The Facts Behind the 1995 Film ‘Casino’

Two dice for craps game

People often overuse the word “classic,” especially when it comes to cinema. You often hear “this film is going to be a classic in the next couple of years,” and other exaggerations. One director that definitely knows how to make a film that will live on throughout the ages is Martin Scorsese, who has helmed some of the most iconic films to ever grace the big screen. One of those legendary pictures is the 1995 masterpiece Casino. While a few years earlier Goodfellas came out, with a similar theme about mob life in the United States, Casino was something else, and it was definitely unique. These are some facts you might’ve not known about the 1995 crime flick. 

One thing you can’t help but ponder, though, is how things have changed over the years when it comes to Casino. As you’ll see further down the article, this picture was actually filmed inside one of Vegas’s most famous casinos back then. While they were very popular at that time, the influence of physical casinos has diminished over the years, and most people prefer online ones these days, because of technological advancement made it very easy to gamble from the comfort of your home. In a country like Malaysia, you have access to thousands of online games with colorful themes and impressive visuals, and the experience of online casino Malaysia offers is said to be very different from the rest. This is why a lot of people are shifting to this much more convenient choice, and who knows, a film like Casino wouldn’t probably matter as much if it came out in this day and age. 

It is based on a true story

Believe it or not, Casino is actually based on a real story, and the protagonist of the story being a big fan of De Niro was even one of the main reasons why the film was even made. The character’s real name was Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal, and he was actually alive when writer Nicholas Pileggi approached him to write a book about his career. Then retired, Rosenthal didn’t really show much interest in the project, but he didn’t oppose the creation of the book either. 

He then found out that Scorsese planned on adapting the book into an actual film, and De Niro was slated to play him in that picture. Being a big fan, Rosenthal started warming up to the idea, and he even asked to meet the actor, and De Niro did meet him in preparation for his iconic role as Ace––the casino and betting expert. Later on, in an interview about the film, Rosenthal even said that De Niro’s portrayal of him was pretty accurate, though not entirely true in all aspects––a 7 out of 10 basically, in terms of accuracy. 

It is not just Rosenthal’s character that was based on an actual person. His associate––played brilliantly on film by Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro––was called Tony Spilotro, and he was indeed a real gangster. There’s even a photograph of the two real characters in the film, during the scene where Nicky goes to Ace’s house with the latter’s banker in there. 

Actual parolees worked on the film

One thing Scorsese is known for is his meticulousness and careful attention to detail, and his extreme care on making his films as accurate as possible. True to that work ethic, he actually hired parolees from that era to work as consultants on the plot and mannerisms of the actors. He even brought on FBI agents who had arrested people in that era to work as consultants as well. It probably helped that former associates of Rosenthal actually started helping the writer once news of the book came out. How about that for authenticity? 

Sharon Stone almost didn’t get the role

This is considered by many to be Sharon Stone’s career performance, and she earned an Oscar nomination for it, but the truth is, she almost didn’t get the role. Scorsese actually canceled her audition two times, before going after her himself to convince her to play the role. In the film’s Blu-ray commentary, Stone explains how her first two interviews got canceled for different reasons. 

At first, the director was delayed because of another meeting he was in, and the second was a similar situation. She naturally assumed he wasn’t interested, and even declined a request for another interview by Scorsese’s people and went to dinner with a friend instead. Much to her surprise, the man himself got her location, and actually went to the restaurant to ask her personally to come on board! 

The infamous ‘head in vice’ scene was bait 

Perhaps the most memorable scene of the entire movie is when Joe Pesci’s character is torturing a lowly gangster by putting his head in a vice and squeezing. Believe it or not, that scene wasn’t actually in the book in that vivid detail, but was rather anecdotally taken from it.

Scorsese just put it in believing that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) would definitely remove it, leaving out other gruesome parts of the film; it was basically baited so they’d overlook the violence spread out through the picture, which might be considered mild compared to a person having their eyes almost pop out because his head is being squeezed too hard. Much to his surprise, they kept that scene, and the film was aired with that sequence. 

The casino explosion scenes were real 

Yes, those were real footage of a casino being imploded. Fortunately, the production didn’t require really blowing one up. This footage was actually taken from the real-life demolition of the Dunes that took place in October 1993 and January 1994. It was a one-of-a-kind event that drew in over 200,000 spectators, in front of which the implosion took place. It was the first time something like this happened, and it was definitely welcome news for the production crew of the film, which used that shot at the end of Casino in a very memorable scene that adds to the grandeur of the picture altogether. 

