Stardust implosion signaled the end of old Las Vegas

True Crime

Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal's Stardust Memories

MYSTERY WIRE — One of the most famous, and infamous, Las Vegas casinos was blown to pieces this week 14 years ago. It was on March 13, 2007 when the Stardust Hotel and Casino was imploded.

The Stardust was once the epicenter of organized crime activity in Las Vegas and its demolition represented the end of a bloody era and a visual reminder of vast changes that swept through the gambling industry.

Mob connected executives worked in nearly every Las Vegas property. One by one the properties were demolished to make way for grander corporate owned resorts.

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal

The story of the Stardust was immortalized in Martin Scorcese’s movie “Casino,” based on the true story of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, played in the movie by Robert De Niro.

In an interview shortly before his death in 2008 Rosenthal explained how he became the focus of the movie, “It was simply a favor. Originally from Oscar Goodman, a 25 year friend and attorney who asked me to help Nick Pileggi, the writer, for technical assistance, the evolution became so massive and so interesting to Universal, that they decided to make a movie out of it.”

Rosenthal’s tenure at the Stardust began in 1976 marked and encompassed the zenith of the mob’s power in Las Vegas.

That was until October of 1982 when a car bomb nearly killed him. It was a clear sign the mob was on its way out.

“Well, I’m not sure I’ve ever turned the ignition on,” Rosenthal said during an interview from his Miami Beach home in 2008. “There was a bomb in the car, obviously. I don’t recall the initial explosion. I never heard anything, what I did see was fire shooting up from the floor onto the windshield. At the time, I was probably semi conscious. My recollection was that my car was on fire. And flames are shooting off left and right in front of me. And I attempted to open the door with my left hand. And as I did the fires were too intense.”

When asked if he ever considered revenge against whoever planted the bomb he said, “I never thought of revenge because that really wouldn’t be the answer. First of all revenge on who. I wouldn’t know who and where to go, you know, for revenge.”

Two days after Rosenthal’s car was firebombed, he talked with a small group of invited reporters at his house at the Las Vegas Country Club but did not allow any recordings. In the video clip below, you can watch two stories about the car bombing and two stories about the death of his wife, Geri, on November 9, 1982 in Los Angeles.

In the closing scene of “Casino,” De Niro’s character, Ace, talks about the end of old Las Vegas and its transformation into the age of corporate casino owners.

“In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it’s like checkin’ into an airport.
And if you order room service, you’re lucky if you get it by Thursday.
Today it’s all gone.
You got a whale show up with four million in a suitcase… and some 18-year-old hotel school kid is gonna want his social security number.
After the Teamsters got knocked out of the box… the corporations tore down practically every one of the old casinos.
And where did the money come from to rebuild the Pyramids?
Junk bonds.
But in the end, I wound up right back where I started.
I could still pick winners… and I could still make money for all kinds of people back home.
And why mess up a good thing?
And that’s that.”

Casino (1995), Universal Pictures

In this candid interview, Rosenthal talked about his life, his friendship with “Tough Tony” Spilotro, and his battles with the law.

———————

Reporter
Obviously we’re talking to Frank Rosenthal in his South Florida home today and we’re reminiscing about a few things that we’re going to start obviously about a movie that’s going to be coming out either late this summer, or, in the fall called “Casino.” And which is basically based on your life somewhat loosely, they’ll take some dramatic license, and that’s going to how do you feel, first of all, being portrayed in a movie?

Frank Rosenthal
Well, first, John, it isn’t based on my life, it’s based on a period of my life, pertaining to the majority of what would be during my tenure in Las Vegas, some of which goes back to Chicago. As to how I feel about it, it wasn’t planned to be that way. It was planned to be a novel. I really have mixed emotions as to how I am being portrayed. Until I see the final product, I would probably reserve my opinion.

Reporter 
You are always considered something along, I know you had your own talk show in Las Vegas, but you’ve always considered yourself sort of a private person, it must have been you must have given some thought to this too, before cooperating with on this venture?

Frank Rosenthal
Absolutely correct, I did give a lot of thought to it. You might choose to be private, when sometimes certain things might surface that kind of compromise the privacy, and that did happen in this situation. And once the privacy factor was compromised, I decided that there would be no point to remain that private and did cooperate with Universal Studios, Nick Pileggi, the writer, the main writer, and Martin Scorsese and the creative people.

Reporter 
How can this change your life? Will it be something of a celebrity?

Frank Rosenthal 
I never perceived it to be that way. Certainly not certainly not as a celebrity. As far as changing my life, if it does, it was not intended to do so. That was not a consideration. It was simply a favor. Originally from Oscar Goodman, a 25 year friend and attorney who asked me to help Nick Pileggi, the writer, for technical assistance, the evolution became so massive and so interesting to Universal, that they decided to make a movie out of it.

Reporter 
And Robert De Niro was going to be portraying a character based on your activities out there.

Frank Rosenthal 
He’s going to try.

