Defiant Chicago Outfit gambler dies

Lefty Rosenthal was inspiration for movie 'Casino"
October 16, 2008 8:02:25 AM PDT
Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who earned his unusual nickname by once holding up his left hand to fend off countless questions at a congressional hearing, is dead of heart failure. He was 79. For years Lefty Rosenthal was considered the Chicago Outfit's top oddsmaker in Las Vegas and a living legend in the field of sports handicapping. He was the inspiration for the hit movie "Casino" that chronicled the violent, sadistic days of the Chicago mob's reign in Vegas during the 1970's.

Mr. Rosenthal himself survived a car-bombing attack on his life 26 years ago in Las Vegas. When he turned the ignition key on his '81 Cadillac Eldorado, the caddy blew up. Rosenthal escaped the blast with minor injuries because he had a steel plate installed under the floorboard, fearing such a threat.

Rosenthal ran the Chicago mob-owned Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda and Marina casinos through the 1970s and into the mid 1980s. Sports Illustrated once crowned him as the greatest living expert on sports handicapping but Rosenthal ended up in Nevada's "black book" of hoodlums and other unsavory characters who were barred from the state's casinos.

Rosenthal was born of Jewish parents in Chicago the year of the great stock market crash. He learned to make money by hustling bets and setting odds. Rosenthal learned the gambling trade through illegal bookmaking operations and made friends with Italian Chicago mobsters - ties that would last a lifetime. In 1961, he appeared before a Senate hearing on gambling and organized crime. During the proceedings he invoked Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 38 times - and kept his left hand aloft throughout while doing so.

FBI records reveal that in the 1960s he was associated with a CIA-connected, Cuban-American anti-Castro militant named Luis Posada Carriles. Rosenthal and Carriles denied these claims. In '68, Rosenthal was deployed by Chicago Outfit bosses to Las Vegas. The assignment would put him squarely at odds with one of the most vicious Chicago hoodlums ever to wear a diamond pinky ring: Anthony "Ant" Spilotro.

Spilotro supervised the mob's Vegas rackets with an iron fist and a flashy style that angered Outfit bosses. He and 14 other gangland leaders ended up being indicted by a federal grand jury in a skimming scheme. As the movie "Casino" vividly re-enacted, Spilotro had an affair with Rosenthal's estranged wife, Geri.

Lefty moved to south Florida in the early 1980's, a few years before Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were murdered and dumped in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield. In a second career from Florida, Rosenthal ran a sports betting Web site and served as a consultant for offshore online casinos.

"I don't believe he ever spent a day in jail while I was representing him," said Las Vegas Mayor and former Rosenthal attorney Oscar Goodman. "There were plenty of people who were shooting for him and I'm sure if you ask law enforcement they didn't care for him. But he always treated me with respect and dignity, and he paid his bills on time," Goodman said.

Rosenthal's "Black Book" listing: http://gaming.nv.gov/loep_rosenthal.htm

In April 1998, Rosenthal did an interview with ABC's Ted Koppel about the expansion of legal gambling, especially internet betting.

FRANK "LEFTY" ROSENTHAL, Odds Maker: It's alive, it's living and it's growing in it's going to become a phenomenon, if it is not already in fact

TED KOPPEL: If, indeed, this is going to expand, as you suggest, and you think it's going to be big, then we're going to have hundreds of thousands if not millions more gamblers than we do right now and almost inevitably they're going to be using credit cards. Let's say they welsh on their bets. In the old days, gamblers used to know people who would take care of that kind of thing. I'm not sure if Visa and Master Charge operate the same way. Do they?

FRANK "LEFTY" ROSENTHAL: I doubt it very much.

TED KOPPEL: So how are they going to collect?

FRANK "LEFTY" ROSENTHAL: I would think for the most part the write-offs will be so insignificant versus the profit that it really isn't an issue that if I were an operator would put on any top priority. However, even in Las Vegas today as we speak, credit is extended and the write-offs are huge within that industry, referring to the casino business. You're not going to prevent a casino or an offshore gaming property from having losses. The majority of the people that wager in good conscience and pay their bills.

TED KOPPEL: You know, Frank, that there are people in Congress now who are trying to close up whatever loopholes there are so that where gambling is illegal now it will continue to be illegal. For the most part, that looks like trying to bail out, you know, the Titanic with a sieve. Is there a way of closing it down?

FRANK "LEFTY" ROSENTHAL: Realistically speaking I would think not and when you speak about lobbying, you're speaking about the major operators from both the state of Nevada and Atlantic City. The only thing that comes to my mind as far as trying to negate the possibility of wagering on the Internet, maybe somebody ought to get a hold of Bill Gates and get Bill Gates and Janet Reno back in talking terms in the Justice Department. He's probably the only human being on this planet that can figure out a way how to restrict the computer as far as gaming.

TED KOPPEL: Actually, you've raised another interesting possibility, and these folks are A, not without money, and B, not without influence. You talked about the gaming interests in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and I had sort of overlooked that. It clearly is not in their interests that Internet gambling take off. It could make them irrelevant. So they are going to bring their not inconsiderable influence to play also. What can they do to stop this from happening?

FRANK "LEFTY" ROSENTHAL: They go the old route, Ted, lobbying, contributions. What they're trying to do, they're trying to eat the whole pie rather than a slice of pie. The explosion, implosion in Nevada as we're talking, it's almost beyond belief. As we speak right now there's a casino that's going to open up, a hotel/casino in about October 15th. Cost, probably $2 billion plus. So I wouldn't be worried about the operators in Nevada and for them to try to suggest that either Internet wagering offshore is unhealthy while their menu is healthy is really hypocritical.

TED KOPPEL: Give me, and we're going to have to close on this note, but I want you to give me your experience as a veteran in the gambling business, your sense of what this is going to do in terms of luring a lot of people yeah, who might have placed a bet or two at the office, but into a regular gambling pattern who otherwise wouldn't be in it. In other words, how much danger do you see here?

FRANK "LEFTY" ROSENTHAL: I really don't see the danger that you referred to with reference to the Harvard study. That's like saying that if you go to McDonald's and have a Big Mac and that's loaded with calories that we're going to hold them responsible for obesity. Gaming, gambling, the same terminology, it's here to stay. The mass, masses of population on the globe, they want to gamble, whether it's office pool, precinct pools, ABCs pool or just individual pools. Gaming is here to stay. It's growing and the only reason offshore gaming can exist is because of the supply/demand factor. If we were open minded and more realistic, there would not be any offshore gaming. I have to tip my hat to the people with the gaming licenses offshore for being opportunist and having great vision.

TED KOPPEL: Well, of course that could also be said of the nice folks who bring us tons of cocaine and heroin into this country every year. If it were legalized, we wouldn't have to get it from Columbia. But, you know, I'll let you respond to that quickly and then we'll, then we're going to have to wrap it up.

FRANK "LEFTY" ROSENTHAL: I agree with that, Ted. On the other hand, here where I live in the state of Florida, our state recommends, highly promotes the lottery. They encourage you to hit the dream of your life, your fantasy. The chances of you winning the lottery in this state or your state are virtually slim or none and slim's out of town.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Load Comments