Gambling News

‘Casino’ Chief Dies at 79: A Fond GP Sendoff

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, the inspiration for Sam “Ace” Rothstein in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 movie “Casino,” died from a heart attack Monday. He was 79.

Roenthal was a one-time Chicago bookmaker who rose to prominence as Las Vegas’s premier casino executives in the 1970s. As a result of alleged mafia ties, Las Vegas authorities revoked his operator’s license in 1976. He was subsequently banned from the state’s casinos and, in 1982, left Las Vegas for Miami Beach after a car bombing nearly took his life.

According to the Associated Press, a Fire Rescue spokeswoman said Rosenthal died in his Miami Beach condominium. 

Rosenthal was born June 2, 1929 in the heat of the Chicago Outfit years. He reportedly ran small bookmaking schemes and owned a hotdog stand before moving to Las Vegas. In 1961, he was called before Robert Kennedy’s Senate hearings on organized crime and became infamous for invoking the 5th Amendment over 35 times. It is said that Rosenthal even refused to confirm whether he was left-handed—the origin, in fact, of his nickname.

In 1968, Rosenthal moved to Nevada at the age of 39 and, soon thereafter, opened a small bookmaking parlor. The FBI bugged the building and indicted Rosenthal on federal bookmaking charges, but the case was thrown out.

Rosenthal next began working as a floor manager for the Stardust hotel and casino in 1974. His rise up the chain of the command from someone who was only “higher that the shoeshine boy” to the casino’s $250,000-a-year executive position was sudden and unconventional, and only matched by his subsequent fall.

At the height of his power, “Lefty” oversaw the Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda and Marina casinos, and even hosted his own local talk show, which boasted appearances by Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali.

According to Nicholas Pleggi, “Casino’s” screenwriter, he was “one of the originals.”

“When Lefty went down,” Pleggi said, “the new Las Vegas emerged—the corporate Las Vegas.”

Rosenthal continued to enjoy prominence in both the sporting and gambling communities even after his fall from grace. Credited with bringing sports betting to Sin City in the 1970s, he was hailed by Sports Illustrated as “The greatest living expert on sports gambling,” and his passing has inspired the grief of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who as a young lawyer, represented Rosenthal in a 1972 court case.

”He really brought glitz and glamour to what we now know as sports books,” Goodman said at a press conference Wednesday. “He wouldn’t tolerate anything but the best in customer service.”

Goodman went on to relate that once, while walking through the Stardust, Rosenthal found a cigarette butt on the floor. According to Goodman, Rosenthal picked up the butt himself and immediately fired the employee responsible for keeping the area clean.

Among other Rosenthal legends two stick out most vividly in the public consciousness. Foremost of these is an incident involving a card counter he caught while in charge of the Stardust. Rosenthal himself admitted to breaking the man’s right hand with a rubber mallet in an attempt to deter other counters from targeting his casinos.

“(The card counter) was part of a crew of professional card cheats,” Rosenthal related to the Miami Herald in 2005. “Calling the cops would do nothing to stop them, so we used a rubber mallet—metal hammers leave marks, you know—and he became a lefty.”

The other memorable moment came from the car bomb incident itself. According to legend, Rosenthal was saved by a steel plate, which had been fitted beneath his Cadillac Eldorado to correct a balancing problem. Las Vegas locals still claim they can see the scorch marks in the parking lot where the attempted assassination took place.

In 1969, Rosenthal married dancer Gen McGee, with whom he had two children. No comment from his family has been forthcoming.