Reporter 
Okay, right. Now, let’s fast forward to right now, you’re managing a very upscale, a very.. obviously a very popular, nice, but because we were there last night, do you enjoy this? Tell me how you feel about this type of thing.

Frank Rosenthal 
My position is no matter what I’d be doing, the focus would be the same. You avoid what I would call the satisfaction syndrome. Whatever I approach, I approach it full speed, full time, eat, sleep, drink, whether it’s Las Vegas, or an upscale restaurant and bar. So I devote all my energy all my time, all my focus. And that’s the only way I know how to do things.

Reporter  
Let’s set the clock back – you grew up in Chicago was Rogers Park and then you moved up to Las Vegas sometime in the 60s. You already had some experience handicap and you went out there and became a gambler. And were you a good one to tell me this is your handicapping you were betting your book.

Frank Rosenthal
When I moved to Las Vegas, I moved to Las Vegas because it was legal. It was more of an opportunity. As far as being right there on the scene. Sports wagering if you didn’t live in Las Vegas was from the element of the law enforcement, you were taking a risk. It was more timely to be in Las Vegas to be able to walk into a legitimate sports book. I think you might make an analogy being on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as opposed to being in your home. And I decided that if I wanted to beat this game, I had to be in the stock exchange. And that was the way I went and that’s what I did.

Reporter 
You waded into the casino business. You went in as a neophyte, went to the Stardust in the late 1960s. And you rose from foreman to eventually director of operations. Some people think that was a meteoric rise and you did so because you were connected.

Frank Rosenthal  
I think when you say I went in as a neophyte, I think you’re complimenting me. I think I was less than that. On the other hand, when I moved to Las Vegas, I have 15, at least 15, possibly 20 years of gaming experience. That’s not to say that I understood the casino side of it both either inside or out. But my rise from Florida and you’re correct to director Nevada operations for the second largest corporation was in the state. The first being our US property. had nothing to do with any outside elements. I paid my dues. I went up through every single level of command.

Reporter 
Yet you were hounded, you contend, by the authorities, eventually, you were director of the operations of these four big casinos, these four big hotels. And then of course, you got into trouble with the Gaming Commission. Was that political or what was it, that sabotaged you if you can make it in a nutshell on that?

Frank Rosenthal
I didn’t get into the trouble John. I was in trouble when I landed from Chicago, into Las Vegas. I was arrested three times, I think, in 72 hours. Simply because of my reputation as a professional Gambler, the city that I came from, and people that I had an association with, friends. So I don’t think I ever had a chance. As far as the perception of the state, the authorities, the gamers, the people that call the shots. I tried my best to avoid any problems. lead a life as clean as anybody could possibly lead, got married, raised two children, and did the best I could. It wasn’t good enough for them.

Reporter 
Let’s talk briefly a little about the personal life because that’s going to be coming out in the movie. Of course, you married Geri, a showgirl. And as you indicate you raised two bright young people, children that have done very well. And according to reports that Geri started having an affair with a friend of yours, Tony Spilotro, anything you can relate to us about that?

Frank Rosenthal  
I could say, I can comment this way rather than no comedy. Geri’s deceased Tony’s deceased, neither one of them can speak for themselves. My two children are still living, I think for me to speak in a negative manner about their mother would be in poor taste. There’s been several stories written about it. And I just think for me to affirm the allegation the suspicions just wouldn’t be in good taste, considering the fact again that she was or is the mother of my children.

Reporter
There was something of course you can’t have; we couldn’t remember it was a traumatic thing that happened in your whole career. You came out of a restaurant Tony Roma’s, I believe, got into your Cadillac and turned on the ignition, and there was a bomb in there. Tell me a little about that incident.

Frank Rosenthal 
Well, I’m not sure I’ve ever turned the ignition on. The second part of your question is accurate. There was a bomb in the car, obviously. I don’t recall the initial explosion. I never heard anything, what I did see was fire shooting up from the floor onto the windshield. At the time, I was probably semi conscious. My recollection was that my car was on fire. And flames are shooting off left and right in front of me. And I attempted to open the door with my left hand. And as I did the fires were too intense. The heat was so intense that I had to pull my left hand back. I then made one gesture with my right arm towards the lever of the door side, the driver side and fortunately pushed it through my shoulder against the door. And for some reason it popped open. And I was able to tumble out of the car onto the street, afire.

Reporter  
How badly burned were you?

Frank Rosenthal   
I don’t know what the degree of the burns were. I know I had broken ribs. I was burned, both arms, both legs, my forehead. But the recovery was fairly quick.

Reporter
Any idea who .. that case was never cleared or as authorities say solved as to who was responsible for planning that bomb there who actually wanted it done. Do you have any ideas on that?

Frank Rosenthal  
I’ve been asked that question from probably the day of the bombing, or not probably in fact, I was. In fact that evening in the emergency room. I was invaded by the FBI, Clark County intelligence and many agencies thereafter and asked the same question that you’ve asked me. And I’ve had many years to try to analyze. As you said, the bombing remains unsolved. And I really couldn’t say with any accuracy who I placed the bomb there. Who is the one that persuaded someone to place the bomb? I just, it will be pure speculation. And I wish I knew.

