Casino (1995) Movie Review – a Must See Film Masterpiece

There are a lot of movies which present gambling from a given angle, but the 1995 classic Casino, is one of the few that draw a complete and comprehensive picture. The film shows all sides of the industry and perfectly blends them while exposing their great contrast. It doesn't take long before the viewer notice how vice, corruption, business interests, political agendas, shady practices and violence dominate the scene. The story takes place at a fictional venue in Las Vegas. Both the city and the casino are presented as volatile ecosystems where there are only two roles – predator and prey. As you watch further, you realise that nobody could be certain which of the roles they fit in. The reason for that is the merciless law that implies money always flows in one direction and ends up in the same hands.
Riviera Casino in Las Vegas Where Martin Scorsese Filmed the Casino Movie Share on Pinterest

Brief Story Background of the Casino Movie

This skillfully told story is based on actual events and this is the first that you have to understand if you’ve never watched ‘Casino’. The director Martin Scorsese is also a co-writer of the script together with Nicholas Pileggi – a journalist with over 30 years of experience in crime reporting. Pileggi’s interest in the criminal world manifested in three bestselling books, the most notable being “Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family”. It’s non-fiction about the life of a mafia insider and FBI informant, which was adapted for the screen, and filmed by Scorsese in 1990 under the title “Goodfellas”. Five years later, Pileggi and Scorsese got together for another priceless collaboration, based on another non-fiction book by Pileggi: “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas“. This is how the movie Casino came to life in 1995.

The Main Characters, Their Real-Life Counterparts & Actors Playing Them

Casino is a film that involves quite a lot of personas. Although screen time is shared between many of them, we’ll focus on those which are critical to the plot:

  • Sam “Ace” Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro, is a former handicapper who is appointed to oversee the operation at a fictional Las Vegas casino called Tangiers. The casino is secretly owned by a Chicago based Italian crime syndicate that used this otherwise legit business to divert money for criminal activities. The character is based on Frank Rosenthal, who was trusted by the mafia to run three Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s.
  • Ginger McKenna, Sam Rothstein’s wife, is played by Sharon Stone. She is portrayed as a hustler who knows her way around Las Vegas and has myriad subtle means of draining money out of non-suspecting gamblers. Her real-life counterpart is Frank Rosenthal’s wife Geri McGee.
  • Nicky Santoro is a volatile mafia man, brilliantly impersonated by Joe Pesci. His role is to ensure that Sam Rothstein keeps making money for the family without interference from the authorities or other crime groups. Santoro’s temper and methods were not in line with the mafia’s strict requirement for keeping a low profile, and he eventually caused enough trouble to get killed by his own people. The character was inspired by mobster Anthony Spilotro.

The relationship between the characters is quite complicated and it’s difficult to put the standard labels on them. You can accurately name Sam Rothstein the protagonist, but none of the other two fits the definition of an antagonist. Also, you can’t tell who has the supporting role because the story dictates that both Ginger and Nicky are of great significance to the plot.

The Setup – More About the Place and Time in “Casino” Film

The film tells about events that happened in the 1970s and the early 1980s. Although we didn’t inspect the movie for anachronisms, we could confidently say that the decor reflects the vibrancy of Las Vegas at the time with decent accuracy. The real story involves three Las Vegas casinos which Frank Rosenthal managed for the Italian mafia for over a decade. These are Stardust, Fremont, and Hacienda. Two of them were demolished, and one still exists. To simplify the plot the writers came up with the fictional Tangiers casino, where a lot of the action takes place. This is How Las Vegas Looked Like in the 1970s and especially Hilton Hotel The production was filmed in a real venue though. According to Barbara De Fina, producer and former spouse of Martin Scorsese, the cost for building a set versus using an actual casino was the same, therefore starting from scratch was pointless. They filmed at the then existing Riviera casino, which was demolished in 2015 after filing for bankruptcy and a change in ownership. If you are already in the mood for gambling, we advise you to check our list of the best real money online casinos.

The Events – the Plot in a Nutshell

The plot revolves around the progressively deteriorating relationships between the main characters. It’s an example of how a perfectly wound-up money-making machine could be ruined by greed, disloyalty, and the tendency to measure happiness with money. In that sense, the movie is a drama, rather than a gambling documentary. However, a vicious place like Las Vegas is the perfect background for such a story. The casino operation revealed in the film provides a suitable context that contributes greatly to the dramatic effect. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, we’ll focus more on the way the movie portrays the gambling industry.

The Depiction of Gambling

The script describes events from the pre-digital era. Although they had video surveillance back then, many tasks were performed by humans. The casino floor is described as a playground where you have a surprisingly high number of employees with strictly distributed responsibilities, all doing their part to protect the casino’s interest. However, this is just the front, and as you can guess, the backstage is even more interesting. As we are going to describe some of the scenes in detail, consider this a spoiler alert.

