Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal, 79; Ran Vegas Casinos for the Mob

Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal invoked the Fifth Amendment 38 times before a Senate panel investigating organized crime. (1961 Associated Press Photo)
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By Tamara Lush
Associated Press
Thursday, October 16, 2008

Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal -- sports handicapper extraordinaire, Las Vegas gaming executive and the inspiration for the blockbuster movie "Casino" -- died Oct. 13 in his Miami Beach condo after a heart attack, a fire-rescue spokeswoman said. He was 79.

Mr. Rosenthal, who once survived a car bomb, ran the Chicago mob-owned Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda and Marina casinos through the 1970s and into the mid-1980s.

Although Sports Illustrated once crowned him as the greatest living expert on sports handicapping, Mr. Rosenthal eventually wound up being listed in Nevada's "Black Book" of unsavory types banned from the state's casinos because of his ties with the Mafia.

"He's one of the originals," said Nick Pileggi, the author and screenwriter of "Casino." "When Lefty went down, the new Las Vegas emerged. The corporate Las Vegas."

Born in Chicago in 1929, Frank Lawrence Rosenthal learned the gambling trade through illegal bookmaking operations and made friends with Chicago mobsters, ties that would last a lifetime.

In 1961, he appeared before a Senate hearing on gambling and organized crime during which he invoked Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 38 times -- and kept his left hand aloft throughout while doing so, thus garnering the nickname, "Lefty."

Mr. Rosenthal's Mafia ties might have also taken him beyond the realm of gambling; federal documents claimed that in the 1960s he was associated with a CIA-connected, Cuban American anti-Castro militant named Luis Posada Carriles. Mr. Rosenthal and Carriles denied these claims.

In 1968, Mr. Rosenthal went to Las Vegas, presiding over a city in transition, from a Mafia-infused hotbed of sin to a sanitized, global entertainment destination.

Although Mr. Rosenthal ran four casinos, he didn't have a Nevada gaming license. A 1971 indictment in California for conspiracy in interstate transportation in aid of racketeering helped prevent him from obtaining one.

And his ties to organized crime, especially with reputed mobster Tony Spilotro, got him into hot water.

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

Spilotro also had an affair with Mr. Rosenthal's estranged wife, Geri -- one of the many dramatic moments of Mr. Rosenthal's life that played out in the movie "Casino."

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