Casino, Martin Scorsese’s 1995 epic underworld story is the spiritual successor to Goodfellas in many ways. Not only did it see the director once again team up with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, but he worked with the author who wrote the source material for both Goodfellas and Casino, Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi’s non-fiction book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas covers the heyday of mafia-controlled Vegas, focusing specifically on the real-life inspirations for Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro, respectively.
Through these two real-life gangsters, Pileggi provided a way for Scorsese to tell an intriguing story of greed and humanity’s hunger for power. For a big-budget mafia movie, Casino is shockingly accurate, and many of the details that have been changed aren’t that far away from the real story. The biggest differences between reality and the onscreen version of events are usually questions of location rather than the validity of the event itself. Scorsese’s film is intense and filled with psychotic characters; luckily, he barely had to change the real-life narrative to put this story on screen.
Some of the most exciting scenes in Casino are built around Ace dishing out punishment to cheaters he finds in the Tangiers. One such scene sees Ace smash a blackjack player's hand with a rubber mallet after discovering he's using a complicated system for reading cards.
In an interview, Lefty Rosenthal weighed in on the scene. Not only did he say it was accurate, but he added some context:
I was coming in for the night shift and I noticed that a blackjack table had a huge crowd around it. I walked over and took a look and there was one player who had $75,000 in chips in front of him. I looked over to the pit boss and asked, 'What's going on?' And he shrugged like the guy was getting lucky. Something told me that he had a hot hand. Why? Because he wasn't losing—that's why. So I knew something was wrong. I saw the player at the opposite side of the table was wiring electronically the dealer's hole card to the winner. I had a security man zap the sender with a cattle prod. It was powerful. The sender went down hard. We pretended to help him back up and took him to the woodshed—that's what we called the back room—and at first he pleaded not guilty. And then he very quickly changed his mind when we strip searched him and asked him what the wiring to his leg was all about. He had a little device where he tapped out messages to the receiver.
Scorsese makes incredibly intense films, so it's not out of the realm of possibilities for the director to come up with a scene where Nicky crushes a guy's head in a vice until his eye pops out. But here's the thing: it really happened. The real mobster, Anthony Spilotro, is said to have tortured a man named Billy McCarthy by placing his head in a vice.
The real-life scene played out exactly the way it did in the movie, except when McCarthy's eye popped out, Spiltoro is said to have slit the man's throat.
Casino opens with Ace starting his car and getting blown sky high. Miraculously, he survives thanks to a metal plate under the seat. As ridiculous as this sounds, the event was based on actual events. On October 4, 1982, Lefty Rosenthal started his car outside of a restaurant and the Cadillac detonated.
Rosenthal survived with minor injuries thanks to the metal plate under his seat and an open car door. A woman who lived near the parking lot and witnessed the event said it "sounded like a train fell on my roof." She told the Las Vegas Sun, "Rosenthal's car shot right up in the air and flames went about two stories in the air."
One of the more intense scenes in the film shows the end of Nicky and his brother, Dominick. After fleeing Las Vegas, they're ambushed by members of their own crew and beaten in a field before they're buried in a shallow grave. This is pretty much what really happened; Scorsese's version is a little more whiz-bang than real life, but it's accurate.
In real life, Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael, were brought into the basement of a house not far from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. When they arrived, 15 people jumped them and beat them so severely that their muscles hemorrhaged and Michael's Adam's apple was fractured. The brothers were then transported to a cornfield in Enos, Indiana, where they were dumped in a 5-foot-deep grave wearing nothing but their underwear.