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Frank Rosenthal, inspired 'Casino'

Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the onetime Chicago bookmaker who ran four Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s and whose turbulent life and near-death experience with a car bomb inspired the movie "Casino," has died. He was 79.

Rosenthal, who was barred from casinos because of alleged mob ties, died of a heart attack Monday at his home in Miami Beach, Fla., authorities said.

Rosenthal is credited with bringing sports betting to Las Vegas in the '70s.

"He really brought the glitz and glamour to what we now know as sports books," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Although Goodman said Rosenthal always treated him "decently," Rosenthal once ordered his casino security men to crush the right hand of a card cheat he had caught.

"He was part of a crew of professional card cheats, and calling the cops would do nothing to stop them, so we used a rubber mallet -- metal hammers leave marks, you know -- and he became a lefty," Rosenthal recalled in a 2005 interview with the Miami Herald.

A tall, lanky man with what a Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel writer a decade ago described as "a glare that makes him look like a menacing Fred Astaire," Rosenthal's response to how he stayed in such good shape was, "By keeping my mouth shut."

In a Senate hearing on gambling and organized crime in 1961, he invoked the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 38 times, including when asked if he was left-handed.

After arriving in Las Vegas in 1968, Rosenthal was indicted on federal bookmaking charges, but a judge threw it out.

He was working as a floor manager at the Stardust in 1974 -- "The only guy below me was the shoeshine man," he later said -- when he was appointed to a $250,000-a-year executive position with the Argent Corp., which owned or controlled the Stardust, Hacienda, Fremont and Marina hotel-casinos.

But in 1976, the state Gaming Commission ruled that Rosenthal was unsuitable for licensing, partly on grounds of alleged organized crime associations.

Rosenthal always denied any charges of mob involvement or skimming profits.

"No one put me anywhere," he told the Palm Beach Post in 1995, "and I'm not the least bit concerned or amused that some think otherwise."

On the evening of Oct. 4, 1982, Rosenthal had just finished dining at a Tony Roma's restaurant in Las Vegas when he got into his Cadillac Eldorado. When he turned on the ignition, a bomb exploded, ripping the car apart.

An unnamed law enforcement source told the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the time that Rosenthal apparently had started the car with his right hand and right leg inside the car with the door still open.

"It blew him out of the car," the source said. "It's probably the thing that saved his life."

After the attempt on his life, Rosenthal moved with his children to California and then to Florida. In 1988, the Nevada Gaming Commission listed him in the state's "Black Book" of people barred from casinos.

Rosenthal's life story was told in Nicholas Pileggi's nonfiction book "Casino," which inspired director Martin Scorsese's 1995 movie of the same name.

-- Los Angeles Times

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