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Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal

The Las Vegas gambler who survived a car bombing

The Las Vegas gambler who survived a car bombing
Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal
1929–2008

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a onetime Chicago bookmaker who brought sports betting to Las Vegas and was the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s movie Casino, got his nickname in 1961 while appearing before a Senate panel investigating gambling and organized crime. Invoking the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 38 times, he simply kept his left hand aloft during the entire proceeding.

The Chicago-born Rosenthal was the son of a produce wholesaler “who also owned horses,” said The New York Times. Starting out as a horseplayer, oddsmaker, and sports bettor, he worked under the protection of mobsters, including his childhood friend Tony “the Ant” Spilotro. A numbers whiz with a genius for calculating odds, Rosenthal moved to Las Vegas in 1968 to manage four mob-owned casinos—Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda, and Marina—while Spilotro served as enforcer. Rosenthal later married topless dancer Geri McGee, whose affair with Spilotro led to a falling out between the two men.

Nevada authorities eventually discovered that Rosenthal was running casinos without a state license, said the New York Post. After he lost an appeal, he was placed in the state’s “black book,” barring him from any casino. In 1982, Rosenthal got into his Cadillac after leaving Tony Roma’s restaurant with a takeout order of ribs. When he turned on the ignition, said the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the car exploded. But a steel plate he had installed under the seat saved his life. While the bombing was never solved, he conceded that he did not think “it was the work of the Boy Scouts.”

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