Las Vegas’ reputation is built on a myth of showgirls and mobsters cavorting on a pile of $500 chips under neon signs—a myth fostered by such movies as Casino. Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film celebrated a genius who ran casinos for the mob, a thug who busted skulls for the mob and the hustler-turned-trophy wife who came between them. It illustrated the demise of an era that people still come to Vegas looking for, when the pit bosses knew your name and, if you weren’t lucky, the loan sharks did, too.
One way to rediscover this lost Vegas is through Frank Cullotta’s Casino tour, which revisits the story of Lefty, Tony and Geri in ways that only a guy who was actually there can. Cullotta was a mob enforcer and member of Tony Spilotro’s Hole in the Wall Gang in the ’70s; two decades later, he consulted on Nicholas Pileggi’s book Casino and appeared in the movie version (playing, of course, a hitman).
Cullotta has been conducting mob-themed tours for several years, but in honor of Casino’s 20th anniversary this year, he’s offering an excursion that combines reality and its Hollywood re-creation: You’ll see where casino boss Lefty Rosenthal’s Cadillac was actually blown up in a murder attempt and the spot where Scorsese filmed the event 13 years later—and three miles away.
The nearly five-hour tour begins with a stroll through the Mob Museum, focusing on the Casino-related displays, such as Spilotro’s Black Book entry and photos of Rosenthal on the set of his TV show. During this part of the tour, mob historian Robert George Allen and former FBI Special Agent Dennis Arnoldy supply the backstory. Arnoldy helped bust Cullotta and his gang, thus a photo of Cullotta’s former Upper Crust restaurant on Maryland Parkway and a sketch of the floor plan, which led Arnoldy to share his own slightly slapstick narrative of the FBI planting bugs and cameras … and what happened once the crew found them.
After departing the museum, we hop aboard a tour bus, where the 76-year-old Cullotta joins us. As we cruise toward Atomic Liquors—where Joe Pesci stabbed that guy with a pen—a video screen alternates between clips from Casino and photos of the actual people and places invoked in the film. Cullotta muses on his cinematic co-workers. “[Robert] De Niro was handsome compared to Lefty Rosenthal,” he says, adding, “De Niro is a great actor. Joe Pesci is a wannabe gangster: He was a waiter in New Jersey for a syndicate joint. He was around syndicate guys, so he knew how they talked and carried themselves.”
So what was Cullotta’s contribution as a consultant for Casino? “They asked me all the different ways you could kill somebody.” After expressing disdain at the theatrical way in which actors committed “murders,” he wound up with a role in the film, looming up behind doomed men and administering a few quick shots to the head. In one instance, he even re-enacted a murder he actually committed. “What’s done is done,” he sighs. “Do I feel good about it? No, but I’ll talk about it. I’ve got immunity.”
We take a quick turn past the Las Vegas Country Club, near where Lefty and Geri Rosenthal lived, then head a few miles east into a neighborhood adjacent to Las Vegas National Golf Club. Cullotta glances at the rows of four-bedroom homes, with imported cars parked out front. “Ah, we used to rob all the houses in here,” he says as we pull up to the statue-embellished home occupied by the cinematic Lefty and Geri—or Ace and Ginger, as they were known in Casino.
A few more stops and we arrive at the site of the former Upper Crust, now a punk rock bar. Cullotta points out a window across the parking lot where Arnoldy and his fellow FBI agents kept watch on the Hole in the Wall Gang. Declassified photos and documents flash on the screen as Cullotta gives his version of the bugging and bust, yet another astonishing story, one of thousands he has told—and lived—over the years.
“They’re waiting for me to die so they can do a movie,” he says. “But I got a way to go yet. I’ll bury them first.”
Tours occur monthly through November, including April 22, May 13 and June 10. For more details, call 702-677-9015 or visit FrankCullottasCasinoTour.com.