Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci
Plot: Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, mobsters who move to Las Vegas to make their mark, live and work in this paradoxical world. Seen through their eyes, each as a foil to the other, the details of mob involvement in the casinos of the 1970's and '80's are revealed. Ace is the smooth operator of the Tangiers casino, while Nicky is his boyhood friend and tough strongman, robbing and shaking down the locals. However, they each have a tragic flaw--Ace falls in love with a hustler, Ginger, and Nicky falls into an ever-deepening spiral of drugs and violence.
It is based on the non-fiction book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi, who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Scorsese.
The character of K.K. Ichikawa (Nobu Matsuhisa), the Japanese highroller, is based on the life of high roller Akio Kashiwagi. During the 70's and 80's, Kashiwagi was a big scene at Las Vegas casinos. By the end of the 1980s, however, Kashiwagi had used up his casino credit, owing many casino executives, among them Donald Trump, millions of dollars. He was murdered in his home in Tokyo by the yakuza (Japanese mafia) in 1992.
Martin Scorsese stated before the film's release that he created the "head in the vise" scene as a sacrifice, certain the MPAA would insist it be cut. He hoped this would draw fire away from other violent scenes that would seem less so by comparison. When the MPAA made no objection to the vise scene, he left it in, albeit slightly edited.
While the movie begins by stating it is based upon a true story, it never names the actual casino involved. The Tangiers casino is fictional. The story is actually based upon the history of the Stardust casino, a fact well documented in the Vegas history books. Martin Scorsese discreetly documents this fact via the soundtrack, in which the song "Stardust" is heard three different times. An instrumental version plays during Ace and Ginger's wedding and a vocal version is heard during the scene where Remo asks Marino if Nicky and Ginger are having sex and also during the very end of the final credits.
Martin Scorsese hired actual parolees from that era as plot consultants, as well as various F.B.I. agents who had busted same parolees.
In the scene where Ginger is using the phone booth, Sharon Stone was at such an anxiety state, portraying her character, that Martin Scorsese was sitting on the floor outside the shot, holding her hand.
Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal hated the scene of Sam Rothstein juggling on his TV show. Rosenthal maintained that he never juggled on his show and felt that the scene made him look foolish.
Porn star Traci Lords was seriously considered for the lead role after an excellent audition. Madonna was almost cast, but Sharon Stone convinced director Martin Scorsese to give her the role.
Most of the conversations between Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci were improvised. Martin Scorsese would tell them where to start and where to end. The rest was up to them.
Dick Smothers' character is partly based on Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. The scene in which Sam Rothstein is denied a license by the Nevada Gaming Commission is based on a December 1978 hearing when Harry Reid was the commission's chairman; some of Reid's statements are used in Smothers' dialogue.
Joe Pesci bore some natural resemblance to Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, upon whom his character-Nicky Santoro-was based. In makeup, he looked even more like Spilotro-so much so that, according to Pileggi, when Pesci entered the casino where the movie was being shot, some pit bosses who'd had personal dealings with Spilotro "almost fainted."
Michelle Pfeiffer turned down the role of Ginger because it was too similar to her role in Scarface (1983).
When Nicholas Pileggi decided to write a book about Las Vegas he researched the story of Frank Rosenthal and became very interested. At first however, Frank Rosenthal was not interested in Pileggi's idea to write a book about him. It was only after Rosenthal read that a movie would be adapted from the book by Martin Scorsese and that it would star Robert De Niro that he became interested, because he loved Goodfellas (1990) and De Niro's performance in the film.
In the Blu-ray commentary, Sharon Stone relates the story of how she came to be in the film. She says her first two auditions for Martin Scorsese ended up being cancelled for various mundane reasons-Scorsese was held up by another meeting, that sort of thing-and Stone's paranoia convinced her that he was blowing her off. When the director's people contacted her to try it a third time, she turned them down and went out to dinner with a friend instead. Scorsese tracked her down and showed up at the restaurant where she was dining to make a personal appeal.
When Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) is pushed into the hole in the cornfield, Pesci broke a rib.
The "head in a vise" scene is taken from an anecdote in the book "Casino" unrelated to the main story, describing mob enforcer Tony Spilotro's interrogation of a low-level gangster named Billy McCarthy, who had committed the unauthorized murder on the Scalvo Brothers, a pair of high-ranking mobsters within Spilotro's crime organization. Trying to get McCarthy to give up the identity of the man who helped him kill the Scalvos, Spilotro first beat McCarthy, then stabbed him in the testicles with an icepick, before finally shoving his head in a vise and crunching it to five inches wide; McCarthy didn't give up the name of his partner, Jimmy Miraglia, until Spilotro tightened the vise in such a way that one of Billy's eyes popped out. Amazingly, McCarthy survived the head-crushing long enough for Spilotro to kill him by dousing him in lighter fluid and setting him ablaze. Spilotro would remark later in life, "Billy McCarthy was the toughest guy I ever met."
At the end, Joe Pesci is killed by Frank Vincent. Both actors previously appeared in Goodfellas (1990), where Vincent is killed by Pesci.