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MYSTERY WIRE — One of the most famous, and infamous, Las Vegas casinos was blown to pieces this week 14 years ago. It was on March 13, 2007 when the Stardust Hotel and Casino was imploded.
The Stardust was once the epicenter of organized crime activity in Las Vegas and its demolition represented the end of a bloody era and a visual reminder of vast changes that swept through the gambling industry.
Mob connected executives worked in nearly every Las Vegas property. One by one the properties were demolished to make way for grander corporate owned resorts.
The story of the Stardust was immortalized in Martin Scorcese s movie Casino, based on the true story of Frank Lefty Rosenthal, played in the movie by Robert De Niro.
In an interview shortly before his death in 2008 Rosenthal explained how he became the focus of the movie, It was simply a favor. Originally from Oscar Goodman, a 25 year friend and attorney who asked me to help Nick Pileggi, the writer, for technical assistance, the evolution became so massive and so interesting to Universal, that they decided to make a movie out of it.
Rosenthal s tenure at the Stardust began in 1976 marked and encompassed the zenith of the mob s power in Las Vegas.
That was until October of 1982 when a car bomb nearly killed him. It was a clear sign the mob was on its way out.
Well, Im not sure Ive ever turned the ignition on, Rosenthal said during an interview from his Miami Beach home in 2008. There was a bomb in the car, obviously. I dont recall the initial explosion. I never heard anything, what I did see was fire shooting up from the floor onto the windshield. At the time, I was probably semi conscious. My recollection was that my car was on fire. And flames are shooting off left and right in front of me. And I attempted to open the door with my left hand. And as I did the fires were too intense.
When asked if he ever considered revenge against whoever planted the bomb he said, I never thought of revenge because that really wouldnt be the answer. First of all revenge on who. I wouldnt know who and where to go, you know, for revenge.
Two days after Rosenthals car was firebombed, he talked with a small group of invited reporters at his house at the Las Vegas Country Club but did not allow any recordings. In the video clip below, you can watch two stories about the car bombing and two stories about the death of his wife, Geri, on November 9, 1982 in Los Angeles.
In the closing scene of Casino, De Niros character, Ace, talks about the end of old Las Vegas and its transformation into the age of corporate casino owners.
In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, its like checkin into an airport.Casino (1995), Universal Pictures
And if you order room service, youre lucky if you get it by Thursday.
Today its all gone.
You got a whale show up with four million in a suitcase and some 18-year-old hotel school kid is gonna want his social security number.
After the Teamsters got knocked out of the box the corporations tore down practically every one of the old casinos.
And where did the money come from to rebuild the Pyramids?
But in the end, I wound up right back where I started.
I could still pick winners and I could still make money for all kinds of people back home.
And why mess up a good thing?
And thats that.
In this candid interview, Rosenthal talked about his life, his friendship with Tough Tony Spilotro, and his battles with the law.
Obviously were talking to Frank Rosenthal in his South Florida home today and were reminiscing about a few things that were going to start obviously about a movie thats going to be coming out either late this summer, or, in the fall called Casino. And which is basically based on your life somewhat loosely, theyll take some dramatic license, and thats going to how do you feel, first of all, being portrayed in a movie?
Well, first, John, it isnt based on my life, its based on a period of my life, pertaining to the majority of what would be during my tenure in Las Vegas, some of which goes back to Chicago. As to how I feel about it, it wasnt planned to be that way. It was planned to be a novel. I really have mixed emotions as to how I am being portrayed. Until I see the final product, I would probably reserve my opinion.
You are always considered something along, I know you had your own talk show in Las Vegas, but youve always considered yourself sort of a private person, it must have been you must have given some thought to this too, before cooperating with on this venture?
Absolutely correct, I did give a lot of thought to it. You might choose to be private, when sometimes certain things might surface that kind of compromise the privacy, and that did happen in this situation. And once the privacy factor was compromised, I decided that there would be no point to remain that private and did cooperate with Universal Studios, Nick Pileggi, the writer, the main writer, and Martin Scorsese and the creative people.
