Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal has died

One of the most notorious names in the 1970s-1980s history of the Las Vegas Strip was Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.  The inside guy, the made man, the mob's point guy, they were all used to describe him. 

We've written extensively about his history at the Stardust and his impact on the history of the Las Vegas Strip here:

Well, word came tonight that Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal passed away in Florida at the age of 79.  His obituaries will no doubt be filled with descriptions of his life here in Las Vegas and how he was immortalized in the Marty Scorsese film "Casino" where he was portrayed by Academy Award winner Rober DeNiro. (Though for our money, DeNiro was always better looking and more suave as "Ace" Rothstein than Rosenthal ever hoped to be.)

But lost in most of the chatter will be the real story of his rise and very public fall here in Las Vegas.  His passing is yet another nail in the coffin of the over-emphasized myth of the Mob running Las Vegas.

To his credit, he did create the modern Race and Sports Books that many enjoy today.  To his credit, he opened the first modern one in the Stardust Hotel and that industry has never looked back.

Mayor Oscar Goodman said today ""He was the innovator and creator of what we know today as the race and sports book in Las Vegas with all the modern accoutrements...He was an uncanny bettor and won a lot more than he lost."

While the Mayor framed Rosenthal in a favorable light as the type of boss who represented the best of Las Vegas, in terms of how to run a good casino, there are many journalists and federal agents who will remember Rosenthal in less favorable terms for the thug and bad element he was.

He ruled the Stardust with an iron glove, had a late-night television show that is remembered mainly as bad television and is remembered for being behind the skimming of millions of dollars from the Stardust Hotel.  (see the link above for details).

He tried to bribe the Nevada Gaming Commission, hinted that he had bribed Harry Reid (accusations that were proven untrue) and with his friend, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro threatened Channel 8 news reporter Ned Day.

He and Tony Spilotro became the demarcation line for those who talk about the mob and Las Vegas.  Their ruthlessness and thuggery wrote new chapters in crime in Las Vegas in a way that never would have been allowed or condoned by the mobsters of the post-war era.

Locals of a certain age all remember him best for the car-bombing outside Tony Roma's on East Sahara that almost cost him his life.

Which, only goes to prove, I guess, that he will remain as controversial in death as he was in life.

From the late edition of the Las Vegas Review Journal

His childhood was spent learning the gambling trade through illegal bookmaking operations run by organized crime figures from the Midwest. He made connections that fueled his rise and instigated his downfall later in Las Vegas.

Rosenthal was born June 12, 1929, in Chicago and spent the 1930s in Chicago. When he arrived in Nevada in 1968, he discovered that gambling could not only be profitable but a ticket to prominence in a place where his occupation was the subject of reverence, not scorn.

"When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, if you walked around with a ... card in your hand, you were subject to be arrested or harassed, at least," Rosenthal said in 1997 during an interview with the PBS program "Nightline." "On the other hand, if you want to go to Las Vegas, Nevada, you can do the same thing and be quite respectable."

The word "respectable" was a loaded phrase when it came to Rosenthal.

When he moved to Las Vegas, he had already gained some level of notoriety for an appearance in 1961 before a Senate hearing on gambling and organized crime during which he invoked Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 38 times.

An indictment in California in 1971 for conspiracy in interstate transportation in aid of racketeering helped prevent the bookmaker Rosenthal from getting a Nevada gaming license, a situation that angered him for years after he left Las Vegas. A 1963 conviction stemming from an attempt to bribe college basketball players later landed him on a short list of people excluded from Nevada casinos.

But lack of a license didn't stop him from holding sway over operations at the Stardust, Hacienda, Fremont and Marina casinos when they were owned or controlled by the Argent Corp., and financier Allen Glick. Glick was the purported front man for Midwestern mob bosses who controlled the casinos through Argent, which was funded in part through loans from the Teamsters union.

During an interview with a magazine reporter in 1975, the unlicensed Rosenthal landed himself in hot water with regulators when he said, "Glick is the financial end, but the policy comes from my office."

Rosenthal's problems were exacerbated by personal and business connections to reputed mobster Tony Spilotro.

Spilotro wound up being indicted in a skimming scheme, along with about 14 others, which also sealed Rosenthal's fate with gaming regulators, who ended up putting both men in Nevada's Black Book of persons excluded from casinos.

Spilotro also wound up having an affair with Rosenthal's estranged wife, Geri, a situation law enforcement authorities later claimed as evidence Spilotro tried to kill Rosenthal.

"Obviously there were things going on," Rosenthal told the Fort Lauderdale (Fla) Sun-Sentinel in 1995. "There are more tricks in the trade than I can ever describe to you. But I think some of it (the federal inquiry) was exaggerated."

Later in the Sun-Sentinel story, Rosenthal acknowledged there was little chance he could escape the notorious shadow of Spilotro.

"In retrospect, his reputation and the fact that we were boyhood friends — there was no way for me to overcome it," Rosenthal told the newspaper.

Others' suggested that Rosenthal was more than just boyhood friends with rough characters.

The Sun-Sentinel story included claims by Glick that Rosenthal made lethal threats when he didn't get his way.

Glick paraphrased Rosenthal's approach as, "If you interfere with any of the casino operations or try to undermine anything I want to do here ... you will never leave this corporation alive."

But in the end, it was Rosenthal who was on the wrong end of lethal threats.

On Oct. 4, 1982, in a parking lot outside a Marie Callendar's restaurant on East Sahara Avenue, Rosenthal turned the key in his Cadillac and ignited a fiery explosion that ruined the car but didn't kill him.

Rosenthal left Las Vegas after the bombing but remained in the headlines throughout the 1980s as the government sorted through the dirty laundry of the Las Vegas gambling industry in myriad court proceedings.

Rosenthal also sought to appeal his spot in the Black Book, an effort that was denied in 1990.

At the time then-Gaming Control Board member Gerald Cunningham said allowing Rosenthal back into the business would represent, "a threat to Nevada's gaming industry."

The 1995 movie, "Casino," directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Robert DeNiro as a Sam "Ace" Rothstein, was essentially an idealized version of Rosenthal and boosted Rosenthal's fame later in life.

He also maintained a Web site that offered gambling "tips and tricks."

On Tuesday, Goodman said there was a side to Rosenthal that was largely unknown to moviegoers, gambling regulators and business associates.

"What I saw through representing him since 1972 until I was elected a mayor was a different side, a loyal friend and a loving parent who doted over his kids," Goodman said.

Rosenthal himself told the Sun-Sentinel his Las Vegas story was poorly told, especially by those in law enforcement.

"Rumors and bull(expletive)," he told the paper. "That's the No. 1 industry in Nevada."