The film was shot in an actual casino

Speaking of authenticity, the film was actually shot in a real-life casino, because where else are you going to get such colorful settings? It wasn’t easy, naturally, to do something like that, but they worked around it. The film was shot in the Riviera in Las Vegas between the hours of midnight and 10 in the morning to avoid halting the casino’s operations. Filming in those times entailed fewer punters, and it went on for around six weeks, four nights a week. The shoots were mostly in the corner of the place, and real gameplay was on the sides, and people also gambling as the crew filmed. Scorsese even used real dealers from the place for extra authenticity and to avoid wasting time teaching actors how to deal like pros. 

The Riviera made the most out of the shoot, and they used it for promotional purposes, despite limiting the production set on-premises. They added signs with the main cast’s name, mentioning that they were filming inside the casino, to lure more punters. It definitely worked. 

Joe Pesci’s real-life wife tried to kill him

Another bizarre fact about the film is how Joe Pesci’s wife at the time of filming did really try to have him killed. Claudia Haro also starred in the film as the co-host of De Niro’s show “Ace’s High,” but she and Pesci got a divorce, and she remarried later on. It was in 2000 that she was convicted of two counts of attempted murder for hiring an assassin to kill Pesci! You definitely cannot make this stuff up, and perhaps it’s her time on the set of this violent gang film that inspired her? We’ll never know. 

Pesci looked like his real character, a lot

There’s no denying Pesci’s talent and his ability to impersonate any character he’s playing, selling it with great passion and authenticity. But for Casino, it was a little more than his acting chops that made an impact. Apparently, he really did resemble his real character, Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, who was known for his violent temper and ruthlessness while working as muscle for Rosenthal. The resemblance is even said to have been doubled when Pesci underwent makeup for the role, and it actually caused some problems. According to the book’s writer Pileggi, when Pesci entered the casino in costume, some dealers who actually knew Spilotro in real life almost fainted! They had to redo several takes because of how nervous some of them were. 

Speaking of the real character, Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were not, in fact, killed in the desert as shown in the film. They were both killed in an Illinois basement, not even Vegas, where both went thinking that Michael was going to be “made,” or in other words, be inducted into the mafia, but they never left that basement. Ring any bells, that particular sequence? Yes, that is exactly how Pesci’s character in Goodfellas was killed. 

Clothes cost a lot of money in Casino 

Take a wild guess how much it cost to dress people in the film. The costume budget for Casino was one million dollars! It’s probably mostly because of De Niro and Stone alone. He had 70 different costumes throughout the entire film, and she 40! Both were allowed to keep their costumes after filming had wrapped up. 

At three hours long, the film has no plot

Or at least that’s how Scorsese puts it. He admits that despite the length of the film, a lot of action goes on, and you do know what’s happening, but there’s no plot. Speaking of the duration of the film, the studio didn’t really want the film to be three hours long, because cinemas don’t like lengthy films as it means fewer shows during the day. Scorsese naturally did what he wanted and shot the film at 178 minutes long. But when you’re one of cinema’s most acclaimed directors, who can refuse you?

Ace’s attorney on film was a real-life one

Oscar Goodman played Ace’s lawyer in Casino. Ironically, he was a real one who actually defended a couple of infamous gangsters in Las Vegas! To even add to the surrealism of the entire situation, Goodman was elected mayor of Vegas in 1999. 

The book was written simultaneously with the film

To adapt a book into a screenplay, you naturally need to write and publish the book first, but Scorsese convinced Pileggi otherwise. He persuaded the writer to work on both the book and screenplay/script––which he co-wrote––at the same time. After the latter was completed, Pileggi worked hard to finish the book on time. Eventually, it came out just six weeks before the release date of the film! It was definitely confusing for a lot of people, especially considering the fact that the book uses the characters’ real names. 

James Woods really wanted to work with Scorsese 

While he might have not had the recognition he deserves, Woods is considered by many to be a fine actor. He really wanted to work with Scorsese, though, calling his office when he heard the legendary director had a part in mind for him, leaving this message: “Any time, any place, any part, any fee.”

It’s still debated what the real Rosenthal thought of the film

The film was based on his life, yet we might never know what he really thought of the film. Rosenthal died in 2008; he supposedly saw the film just once in a private screening with the writer, who stated that the former was pleased with what he saw. Before he died, Rosenthal was asked what he thought of the film based on his life’s story, and he said it was lacking, and there were some details that he didn’t really appreciate like the scene of him juggling on the Frank Rosenthal show, which he denies ever doing. He also didn’t like how his wife was portrayed and said it brought back bad memories.

Video camera and reels

Whether you like it or not, or even prefer Goodfellas, Casino is one of the best mobster films ever made, and it is one of Scorsese’s best, and definitely a classic. The fact that it was based on a true story is even more interesting—or terrifying if you think about all the gruesome details of the story—and it definitely adds depth to the overall movie, which will live on as a master-class in filmmaking. 

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