How can this change your life? Will it be something of a celebrity?
I never perceived it to be that way. Certainly not certainly not as a celebrity. As far as changing my life, if it does, it was not intended to do so. That was not a consideration. It was simply a favor. Originally from Oscar Goodman, a 25 year friend and attorney who asked me to help Nick Pileggi, the writer, for technical assistance, the evolution became so massive and so interesting to Universal, that they decided to make a movie out of it.
And Robert De Niro was going to be portraying a character based on your activities out there.
Hes going to try.
Okay, right. Now, lets fast forward to right now, youre managing a very upscale, a very.. obviously a very popular, nice, but because we were there last night, do you enjoy this? Tell me how you feel about this type of thing.
My position is no matter what Id be doing, the focus would be the same. You avoid what I would call the satisfaction syndrome. Whatever I approach, I approach it full speed, full time, eat, sleep, drink, whether its Las Vegas, or an upscale restaurant and bar. So I devote all my energy all my time, all my focus. And thats the only way I know how to do things.
Lets set the clock back you grew up in Chicago was Rogers Park and then you moved up to Las Vegas sometime in the 60s. You already had some experience handicap and you went out there and became a gambler. And were you a good one to tell me this is your handicapping you were betting your book.
When I moved to Las Vegas, I moved to Las Vegas because it was legal. It was more of an opportunity. As far as being right there on the scene. Sports wagering if you didnt live in Las Vegas was from the element of the law enforcement, you were taking a risk. It was more timely to be in Las Vegas to be able to walk into a legitimate sports book. I think you might make an analogy being on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as opposed to being in your home. And I decided that if I wanted to beat this game, I had to be in the stock exchange. And that was the way I went and thats what I did.
You waded into the casino business. You went in as a neophyte, went to the Stardust in the late 1960s. And you rose from foreman to eventually director of operations. Some people think that was a meteoric rise and you did so because you were connected.
I think when you say I went in as a neophyte, I think youre complimenting me. I think I was less than that. On the other hand, when I moved to Las Vegas, I have 15, at least 15, possibly 20 years of gaming experience. Thats not to say that I understood the casino side of it both either inside or out. But my rise from Florida and youre correct to director Nevada operations for the second largest corporation was in the state. The first being our US property. had nothing to do with any outside elements. I paid my dues. I went up through every single level of command.
Yet you were hounded, you contend, by the authorities, eventually,
I didnt get into the trouble John. I was in trouble when I landed from Chicago, into Las Vegas. I was arrested three times, I think, in 72 hours. Simply because of my reputation as a professional Gambler, the city that I came from, and people that I had an association with, friends. So I dont think I ever had a chance. As far as the perception of the state, the authorities, the gamers, the people that call the shots. I tried my best to avoid any problems. lead a life as clean as anybody could possibly lead, got married, raised two children, and did the best I could. It wasnt good enough for them.
Lets talk briefly a little about the personal life because thats going to be coming out in the movie. Of course, you married Geri, a showgirl. And as you indicate you raised two bright young people, children that have done very well. And according to reports that Geri started having an affair with a friend of yours, Tony Spilotro, anything you can relate to us about that?
I could say, I can comment this way rather than no comedy. Geris deceased Tonys deceased, neither one of them can speak for themselves. My two children are still living, I think for me to speak in a negative manner about their mother would be in poor taste. Theres been several stories written about it. And I just think for me to affirm the allegation the suspicions just wouldnt be in good taste, considering the fact again that she was or is the mother of my children.
There was something of course you cant have; we couldnt remember it was a traumatic thing that happened in your whole career. You came out of a restaurant Tony Romas, I believe, got into your Cadillac and turned on the ignition, and there was a bomb in there. Tell me a little about that incident.
