‘Casino’ Gambling Legend Dies

Frank Rosenthal: Mafia-connected casino royalty

At the height of his unappetising career in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Chicago-born Frank Rosenthal simultaneously ran four casinos in Las Vegas, most notably the world-famous Stardust Hotel.

He also, bizarrely, hosted a television talk show, The Frank Rosenthal Show, among whose celebrated guests were such entertainers as Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.

At one time he was officially chief executive of the Stardust, the Fremont, the Hacienda and the Marina, and was, through his activities as a dubiously connected sports handicapper on a hitherto unimagined scale, regarded as the unexampled pioneer of sports gambling.

One of his most remarkable feats was to operate a sports book from inside a casino, making the Stardust the world centre for sports gambling.

Another innovation was the introduction of women blackjack dealers, a novelty that was at the time credited with doubling the casino’s income within the year.

A man whose connections with the Mafia went back to his early days in his native Chicago, whose criminal organisation, the Outfit, boasted Al Capone among its alumni, Rosenthal was nicknamed “Lefty” because during one court hearing he pleaded the Fifth Amendment 37 times, keeping his left hand aloft throughout while doing so.

He survived numerous arrests and indictments for fixing football and basketball games.

But from the mid-1970s until the late 1980s when he was at last banned from being in, or even in the vicinity of, any casino in Nevada, he appeared immune from the law’s attempts to bring him to book.

Even after he had been blacklisted and officially “run out of town”, he was able to sneak back into Las Vegas under one of the many disguises he was able to call on.

Unlike many of his less fortunate associates he was able, too, to avoid a violent death.

The most serious attempt to murder him in the classic Mafia mode — a car bomb triggered by turning the ignition key — failed by a fluke to kill him.

Frank Lawrence Rosenthal was born on June 12 1929 into a Jewish family on Chicago’s West Side.

An early association that was to prove decisive in his subsequent career was that with Anthony Spilotro (Tony the Ant), the son of Italian immigrants.

One of a large number of brothers, Spilotro had been active in petty crime in Chicago at an early age, but became more widely known to law enforcement officers from the early 1960s onwards when he was linked with a series of bribery attempts on university basketball and football players.

Rosenthal’s name also came to the notice of the authorities at that time.

When, in 1971, Spilotro was appointed by the Chicago Outfit to succeed the veteran mobster Marshall Caifano as its Las Vegas representative, he and Rosenthal joined forces in the city.

It was always part of the Rosenthal mythology that on his arrival in Vegas he was arrested and told by a precinct chief of detectives that he wasn’t welcome in that town.

That advice was not to be heeded and it was not for another 20 years that Rosenthal could finally be sent packing.

In the event, Rosenthal was to be responsible for the management of the casinos, while Spilotro, always more of a street gangster in his mental constitution, became more of a personnel “enforcer”.

The two men were to fall out after Spilotro began an affair with Rosenthal’s wife, Geri, a glamorous casino hustler.

Spilotro was to be gruesomely murdered along with his brother, Michael, as an element of Chicago mob turf wars in 1986.

Rosenthal went from strength to strength.

As CEO of the city’s top four gambling venues he was regarded, by public and media alike, as one of the top experts on casinos and sports gambling.

Bookmakers throughout the US followed the principles he laid down.

His appearance on numerous television shows, and then as the host of The Frank Rosenthal Show, on which appeared a succession of glamorous showbusiness guests, while it shared his gambling wisdom with audiences, imbued him with an aura of untouchable respectability.

Even after his disgrace, his myth was given the imprimatur of a Martin Scorsese-directed film, Casino (1995), in which the character inspired by him (renamed for celluloid purposes Sam “Ace” Rothstein) was played by Robert De Niro, and that of his glamorous screen wife by Sharon Stone.

But as early as the mid-1970s the state authorities were beginning to move against him.

It was discovered that he was running casinos without a licence, and he was banned from obtaining one.

But he was able to get this decision overturned on appeal.

In 1982 he survived a murder attempt when a bomb went off under his car after he turned the ignition key.

A reinforcing metal plate under the seat saved his life.

Eventually, in 1988 he was blacklisted by the Nevada Gaming Commission on suspicion of running casino operations on behalf of organised crime and supervising the skimming off of illegal profits from their businesses.

An appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court failed in 1991, and, persona non grata, he left the state, eventually to settle in Florida.

There he continued to practise his favourite activity, handicapping sports events, through his website.

Rosenthal married Geraldine McGee as his second wife in 1969.

The marriage was dissolved in 1981 and she died of an apparent alcohol and drugs overdose in a Los Angeles motel the following year.

He is survived by a son and a daughter.

Frank Rosenthal: Mafia-connected casino royalty – Published: Oct 19, 2008 – The Times News Service – This story was found at: http://www.thetimes.co.za/PrintEdition/Insight/Article.aspx?id=865926