This Martin Scorsese film, based on a true story, depicts the Janus-like quality of the Las Vegas strip: it has a glittering, glamorous face, as well as a brutal, cruel one. Ace Rothstein (Robert Deniro) and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), mobsters who move to Las Vegas to make their mark, live and work in this paradoxical world.
Seen through their eyes, each as a foil to the other, the details of mob involvement in the casinos of the 1970’s and ’80’s are revealed. Ace is the smooth operator of the Tangiers casino, while Nicky is his boyhood friend and tough strongman, robbing and shaking down the locals. However, they each have a tragic flaw: Ace falls in love with a hustler named Ginger (a spell binding Sharon Stone), and Nicky falls into an ever-deepening spiral of drugs and violence.
The word “Fuck” is said 422 times, including in the narration – 2.4 times per minute on average. The film also holds the Guinness world record for the most swearing in a film.
Sharon Stone spent many long workdays in agony while filming scenes for this film. She has back trouble due to an old injury, and the gold & white beaded gown she wears during a casino scene weighed 45 pounds.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, and Michelle Pfeiffer were considered for the role of Ginger. Traci Lords was seriously considered after an excellent audition. Sean Young turned down the role due to pregnancy. Melanie Griffith was almost cast, but Sharon Stone convinced director Martin Scorsese to give her the role.
The blackjack “cheats” were using a technique known as “spooking”. Nevada courts have mostly ruled it to be legal because it merely takes advantage of hold card information exposed by sloppy dealers.
According to Alan King, ‘Frank “Lefty’ Rosenthal’, upon whom the Robert De Niro character was based, wanted Richard Widmark to play the lead in the film. However, Widmark was 80 years old by that time, and, therefore, not a practical choice.
The blackjack cheat who gets away with the “warning” and is credited as Winner in the closing titles is played by Associate Producer and First Assistant Director Joseph Reidy.
To avoid the continuity problems that accompany a chain-smoking movie character, Robert De Niro always held his cigarettes the same distance from the lit end so that their lengths never appear to change.
The jewelry store owner who gets robbed by Nicky’s boys is an actual Las Vegas jeweler. His line “I just got a shipment of diamonds from Israel” was not in the script.
Martin Scorsese stated before the film’s release that he created the “head in the vise” scene as a sacrifice, certain the MPAA would insist it be cut. He hoped this would draw fire away from other violent scenes that would seem less so by comparison. When the MPAA made no objection to the vise scene, he left it in, albeit slightly edited.
Cameo: [Frank Cullotta] the gray-haired hitman in sunglasses near the end of the movie. He was the chief lieutenant of Tony Spilotro in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Cullotta entered the Witness Protection Program before the “cornfield incident” took place and was not present, unlike Marino.
The scenes outside the fictional Tangiers was filmed in front of the Landmark Hotel across from the Las Vegas Hilton, the Landmark was imploded shortly after filming.
Casino was filmed entirely in the Las Vegas Valley. The casino and office scenes were filmed in the famed Riviera Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip and the driving scene in the beginning of the movie was filmed on Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas, which is no longer open to automobile traffic.
In Goodfellas (1990), Joe Pesci played character named Tommy DeVito. This the same name as the actor who plays the crooked poker dealer.
The character of K.K. Ichikawa (Nobu Matsuhisa), the Japanese highroller, is based on the life of high roller Akio Kashiwagi. During the 70’s and 80’s, Kashiwagi was a big scene at Las Vegas casinos. By the end of the 1980s, however, Kashiwagi had used up his casino credit, owing many casino executives, among them Donald Trump, millions of dollars. He was murdered in his home in Tokyo by the yakuza (Japanese mafia) in 1992.
The casino scenes were shot at the Riviera between 1:00 am and 4:am so as not to get in the way of the real gamblers. Although the casino didn’t want the shoot to interrupt its business, that didn’t prevent it from trying to lure more punters inside by putting up a large banner that said, “Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci Filming the New Movie ‘Casino’ Inside!”
Martin Scorsese hired actual parolees from that era as plot consultants, as well as various F.B.I. agents who had busted same parolees.
“Ace” Rothstein’s vehicle during the bombing scenes is a 1981 Cadillac featuring the ill-fated “V 8-6-4” engine. Offered for only one year, the engine was meant to save fuel by shutting off unneeded cylinders. This can be seen in the dashboard shot of the “MPG Sentinel” and its “Active Cyls” button at the end of the movie.
When James Woods heard that Martin Scorsese was interested in working with him, Woods called Scorsese’s office and left the following message: “Any time, any place, any part, any fee.”
While the movie begins by stating it is based upon a true story, it never names the actual casino involved. The Tangiers casino is fictional. The story is actually based upon the history of the Stardust casino, a fact well documented in the Vegas history books. Scorsese discreetly documents this fact via the soundtrack, in which the song “Stardust” is heard three different times. An instrumental version plays during Ace and Ginger’s wedding and a vocal version is heard during the scene where Remo asks Marino if Nicky and Ginger are having sex and also during the very end of the final credits.
