers Casino to run by the midwest mafia. While in Vegas, he falls in love with Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), a stunningly gorgeous dancer/hustler, while also dealing with his often problematic friend and muscle Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci). Criticized for being a rehash of his earlier gangster epic, Goodfellas, Casino (based on the Nicholas Pileggi book of the same name) has more than held its own, as it actually outgrossed Goodfellas by $70 million and is considered a masterpiece in its own right. Here then, are 10 Fun Facts About Scorsese's Casino.
10 Based On Actual Events
Many of the people and events depicted in Casino are based on real-life. De Niro's Sam "Ace" Rothstein was based on Chicago sports handicapper Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. Pesci's Nicky Santoro's real-life counterpart was mafia tough guy and jewelry heist man Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro. And Sharon Stone's ill-fated Ginger McKenna was based on Las Vegas showgirl Geri McGee, who was married to Rosenthal and sadly died of a drug overdose in 1982. In addition, the car bombing, casino skimming, and hammer-to-the-hand incident all happened in real-life as well.
9 Sharon Stone Almost Wasn't In The Movie
In a film full of impressive performances, only one managed to nab an Academy Award nomination: Sharon Stone's portrayal of ex-dancer/drug addict Ginger McKenna. But Stone nearly missed out on the role. After having a pair of meetings with Scorsese canceled for various reasons, Stone blew off a third meeting with him. Not to be denied, Scorsese tracked her down and discussed the role with her. Despite all of this, the production still looked at other actresses for the part, including Uma Thurman, Cameron Diaz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nicole Kidman, and even Madonna. Stone was determined, though, and managed to convince Scorsese to give her the role.
8 The Head Vice Scene Actually Happened...And Was Even Worse
Arguably the most alarmingly violent scene in Casino takes place when Nicky Santoro puts the head of mafia baddie Tony Dogs in a vise, squeezing it so tight that his eyeball pops out of his head. Scorsese has stated that he expected the scene to be cut and that he included it as a sacrificial lamb to the MPAA.
It may seem gratuitous, but this incident actually occurred, with Santoro's real-life counterpart Anthony Spilotro beating and torturing wiseguy Billy McCarthy for his unauthorized hit on the Scalvo brothers. Instead of cutting his throat, though, Spilotro lit the tough Irish fella on fire.
7 Pesci And De Niro's Conversations Were Improvised
Casino marked the fifth time Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci had worked together, so by this point, the two had developed quite the rapport with each other. Although the screenplay, written by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi (based on his own book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas) featured some sharp dialogue, De Niro and Pesci were given the freedom to improvise much of the dialogue between the two. Scorsese would simply let the pair know where he wanted them to begin and where they needed to end.
6 The Irishman Connection
The genesis of the story that Casino tells begins when the mafia has to send Sam "Ace" Rothstein to Vegas to run the mob-controlled Tangiers. Via voiceover, it is mentioned that the Teamsters labor union funded the purchase of the Tangiers Hotel and Casino. During this time, the mob routinely used the Teamsters pension fund as a "bank" to build casinos in Las Vegas. In the recently released The Irishman, there is a scene where we see Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa (played brilliantly by Al Pacino) approving a $1.5 million loan to the mafia to fund the new Dunes Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Presumably, he also approved funding for the Stardust Casino, which is what The Tangiers was based on.
5 The Frank Rosenthal Show
One of the memorable moments in Casino comes when De Niro's Sam "Ace" Rothstein hosts his own television talk show, Aces High, out of the Tangiers Casino shortly after being denied his gaming license. He has Frankie Avalon on as a guest and calls out County Commissioner Pat Webb to debate him on the show.
In real-life, Frank Rosenthal actually did host The Frank Rosenthal Show from the Stardust Casino. Guests included Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Liberace, O.J. Simpson, and Casino co-star Don Rickles. Sadly, there was no juggling.
4 Scorsese's Mom Had A Minor Role In The Film
Scorsese has a history of casting his family in minor roles in his movies. His father, Charles Scorsese, appeared in eight of his films over the years, with his last being The Age of Innocence before his death in 1993. It's his mom, however, who had a habit of being a scene-stealer in several of his films. Catherine Scorsese had small roles in nine of Marty's films, with her most memorable being that of Tommy DeVito's mother in 1990's Goodfellas. In Casino, Catherine had another memorable part, this time as Artie Piscano's cursing-averse mother ("Take it easy. You'll get a heart attack like that.") Sadly, Catherine passed away in 1997.
3 Cornfield Burial
After running wild and unchecked for most of the movie, Nicky Santoro finally goes too far when he sleeps with Rothstein's wife Ginger. This unforgivable offense leads to Nicky and his brother Dominick being beaten with aluminum baseball bats and buried alive together in a single, shallow grave in a cornfield. In reality, Anthony Spilotro and his brother Michael thought they were being "promoted" within the mafia only to get ambushed and murdered in an Illinois basement. The cornfield burial still happened, but the brothers were dead by then.
2 K.K. Ichikawa Had A Real-Life Counterpart, Too
It's a minor scene in the nearly three-hour film, but it demonstrates the power and reach of the casino (and therefore the mob): Japanese high roller K.K. Ichikawa, fresh off making a killing at the Tangiers blackjack table, is told his plane can't take off due to a mechanical failure. He's forced to stay another night and he ends up losing all his winnings back, and then some.
Ichikawa is based on an actual Japanese whale named Akio Kashiwagi who wound up millions in debt to the casinos. He was found dead in his house in 1992, allegedly at the hands of Japan's version of the mafia, the Yakuza.
1 The Tangiers Was A Combination Of 3 Vegas Casinos
As mentioned earlier, The Tangiers Hotel and Casino was based on the Stardust, one of four casinos that Frank Rosenthal was in charge of (the others being the Marina, Hacienda, and Fremont casinos). For the film, exteriors were shot at The Landmark (which had been closed for several years at that point) and the interior scenes inside the Riviera Casino (shooting would take place in the early morning hours). During production, the Riviera would advertise the fact that visitors to the casino could watch the film being shot. Sadly, all three casinos have since closed and been demolished.
NEXT: Every Martin Scorsese Movie Ranked, Worst To Best
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Shawn Pacheco is an avid writer, reader, and filmgoer based in Pueblo, Colorado. After 19 years in the television news business, he left to pursue writing and other passions. He began his writing career in May 2018 with Horror Geek Life and has expanded to also write for Valnet, Inc, as a writer for Screen Rant. A graduate of Stanford University, Shawn has been a lifelong fan of movies, television, pro wrestling, the Oakland Raiders, pop culture, and Stephen King. And he will go toe-to-toe with anyone in Friday the 13th trivia.
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