Well, Im not sure Ive ever turned the ignition on. The second part of your question is accurate. There was a bomb in the car, obviously. I dont recall the initial explosion. I never heard anything, what I did see was fire shooting up from the floor onto the windshield. At the time, I was probably semi conscious. My recollection was that my car was on fire. And flames are shooting off left and right in front of me. And I attempted to open the door with my left hand. And as I did the fires were too intense. The heat was so intense that I had to pull my left hand back. I then made one gesture with my right arm towards the lever of the door side, the driver side and fortunately pushed it through my shoulder against the door. And for some reason it popped open. And I was able to tumble out of the car onto the street, afire.
How badly burned were you?
I dont know what the degree of the burns were. I know I had broken ribs. I was burned, both arms, both legs, my forehead. But the recovery was fairly quick.
Any idea who .. that case was never cleared or as authorities say solved as to who was responsible for planning that bomb there who actually wanted it done. Do you have any ideas on that?
Ive been asked that question from probably the day of the bombing, or not probably in fact, I was. In fact that evening in the emergency room. I was invaded by the FBI, Clark County intelligence and many agencies thereafter and asked the same question that youve asked me. And Ive had many years to try to analyze. As you said, the bombing remains unsolved. And I really couldnt say with any accuracy who I placed the bomb there. Who is the one that persuaded someone to place the bomb? I just, it will be pure speculation. And I wish I knew.
Were you thinking of revenge at one time?
I never thought of revenge because that really wouldnt be the answer. First of all revenge on who. I wouldnt know who and where to go, you know, for revenge.
The authorities wanted you to go in what has sometimes been described as the witness protection program or wanting to become an informant after that.
I was invited into that program, less than 24 hours after the bombing, carte blanche, the Riviera, you name it. Your own home estate, horses, wineries. And I chose to remain as his status quo and took my chances.
That brings us almost up to here Frank with the other point, as you say, you did lose you feel in that because it is you think indicated earlier in an interview with him, because of some of the people, the Association and the prejudice against, you did lose your license out there. You could have stayed out there.
I lost my license, I lost. I lost more than that I lost my work card. In fact, the result being you cannot work within the state in any capacity. But that was that as a result of the word organized crime has been used loosely. And I keep hearing that word. Ive heard it from day one from the time I got off the plane in Las Vegas until this day. And I will say this to you. Organized crime did exist during my tenure in Las Vegas. And I knew every single member of the organized crime family. And there were approximately 20. They were comprised of the gaming control board, the Gaming Commission, all appointed officials, maybe one or two county commissioners, maybe two local judges, and possibly one supreme court justice. Those were the real organized crimes factor. They controlled everything that went on within that state. And thats what I consider to be the real organized crime element. If youre not on their team, they can do anything they want to you, me or anyone else.
And you werent a team member.
Not with them No.
So the establishment is the one that youre saying is the fact that is what we would call a Vegas or Nevada establishment of judges, gaming board and commission members are the ones that put you down…
Well, primarily the gaming control board, the Gaming Commission, county commissioners, as I said, theyre one group together. And everythings done in the back room. And theyve got you wired one way or the other. Its either a go or no go. And they determine your future.
There was no future for Frank Rosenthal as far as theyre concerned.
Well, number one, correct. Number one, the word Chicago was a no no. As far as they were concerned. What they use an expression is called frontier justice. And as I said, I was arrested three times within three days. My first arrest, I was taken into the Chief of Detectives in cuffs. Met the Chief of Detectives, told me that people Chicago were unwelcome in Las Vegas. He then challenged to see how long I could hold my breath while he held my throat for approximately 45 seconds until I came close to collapsing. He then advised me that I should be on the next airplane back to Chicago by the following morning. If not, he would have me back in the same room under worse circumstances. I wasnt smart enough to leave. He kept his word. He did arrest me again. And they finally persuaded me to leave temporarily. And through a good friend of mine in Las Vegas named Dean Shendal and others I was able to get the then sheriff to restrain himself and allow me to return back have freedom of movement, however with a curfew.