Sasha Semenoff, the orchestra leader seen on the “Aces High” television show, is a well known Las Vegas local. He has performed in Vegas for nearly fifty years. His quartet played the Dunes hotel in the mid 1960s; in 2003, he entertained diners at The Venetian with his violin.
After Nicky is barred from Vegas casinos, Ace and Nicky meet sixty miles outside Vegas at a bar called the Idle Spurs. The telephone number seen on the front sign of the Idle Spurs was the correct telephone number for the Idle Spurs Tavern in Las Vegas (at 1113 South Rainbow Boulevard, near the intersection of Charleston Boulevard). The telephone number remained in service years after the movie was made. The number is now disconnected.
Among other Las Vegas regulars, veteran comedy headliners Alan King, Don Rickles, and Dick Smothers appear in major, non-comedic roles.
Close associates of the people portrayed in the film were on the set constantly, providing crucial and pivotal information.
The house used for filming Sam Rothstein’s residence is the actual house of Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal during the late-’70s, in the Twain/Swenson area.
To date (summer 2009) this is the last theatrical movie to be censored by Swedish authorities. The scene cut is the infamous “head in the vise” scene.
The movie is based on the career of casino boss Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal as portrayed by Robert De Niro’s character Sam “Ace” Rothstein.
The “head in a vise” scene is taken from an anecdote in the book “Casino” unrelated to the main story, describing mob enforcer Tony Spilotro’s interrogation of a low-level gangster named Billy McCarthy, who had committed the unauthorized murder on the Scalvo Brothers, a pair of high-ranking mobsters within Spilotro’s crime organization. Trying to get McCarthy to give up the identity of the man who helped him kill the Scalvos, Spilotro first beat McCarthy, then stabbed him in the testicles with an icepick, before finally shoving his head in a vise and crunching it to five inches wide; McCarthy didn’t give up the name of his partner, Jimmy Miraglia, until Spilotro tightened the vise in such a way that one of Billy’s eyes popped out. Amazingly, McCarthy survived the head-crushing long enough for Spilotro to kill him by dousing him in lighter fluid and setting him ablaze. Spilotro would remark later in life, “Billy McCarthy was the toughest guy I ever met.” (Jimmy Miraglia was subsequently shot dead and put in the trunk of his own car along with Billy’s corpse).
Dick Smothers’ character, Senator, is partly based on Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. The scene in which Sam Rothstein is denied a license by the Nevada Gaming Commission is based on a December 1978 hearing when Harry Reid was the commission’s chairman; some of Reid’s statements are used in Smothers’ dialogue. The scene was shot in an actual courtroom in the Clark County Courthouse, which was later closed in 2005.
One of Las Vegas’s most flamboyant casino operators, Bob Stupak, was originally cast to have a non-speaking role as a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission. However, when he demanded that he have some lines, he was quickly replaced.
German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus was originally scheduled to shoot this movie, but because of various start date delays, he accepted an offer to shoot Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak (1995) instead.
As this was to be DP Robert Richardson’s first collaboration with Martin Scorsese, the director suggested that they both watch a series of movies from Scorsese’s private collection. The director was hoping to convey to his new DP the general “look” he was eager to capture for his movie. Both men viewed, and discussed, T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948) and Slightly Scarlet (1956) – all shot by John Alton. Scorsese felt that Alton’s photographic style in these films epitomized the film noir aura he wanted Richardson to recreate for Casino (1995).
Though this was the first joint venture Martin Scorsese had with cinematographer Robert Richardson, it wasn’t the first time both men had met. Scorsese interviewed Richardson when he was after the DP position on Cape Fear (1991), a credit that ultimately went to Freddie Francis.
After being elected the Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, who played a small part in Casino and was the attorney of Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal, the basis of Robert De Niro’s character and who represented the Four Queens Casino/Hotel in Las Vegas created a $5 and $25 casino chip with his portrait.
Oscar Goodman, who plays Sam Rothstein’s attorney, is in real life a lawyer who defended several reputed mobsters with Las Vegas connections. In June of 1999, he was elected Mayor of Las Vegas.
This shoot marked cinematographer Robert Richardson’s first experience working in the Super 35 format. He later claimed to have been “terribly disappointed” by the quality of the release prints, and did not return to the format until Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003).
Writer Nicholas Pileggi completed the novel after filming had already begun.
The character played by Frank Vincent, “Frank Marino”, was based on Frank Cullotta.
As they were shooting scenes in Las Vegas set in the 1970s, the husband of an elderly woman extra was given a period-correct leisure suit to wear by the wardrobe department. However, instead of providing the woman with period clothes, they told her, much to her chagrin, that her out-of-date attire was just fine.
The costume budget for the film was $1 million. ‘Robert de Niro’ had 70 different costumes throughout the film, Sharon Stone had 40. Both actors were allowed to keep their costumes afterwards.