Book Club Read July ’17 – Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas

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An overview: Nicholas Pileggi’s ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas’.

This month’s book club review is of Nicholas Pileggi’s award winning book, ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas’. To start off (if you have never heard of or read this title before), I have outlined all the essential facts about this book, before delving into a brief introduction, an outline of the plot and some thoughts on the story.

Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas (hereinafter referred to as just Casino) is a fiction novel written by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, who also went on to work as a producer and screenwriter. It was first published in 1995. The book was turned into the Academy Award nominated film also called Casino which was famously directed by Michael Scorsese. Even though the film was actually released before the book, the book was written beforehand, with Pileggi helping out with much of the screenplay for the big-screen version.

Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas is set in the 1970s and early 1980s Las Vegas, when the Mafia were infamously in control over certain large casinos on the city’s strip. We regularly enjoy visiting our local casinos, and a number of our members are keen blackjack players and frequently play at various online casino sites. We therefore had a real interest in this book, and whilst most of us had seen the movie at some stage, none of us had actually read the book. It was to prove to be a riveting read – every bit as good as the movie, and in some cases arguably so.

The main character is Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a Chicago bookmaker caught up in crime, as well as his partner and fellow Mafia member Anthony Spilotro. Lefty plays a central role in managing the Mafia-run casinos in the city and Spilotro has a hand in providing security and also organizing high-profile robberies.

Plot review – in more detail

The novel starts off with a backstory, giving context about the lives of the two main characters, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro. The pair grew up in Chicago and previously worked together; however, due to a series of run-ins with the law, the duo leave town and embark on a new life in Las Vegas.

After settling in ‘Sin City’, it quickly becomes clear that both Lefty and Spilotro have no intention of staying on the right side of the law in order to get ahead in life.

Anthony Spilotro (also known as ‘Tony the Ant’) is the muscle of the pair, and quickly assumes a role working for his former business acquaintances in Chicago, which involves looking after their gambling interests in Vegas. He was also a renowned jewelry thief. Thanks to informants working in the Vegas insurance industry, he would get tip-offs as to where some of the most valuable collections were kept.

His method of robbing the loot? Simple: break through the walls of homes, snatch the goods and make run for it. It was this crude technique which earned him and his gang the nickname ‘The Hole in the Wall Gang’.

Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal, on the other hand, was more the brains of the pair, and was able to calculate the odds of any casino game out there (even if it meant a little bit of bribery). He was heavily involved in the whole Las Vegas casino scene – making sure they were making profit and implementing new ways of making even more money such as introducing a ‘sports books’ betting system via TV screens placed in various rooms in a casino.

The story then follows the two, revealing the inner-workings of Vegas’ casino scene which was mostly run by the Mafia throughout the 1970s and 80s. From fixing the books to paying off ‘the right people’ and dealing with those who stood in their way, Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas offers an exciting and revealing insight into how organized crime rule the city – in stark contrast to the glitz and glamor of today.

We also see the true personalities of the two central characters unravel as the story progresses, particularly when they are caught up in an act of betrayal that tests their lifelong partnership to the point of breaking.

If you want to take a glimpse into what Vegas was really like three decades ago, as well as get a better understanding of how the Mafia worked during their ‘prime years’, then Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas is a read not to be missed.

Martin Scorsese’s movie – ‘Casino’

As previously mentioned, Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas was turned into a film of the name Casino in 1995, the same year as the book was published. Although the film was based on the book, the film was actually released slightly before the book, which went against the normal chronology of novel-film releases.

Casino was directed by Martin Scorsese, who worked alongside the book’s author Nicholas Pileggi while writing the screenplay.

The two main characters in the book, Rosenthal and Spilotro were renamed as Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro and played by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci respectively.

Casino was met with critical acclaim upon its release in 1995, and went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Sharon Stone, who played Rothstein’s wife, was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

About the author – Nicholas Pileggi

Pileggi was born in 1933 and grew up in New York. His novel about the Mafia and organized crime was inspired by his early career, working as a crime journalist in New York. In fact, he spent time reporting for the Associated Press and New York Magazine for over 30 years before writing Casino: Love and Honor in Vegas. It was this time which gave him his valuable background knowledge and deep understanding of the inner workings of the Mafia.

Pileggi is best known for writing Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family (1986), which was adapted into the movie Goodfellas (1990). He also wrote the screenplay for City Hall (1996) and was an Executive Producer of American Gangster (2007).

Next month, Ava Books takes a look at another classic book: The Baltimore Boys by Joel Dicker.