Reporter
Were you thinking of revenge at one time?

Frank Rosenthal  
I never thought of revenge because that really wouldn’t be the answer. First of all revenge on who. I wouldn’t know who and where to go, you know, for revenge.

Reporter  
The authorities wanted you to go in what has sometimes been described as the witness protection program or wanting to become an informant after that.

Frank Rosenthal
I was invited into that program, less than 24 hours after the bombing, carte blanche, the Riviera, you name it. Your own home estate, horses, wineries. And I chose to remain as his status quo and took my chances.

Reporter
That brings us almost up to here Frank with the other point, as you say, you did lose you feel in that because it is you think indicated earlier in an interview with him, because of some of the people, the Association and the prejudice against, you did lose your license out there. You could have stayed out there.

Frank Rosenthal   
I lost my license, I lost. I lost more than that I lost my work card. In fact, the result being you cannot work within the state in any capacity. But that was that as a result of the word organized crime has been used loosely. And I keep hearing that word. I’ve heard it from day one from the time I got off the plane in Las Vegas until this day. And I will say this to you. Organized crime did exist during my tenure in Las Vegas. And I knew every single member of the organized crime family. And there were approximately 20. They were comprised of the gaming control board, the Gaming Commission, all appointed officials, maybe one or two county commissioners, maybe two local judges, and possibly one supreme court justice. Those were the real organized crimes factor. They controlled everything that went on within that state. And that’s what I consider to be the real organized crime element. If you’re not on their team, they can do anything they want to you, me or anyone else.

Reporter
And you weren’t a team member.

Frank Rosenthal
Not with them No.

Reporter
So the establishment is the one that you’re saying is the fact that is what we would call a Vegas or Nevada establishment of judges, gaming board and commission members are the ones that put you down…

Frank Rosenthal 
Well, primarily the gaming control board, the Gaming Commission, county commissioners, as I said, they’re one group together. And everything’s done in the back room. And they’ve got you wired one way or the other. It’s either a go or no go. And they determine your future.

Reporter
There was no future for Frank Rosenthal as far as they’re concerned.

Frank Rosenthal
Well, number one, correct. Number one, the word Chicago was a no no. As far as they were concerned. What they use an expression is called frontier justice. And as I said, I was arrested three times within three days. My first arrest, I was taken into the Chief of Detectives in cuffs. Met the Chief of Detectives, told me that people Chicago were unwelcome in Las Vegas. He then challenged to see how long I could hold my breath while he held my throat for approximately 45 seconds until I came close to collapsing. He then advised me that I should be on the next airplane back to Chicago by the following morning. If not, he would have me back in the same room under worse circumstances. I wasn’t smart enough to leave. He kept his word. He did arrest me again. And they finally persuaded me to leave temporarily. And through a good friend of mine in Las Vegas named Dean Shendal and others I was able to get the then sheriff to restrain himself and allow me to return back have freedom of movement, however with a curfew.

Reporter  
We’re talking to Frank Rosenthal, he had mentioned, the very unpleasant arrival when he came out to Las Vegas things finally did eventually work out. And let’s put this way, Frank, if you’d ever went back with your, let’s assume he knew, and he apparently have no desire to do that. Now, if you ever went back to Las Vegas to manage a casino, could Frank Rosenthal make a profit for the owners? Would Frank Rosenthal cut the mustard?

Frank Rosenthal 
Well, I’ll answer you in two part one, I don’t think it’s realistic that I would. But to answer your question, which I think is very simple. I don’t think I’ve lost any of I think I’d retain whatever I knew at the time. And one thing regardless of my reputation, whether it be my advocates or opponents, no one ever challenged my ability as an administrator, or casino operator. And yes, I think I would be capable and competent to match the skills of anybody that’s ever worked in the industry.

Reporter 
Any major regrets about some of the decisions you made?

Frank Rosenthal
Absolutely. I think life. I guess you might compare it to a pencil. We all have erasers. And certainly there are many times that I wish I’d have done things a little bit differently. As far as Las Vegas is concerned, no, I really didn’t have alternatives. When someone slaps you in the face and knocks you down, you have two choices, get up and run or get up and fight. And I chose to get up and fight rather than run.

Reporter
The one thing I should ask, the allegations, the skimming situation again, we talked about that before. How did you know anything about any skimming that was going on?

Frank Rosenthal
There was never any skimming that took place during my tenure. There was a period that I left the building for approximately 13 months that the state was able to determine that there was what they considered to be skimming within the property. Theft, there was. Theft, there is. There’s theft today. In every casino in Nevada, in every major corporation in this world, it’s a question of the level of theft. And where’s it coming from the inside, the outside, or both? But there was no skimming that ever took place while I was in charge, or have responsibility for any of those four properties.

Reporter
Thanks so much Frank. Good luck to you.


Below are six videos that will play back-to-back showing the implosions of the Landmark, Riviera, Dunes, El Ranch, Frontier, and Hacienda.


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