Were talking to Frank Rosenthal, he had mentioned, the very unpleasant arrival when he came out to Las Vegas things finally did eventually work out. And lets put this way, Frank, if youd ever went back with your, lets assume he knew, and he apparently have no desire to do that. Now, if you ever went back to Las Vegas to manage a casino, could Frank Rosenthal make a profit for the owners? Would Frank Rosenthal cut the mustard?
Well, Ill answer you in two part one, I dont think its realistic that I would. But to answer your question, which I think is very simple. I dont think Ive lost any of I think Id retain whatever I knew at the time. And one thing regardless of my reputation, whether it be my advocates or opponents, no one ever challenged my ability as an administrator, or casino operator. And yes, I think I would be capable and competent to match the skills of anybody thats ever worked in the industry.
Any major regrets about some of the decisions you made?
Absolutely. I think life. I guess you might compare it to a pencil. We all have erasers. And certainly there are many times that I wish Id have done things a little bit differently. As far as Las Vegas is concerned, no, I really didnt have alternatives. When someone slaps you in the face and knocks you down, you have two choices, get up and run or get up and fight. And I chose to get up and fight rather than run.
The one thing I should ask, the allegations, the skimming situation again, we talked about that before. How did you know anything about any skimming that was going on?
There was never any skimming that took place during my tenure. There was a period that I left the building for approximately 13 months that the state was able to determine that there was what they considered to be skimming within the property. Theft, there was. Theft, there is. Theres theft today. In every casino in Nevada, in every major corporation in this world, its a question of the level of theft. And wheres it coming from the inside, the outside, or both? But there was no skimming that ever took place while I was in charge, or have responsibility for any of those four properties.
Thanks so much Frank. Good luck to you.
Below are six videos that will play back-to-back showing the implosions of the Landmark, Riviera, Dunes, El Ranch, Frontier, and Hacienda.
Las Vegas was magic in the era when casinos were smaller and more intimate, author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi told Casino.org. But the city and its casinos now are spectacular, he said.
Author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi wrote this article published in Esquire magazine in 1995. Pileggi co-wrote the Las Vegas movie Casino with director Martin Scorsese. (Image: Esquire)
Pileggi said when hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip each only had several hundred rooms, the staff and customers often knew one another. Entertainers such as Dean Martin could be seen dealing blackjack at the Sands after performing in the Copa Room. Frank Sinatra, another member of that era s famous Rat Pack, might wander out to the casino floor and mingle with customers.
The period from the late 1950s through the 1970s had an intimate appeal, Pileggi said.
It was a different time, he told Casino.org this week. It was sort of fabulous.
New York-based Pileggi, an 87-year-old former Associated Press reporter, co-wrote the Las Vegas Mafia movie Casino with director Martin Scorsese. The film was released 25 years ago this month. An exhibit of memorabilia from the movie recently went on display at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas.
The movie is a fictional account of Mafia associate Frank Lefty Rosenthal s rocky marriage to Geri Rosenthal, a former dancer at the Tropicana Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone portray characters based on the Rosenthals. Joe Pesci plays a character modeled after mobster Anthony Tony the Ant Spilotro.
The movie is based on Pileggi s 1995 nonfiction book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. The characters real names were used in the book, but were changed in the movie for legal reasons. For the book, Pileggi interviewed Frank Lefty Rosenthal, former Chicago and Las Vegas gangster Frank Cullotta, and many more from that period.
Pileggi also co-wrote the 1990 New York Mafia movie Goodfellas with Scorsese. This movie is based on Pileggi s true-crime book, Wiseguy.
When Pileggi was writing the book Casino, he stayed in Las Vegas at the Sands, where employees remembered him, he said.
Walking into a casino was like seeing a friend, Pileggi said.
In those days, Las Vegas casinos were basically for gamblers, for people who wanted to go and gamble, he said.
They weren t necessarily places you took your kids, Pileggi said.
That began to change in the 1980s, when corporations moved in and started building 3,000-room megaresorts, where gambling is an additional amenity, Pileggi said.
He said the newer Las Vegas is a totally different economy of scale.
You can make a lot more money with that kind of crowd than you can with three hundred guys who were betting yellow chips at the craps table, he said.
