Seriously, if you think you know Vegas, because you have visited there anytime since about 1990, trust me – you don’t have any idea! People who grew up in Southern California in the 60s viewed Las Vegas as a sort of decadent place where people went to gamble, drink in the streets or wherever, stay up all night, and do whatever they couldn’t do at home. It was basically Tijuana with the addition of gambling and without donkeys.
After the 60s, we saw it as more of a place to go see a big show – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the whole “rat pack” scene. Still gambling. It began to have an edginess that came from the rumors of mob activity – all confirmed for us as movies such as
The backstory about the Vegas casinos and how they came to be mob goldmines is the focus of Nicholas Pileggi’s Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, originally published in 1995, reissued in 2016. It takes the reader deep into the world of Chicago bookie Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and his partner, Anthony Spilotro, and follows them from their early days as streetwise thieves on to their heyday as they worked together overseeing the operations of various Las Vegas casino for the mob. Along the way, the rumored use of Teamster pension funds to take control of the Tropicana and Stardust casinos is confirmed, and the reader is privy to an incredible presentation of grisly violence, as the pair oversaw the activities of jewel thieves who were known as the “Hole in the Wall Gang.”
As the years went by, they skimmed millions of dollars in cash for their mob bosses. (I actually was fascinated about details such as how much a million dollars in quarters weighs) But Lefty’s ambitions combined with Spilotro’s affair with Lefty’s wife Geri (a former showgirl – of course!) the downfall was complete when an FBI investigation led to betrayal, convictions, and the end of the mob’s stranglehold on the Vegas casinos.
Casino is for anyone who wants to take a trip into the past, looking at the reality of Las Vegas in the 70s. Pileggi (author of Wiseguy) is a strong writer, and clearly knows the subject. For me, the violence and amorality was numbing, but I recommended it to a friend who loves that stuff and he was enthralled.
It’s a fascinating history and, thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media, I was able to enjoy a copy in exchange for my honest review. Four stars (three for me, and one for my friend!)