My graduate advisor, who’s consulted on a couple of films, liked to say, ‘A word is worth a thousand pictures.’ You cannot exactly capture what happened in a movie. Casino captures the era, the look, the personalities.
There are certain thoughts that manifest when you’re engaging in conversation with a man that willingly took another man’s life. Despite the inherent reservations, I felt no danger: Frank Cullotta is half-way through his 70s at this point, his days of pointing pistols are well behind him. Still, the man’s words crackle and whip like the syllables were poisonous. He drops his “R” pronunciations, and rifles off f-bombs with the grace of a hobbled Cirque de Soleil dancer. There’s a hazard to his huffs, even at his age. The former mafioso-turned-witness had a contract on his head for at least a decade, and when speaking to him, it’s obvious that the remnants of his past boil the cuss stew escaping through the phone’s speaker.
A Chicago tough guy in the mafia, Cullotta made his way to Las Vegas in the late ’70s, and became a part of the mob machine helping run the desert city. He was there through the bloodshed, the big business, and the mob’s eventual implosion. Now, Cullotta runs several tours in Las Vegas that take visitors through the old haunts the mob used to frequent. He also has thoughts on the film that loosely documented his era in Sin City, Casino, along with, of course, his own brand.
“It’s about 75% to 90% accurate,” he told me. “They got to juice it up. It’s a movie. Real life is boring. Movies, that’s what they do, they juice them up. I was the technical consultant on the movie. Nick Pileggi did a tape on me. If it wasn’t for me, there would be no book Casino, and there would have been no movie Casino.”
More than just a technical advisor on the film, Cullotta is also portrayed in the movie by actor Frank Vincent. Yet, the truth is, in order to get the full story of the mafia’s time in Las Vegas, one needs to go deeper than just absorbing Martin Scorsese’s mafioso masterpiece. The film does have a lot of truths in it, but it’s just one era of the mob’s stranglehold of the Vegas strip represented in the movie. The mafia began their domination of the desert town long before the film begins.
What was Las Vegas really like when major mafia families held their interests there? How exactly did they come to control one of the most lucrative cities in America? What did Casino get right?
To understand the gravity of the mafia’s control of America’s gambling capital, you need to start at the beginning…