Many people who remember the earlier days are no longer around, Pileggi noted. The Sands was demolished in 1996 to make way for the Venetian. Other properties from that period, including the Stardust, Dunes, and Hacienda, also have been demolished and replaced by newer resorts.
The old Vegas was magic, Pileggi said. But there are people who never saw the old Vegas and can t even conceive of it, so the new Vegas is magic to them.
Pileggi said the newer version lacks the same intimate quality, but has its own appeal.
It s Disneyland, the veteran screenwriter said. The climate is good. These hotel-casinos are spectacular. It s just unbelievable.
While newer visitors have their own Las Vegas, he sometimes is nostalgic for an earlier era.
When I go to Vegas now, I kind of squint my eyes and try to think of the old days, Pileggi said.
In this regard, what was built in place of the Riviera in Las Vegas?
Riviera (colloquially, "the Riv") was a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Winchester, Nevada, which operated from April 1955 to May 2015. It was last owned by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which decided to demolish it to make way for the Las Vegas Global Business District.
Correspondingly, is the Riviera hotel still open in Las Vegas?
One of the few remaining vestiges of Vegas' Rat Pack era shuttered when the Riviera Hotel Casino closed its doors at noon Monday, ending a colorful 60-year run on the Las Vegas Strip. The first high-rise resort on the Strip when it opened in 1955, the Riviera hosted all the big names in its heyday.
Where was the Riviera located?
The Riviera Hotel Casino was located in 2901 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV. Its former location was close to the Convention Center Drive, in front of Circus Circus Hotel Casino and diagonal to the Echelon Place and the Hilton Grand Vacations Club.
Las Vegas has a long history of building giant hotels and then destroying them to make way for even larger megaresorts. Wynn Resorts' (NASDAQ:WYNN) Wynn Las Vegas sits where the Desert Inn once sat, Las Vegas Sands' (NYSE:LVS) The Venetian and Palazzo Las Vegas was built where Sands Hotel was, and even MGM Resorts' (NYSE:MGM) Bellagio replaced the old Dunes Hotel. Land on the Las Vegas Strip is so valuable that it usually makes more sense to destroy an old hotel to make way for a new one than to build off-Strip on undeveloped land.
But it's been years since the last resort was demolished, and construction came to a halt once the Great Recession hit in 2008. Now the city is in the midst of a recovery, and it's only a matter of time before the demolition crews are back again. But which casino will be blown up next?
Las Vegas' skyline is constantly changing and it's only a matter of time before another casino comes down. Image is in public domain.
When looking at blowing up a Las Vegas casino, the only thing that matters is money. Potential profits from a new casino have to be larger than the cash flows of an existing casino. MGM Resorts, for example, isn't going to blow up the Bellagio with its $1.25 billion in revenue and $409 million in EBITDA -- a proxy for cash flow -- to build a resort that would cost billions of dollars and only generate a small amount of cash flow growth. From a financial perspective, the upside just doesn't exist.
But across the street from the Bellagio sits a group of properties that would make a great site for Las Vegas' next megaresort. Flamingo, The Cromwell, The LINQ Hotel, and Harrah's Las Vegas are on the Strip's premier corner at Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, and they're some of the worst performing properties in the area.
Through a dizzying configuration of subsidiaries, Caesars Entertainment's (NASDAQ:CZR) owns these properties and holds the key to their potential development. But finding out how much money these properties make -- or lose -- is harder than it seems.
The Caesars Entertainment Resort Properties subsidiary, known as CERP, owns Flamingo, Harrah's, Paris, and Rio All-Suites in Las Vegas, and Harrah's in Atlantic City and Laughlin. Another subsidiary called Caesars Growth Partners, or CGP, owns The Cromwell and The LINQ. While none of these companies breaks out the performance of each resort individually, you can see below that as a group these subsidiaries aren't very profitable, if at all. We can presume that Flamingo and Harrah's are probably losing money given the performance of CERP as a whole.
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