Gambling Business and Crime

In the movie, a mafia related representative of a labour union uses pension fund money to subsidise the purchase of the Tangiers casino. A huge loan is given to a frontman, which he uses to buy the estate, and subsequently, run it as a CEO. Of course, the crime bosses remain the ones pulling the strings. The casino operates under the strict supervision of Sam Rothstein – a man appointed by the crime syndicate and described as someone who “ate, slept and breathed gambling”. Unreported Cash that Made Casino Owners Stinking Rich Being the real man in charge, Rothstein’s only duty is to ensure that the venue keeps making obscene amounts of money. As the cash flows from the tables, through the cashier’s cage, and into the counting room, the real scale of the operation is revealed with brutal honesty. As said in one famous line:

‘…they had so much money in there you could build a house out of stacks of $100 bills.‘

Being a restricted premise even to top executives, the count room is where the income is regularly skimmed. The purpose of the whole thing is to divert fat stacks of undeclared money straight to the hands of the mafia, without the knowledge of the tax authorities. In addition, Rothstein works without a legally required licence, knowing that with his gambling history he’d never get one. Nevertheless, the show goes on for two reasons. First, a loophole allows anyone to work while a licence application is pending, and second, the lazy administration keeps piling a backlog of pending applications, the earliest dating decades ago.

Roles and Hierarchy on the Floor of the Casino

As the protagonist says, “In Vegas everybody’s got to watch everybody else.” That’s why the floor is full of personnel that has nothing to do with dealing. Suddenly you realise that the employees could be as many as the players. The hierarchy steps seem far too many: dealers, boxmen, floormen, pit bosses, shift bosses, casino manager, Sam Rothstein, and finally “the eye in the sky” watching all of them. In addition to the camera surveillance and the ground presence, ex-cheaters who know all the tricks hide in the ceiling and observe the tables for suspicious activity. Plus, they have an interesting way of dealing with cheaters. That speaks of a serious commitment to ensuring that the casino always wins against those trying to beat the odds. Still, there are those moments of randomness, for which you will learn later, that can take the best out of the calmest man alive.

Treating VIPs

As the narration goes, we get to a moment where it is explained how important individuals from the local community are treated. Simply put, to publicly elected officials who had a lot of power in town, everything was on the house. However, this was dismissed as an acceptable expense. In another scene, it is explained who really keeps the management alert. A high-stakes baccarat player with the capacity to shut down a casino wins $2 Million. A VIP Player making High Stake Bets A complimentary private jet is arranged for him, which returns to the airport soon after taking off due to an alleged technical problem. It’s all made up just to get the man back to the hotel where an entire floor is booked only for him. Being unable to keep away from the table, he returns and gambles all his winnings, plus a million of his own money.

‘In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose. In the end, we get it all.’ Ace Rothstein

Dealing with Cheaters

While VIPs are always welcome, there’s another group of players who are the reason blacklists exist. Of course, we are talking about the cheaters. In the movie, Sam Rothstein spots a team of two blackjack players signalling one another. After a quick and well-staged diversion, both are taken in a back office room where guards inflict serious damage on one of them. The other one is given a choice – the money plus the pain, or a safe way out. This is not the only display of violence though. In another scene, a player rudely dismisses management’s request to take his feet off the table. In response, Rothstein instructs security guards to escort the man out and gives exact details on how spectacular he wants it to be. Apparently, it’s all about the message.

Randomness and Bias

There are a couple of scenes that add more weight to the “casino always wins” statement. In one, the protagonist meticulously inspects a pair of dice with a measurement tool, before approving them for gameplay. It happens in front of a crowd that surrounds the table in silent anticipation. The reasons for the inspection are not revealed via narration or dialogue. However, some details in the context give a hint, as the pot full of chips and the number of people around it indicate the game is being interrupted. We can only speculate whether the check is routine or provoked by suspicious wins. Probably the scene aims at highlighting the character’s expertise, rather than describing a conflict situation. A Caliper Used to Check Casino Dice for Imbalances In another scene, Rothstein is infuriated by a strange coincidence. Three different four-reel slot machines hit the jackpot in less than 20 minutes, which raises suspicion that they had been tampered with. The boss points out that the second win should have raised a flag, and angrily blames a supervisor for not switching off the machines early enough. Rothstein then fires the supervisor under the assumption he was either too incompetent or involved in a scam designed to rob the casino. In this situation, the character shows distrust in the possibility for coincidences to occur by pure chance and refuses to accept them as random events. Therefore, we can suggest that he had fallen victim to the gambler’s fallacy. However, Rothstein is biased by the obligation to ensure the odds are always against the players and has the wit and the means of maintaining the balance in favour of the casino. That said, his frustration can also be explained by the simple fact that no one likes losing seven-figure amounts of money.

Where to Watch the Casino Movie Online

You have two options when it comes to the Casino movie online. You can either find a streaming site where to watch it or you can rent/buy it. We, aiming at satisfying every request that you might have, choose to gather all the trusted and more importantly legal sites and to list them for you.

  • Netflix – Allows you to directly watch the movie online.
  • Google Play Shop – You can either rent or buy the movie ‘Casino’
  • Amazon – Allows you to buy or rent it in HD.
  • Apple’s iTunes – You can rent or buy the whole movie.

Final Verdict Regarding Casino 1995 Film

If you haven’t seen “Casino” yet, spare a couple of hours to watch it. You won’t be disappointed. The film tells a great story event with the gambling-related moments left aside. The venue atmosphere and operation are presented with decent accuracy. Although exaggerations can be expected, they don’t undermine our faith in the painful truth told about the purpose of the gambling business back then. We also recommend other movies dedicated to gambling. You can see the list of titles in this article. Enjoy watching!

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