Las Vegas Era From Movie ‘Casino’ Gone Forever: Former Mobster

Posted on: January 10, 2021, 04:26h.

Last updated on: January 10, 2021, 06:03h.

Near the end of his life last summer, former mobster Frank Cullotta said Las Vegas as depicted in the movie Casino will never come back.

Frank Cullotta
Frank Cullotta
Former mobster Frank Cullotta tapes an episode of “Coffee With Cullotta” for his YouTube channel. On the show, he answered questions about life in the underworld. He died Aug. 20, 2020. (Image: KTNV-TV)

Dennis N. Griffin, who has written several books about the Mafia in Las Vegas, said the retired mobster told him before a final trip to the hospital that “the Vegas of his day was gone.”

Cullotta died Aug. 20 in a Las Vegas hospital of complications from COVID-19. He was 81.

“I believe that Frank’s passing marked the end of that era of Vegas history,” Griffin told Casino.org.

Cullotta moved to Las Vegas in the late 1970s to help his Chicago boyhood friend, Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, operate a criminal enterprise in Southern Nevada. Spilotro was the Chicago Outfit’s overseer in Las Vegas.

During this period, money skimmed from casinos was sent illegally to Mafia crime families in the Midwest. This era is depicted in the critically acclaimed 1995 movie Casino. Cullotta appears in the movie as a hit man.

Griffin cowrote three books with Cullotta about this period in Southern Nevada. Griffin also is coauthor of two books published after Cullotta’s death, including Frank Cullotta’s Greatest (Kitchen) Hits: A Gangster’s Cookbook. Cullotta once ran a Las Vegas pizza restaurant called the Upper Crust. It was located east of the Strip near the UNLV campus.

The second new book is Bringing Down Cullotta: The Story ‘Casino’ Couldn’t Tell You, by David Bowman and Griffin. The book is being released this month

‘Like No Place on Earth’

Griffin told Casino.org that Las Vegas’ aura and history “will last forever.”

It is truly like no place else on earth,” Griffin said. “The Casino movie, and all the other movies and books about Vegas, will keep it alive.”

Nicholas Pileggi, who cowrote the movie Casino with director Martin Scorsese, told Casino.org that Las Vegas these days is “spectacular.” However, Pileggi said he misses the period when walking into a smaller casino on the Strip was like “seeing a friend.”

Pileggi said Las Vegas once was a town for gamblers. Now gambling is just another amenity that larger casinos offer, he told Casino.org.

Several hotel-casinos in Southern Nevada from this earlier period have been demolished. Corporate casino ownership in Las Vegas led to a megaresort boom that began in the 1980s.

Griffin said he doesn’t know if corporations can bring back the way it was.

“I’m not even sure they want to,” Griffin said. “It’s an entirely different world now, and some might say not for the better.”

The Rat Pack Era

Gaming historian David G. Schwartz of UNLV told Casino.org that casinos can recapture some of the magic of the Rat Pack era by focusing on “personalized attention.”

Rat Pack stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin hit their stride in Las Vegas during the 1960s with performances in the Copa Room at the now-demolished Sands hotel-casino on Strip. The stars sometimes mingled with guests. The Venetian and Palazzo were built where the Sands once stood.

Schwartz has written several books about gaming, including the recently published At the Sands: The Casino That Shaped Classic Las Vegas, Brought the Rat Pack Together, and Went Out With a Bang.

I think that, for Las Vegas at least, the brand has overshadowed the experience,” Schwartz told Casino.org. Casinos will tell you how awesome they are. But they dont always do such a good job of communicating what will make the experience inside them unique and worthy of a trip.”

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