Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal is one of the most notorious Las Vegas casino mobsters – and is the man who inspired Robert De Niro’s character in the 1995 Scorsese film Casino. This is his story.
Born in 1929 in Chicago, it wasn’t long before Rosenthal found a role for himself amongst the gangs and gangsters of the day. Even in his teenage years, he was setting bookmakers odds. A switched-on guy – he was known for his ability to set odds that brought in the big bets, while also making sure the bookies made their money.
But it wasn’t just his sporting knowledge that helped him do this – Frank also fixed the games’ outcomes – and developed an intimidating reputation for protecting his own interests, and those of his employers, in a ruthless manner.
In 1962 a North Carolina court convicted Frank of bribing the players of college basketball to “shave” the points in a game – still winning, but by fewer points than bookies predicted.
Rosenthal wasn’t the only bookie in town – and things could get pretty heated in those days. He was implicated in several bombings during what became known as the “Bookie Wars” – and so in 1968 he moved to Las Vegas for a fresh start.
THE CASINO YEARS
Frank hadn’t been in Las Vegas long, when he married Geri McGee – a showgirl (Sharon Stone’s character from Casino – so you know). It was because of Geri’s nagging that in 1974 he took work managing the floor of the Stardust Hotel. it wasn’t long before he was made a company executive. The company was a well-known mob front.
Frank’s profile in Las Vegas was so great, he even ended up presenting a TV talk show – which the casino sponsored. Frank Sinatra appeared on the very first show.
Rosenthal was effectively running Stardust – and the group’s three other casinos – and made a number of changes. He introduced sports betting into the casinos for the first time, and he also hired as many female Blackjack dealers as he could – doubling the profits at the table almost overnight.
THE CAR BOMB
No one can run casinos in a town like Las Vegas and expect not to run into a little bit of trouble. In 1981, a bomb was placed under Frank’s Cadillac. He has a design fault with the car to thank for his life: the car was woefully unbalanced when it first came off the production line, so the manufacturers had installed a heavy metal plate in the floor on the driver’s side to rebalance it. He owes this metal plate his life.
It’s never been confirmed who made this attempt on Rosenthal’s life. Some have suggested it was his childhood friend Tony Spilotro – who had been having a less-than-quiet affair with Frank’s wife. Her body turned up in a motel room not long after the incident.
It was around this time that Frank left Vegas – moving eventually to Florida, where he first ran his Nephew’s restaurant, and later, an online casino. He died at the age of 79, from a heart attack.