The True Story Behind Casino

Mobster turned witness turned tour guide Frank Cullotta was a consultant on the movie Casino. He was there when the events of the filmed occurred, although his character’s name was changed to Frank Marino in the film. He says the movie is “75% to 90% accurate,” but to tell the whole story, you need to know what comes before and after. So we get a history of organized crime in Las Vegas from the beginning. Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo, which led to Siegel’s murder in 1947. History professor Michael Green fills in the details.

The Thunderbird is built soon afterward and that’s tied to Lansky. The Desert Inn is being started; the builder of it, Wilber Clark, runs out of money. In comes [mobster] Moe Dalitz and the Mayfield Road Gang from Cleveland, and you do have — at this point — a proliferation of mob ownership and investment. Throw in that in November of 1950, Estes Kefauver brought his Senate organized crime committee hearing here, and he talked about how terrible legal gambling was in Nevada because of the mob. The result of his hearing was that they were shutting down illegal operations around the country. Where were they going to go to run casinos? Well, Nevada was the logical place and Las Vegas was the most logical place in Nevada. So there’s also this outside factor influencing things. But, certainly the success of the Flamingo, especially after Siegel is the victim of a hostile takeover — and when you’re shot that may times it’s certainly a hostile takeover — I think that contributed greatly to the mob’s interest in the area.

Green and Cullotta have plenty to say about the heyday of the mob in Las Vegas, which you can read at Uproxx.

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