October 06, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas

Current Status
In Season
Nicholas Pileggi
Nonfiction, Movies,
We gave it a B+

Lefty couldn’t say nobody warned him, because they did. Everybody told Frank ”Lefty” Rosenthal that he was making a big mistake even thinking about marrying a broad like Geri McGee.

But you know how it is. Even a guy like Lefty, 39 years old at the time — 1969 — and maybe the slickest professional sports gambler in all of Las Vegas, you couldn’t tell him nothing when it came to a dame. Here was a guy who lived off handicapping pro football, college basketball, baseball, boxing. Not a sports fan but a real gambler. Read the wire, watched the odds, calculated the point spread, talked to his informants around the country, then laid down maybe two bets every weekend — for $50,000 each. A Chicago guy. Connected, if you know what I mean.

But the way he tells it, even a shrewd article like Lefty was a pushover for one of those long-legged Las Vegas bimbos with a gorgeous profile, a drinking and pill-popping problem, and a Rolodex full of johns. ”I was so proud of [Geri],” Lefty told Nicholas Pileggi, the author of Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. ”She attracted attention wherever she went. She was that much of a knockout. It’s one of the problems with marrying a ten, or even a nine. They’re dangerous.” Pileggi does have a knack for getting people, especially ”connected” people, to tell him things — crazy, embarrassing things you’d think they wouldn’t tell anybody. That’s how Pileggi wrote his last book, Wiseguy, which he and Martin Scorsese turned into the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 1990 movie GoodFellas. This time around, Pileggi’s book and Scorsese’s film are being released almost simultaneously, a highly unusual way of doing business but one that is almost guaranteed — given the hype — to make Lefty Rosenthal as famous as Jewish gangsters like Bugsy Siegel or Meyer Lansky. So maybe it’s worth the humiliation.

Anyway, look back far enough, and you see Lefty’s problems actually started with his longtime pal Tony ”the Ant” Spilotro. Here’s all you need to know about Tony: Back in their hometown of Chicago, Tony once had the job of finding out who’d helped another goon do an unauthorized hit. Except that the man wouldn’t talk, even after he took an ice pick through his testicles. So Tony the Ant put his head in a vise and tightened it until one of his eyes popped out of its socket. The guy talked.

So when Lefty’s wife, Geri, slept with Tony, it kicked off a deadly feud that not only made newspaper headlines but also helped the FBI bust the Chicago Mob’s multimillion-dollar Las Vegas cash-skimming operation wide open. The way it worked, see, was that Lefty was the brains behind the operation, and Tony was the muscle. Like when the guy who owned the Stardust Casino tried to fire Lefty from his job as a ”public relations assistant.” As soon as he heard who Lefty’s powerful friends were, he changed his mind. But then, if the guy expected to run his own joint, he shouldn’t have borrowed the dough to buy it from the Teamsters pension fund, right?

Anyhow, that’s how it was out in Vegas back in Lefty’s glory days, back before Geri and Tony got involved, before cars started exploding, bodies began turning up in shallow graves, and people began having reckless phone conversations with FBI agents listening in. Before it was all over, the Feds had some real talkative sources tucked away in the Witness Protection Program, and a few big-time Mob bosses got dragged off to prison. Only Lefty himself emerged free and clear to tell Nick Pileggi the whole tale. And a hell of a tale it is,even if you’ve got to hold your nose to read it. B+

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