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Interview with Frank Rosenthal, a Casino Legend in Vegas

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In the late seventies and early eighties, Frank Rosenthal was the king of Las Vegas. Rosenthal ran four Las Vegas casinos - including the world famous Stardust Hotel and Casino - and his life was surrounded by myths and rumors. World-renowned filmmaker Martin Scorcese found Rosenthal and his life so fascinating that he recruited two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro to portray him in his movie "Casino," also starring Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone. Rosenthal is viewed as one of the greatest living experts on sports gambling, and is one of the legends that has made Las Vegas what it is today.

This is a reprint of an in-depth interview with legend Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal back in 2004, four years before he passed away.

What is your main occupation today?

I'm still handicapping. I have my own website where I provide sports information and other information, facts of opinion, and views. Some of it is free and some of it is paid subscription. I also do some consultation for some properties that are out of this country.

What would you say are the biggest differences in LV today from the time when you ran the show?

I think we where more conscious about more superior service-one on one. When you came into any of our properties, no matter who you where, literally, you were a VIP. And that's the way our corporation was instructed to treat you as opposed to being cattle.

Would you go as far as saying that casinos in Las Vegas treat people like cattle today?

Yes, I would. The town is so big. It's a whole different ball game. The help is less informed. The old time operators understood the games and they had a better understanding for romancing the customer, satisfying the customer, and bringing the customer back. I got the notion that LV was influenced by the mafia in your days, but that seemed to end around the time of the movie in the early eighties. Two things: one is that it's grossly exaggerated and beyond that, I won't be able to comment.

Do you think organized crime has any influence today?

My best guess would be negative.

But you don't know?

I don't know as a matter of fact, but you asked me my opinion and my opinion would be; no, they do not have any influence today.

What do you think of Las Vegas today with all the new attractions?

I think it's a marvelous industry. The evidence proves that the public enjoys entertainment and gaming and it's the public who has built the new mega resorts by pouring billions of dollars into the industry. If not for the state of California, there wouldn't be any Las Vegas, Nevada.

If I say that Steve Wynn is to Las Vegas today what you where back in the late seventies, how do you comment?

Some people would agree with you. The only difference possibly between Steve Wynn and Frank Rosenthal is Steve Wynn had the opportunity to utilize his expertise. Frank Rosenthal did not.

Do you think you can explain that a little further?

What I'm saying is that my career was disrupted. I don't know where I would have been today given all the years that have passed and the opportunity to apply the years that I have spent in trying to becoming a top professional. I was able to accomplish many things when I was there, but I wasn't able to sustain myself, if you got what I mean.

Did you have any thoughts of a comeback?

We did challenge the ruling of the gaming commission and we were successful on our first attempt. The Nevada court system did, in fact, reverse the order of the Gaming Commission on one particular occasion. Then the Commission and the Control Board and the power brokers within the state made one more attempt to knock me out, and they were successful.

Was it like in the movie, where it had to do with you firing a commissioner's nephew?

It was a political situation, no question about that. But I know the scene you are referring to, and while there was a degree of truth to what happen, the way it was put out in the movie was not very accurate.

Let's talk about the movie "Casino". How similar are you to the character portrayed by Robert De Niro?

From 1-10, I would like to say 7.

In the movie, Joe Pesci plays Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, an unscrupulous hit man. How close to him where you?

The best comment I can give is we were once very close friends and unfortunately the friendship ended.

Was your wife Geri Rosenthal accurately portrayed by Sharon Stone in the movie?

I really wouldn't want get into that area. It's an area that is distasteful and brings back bad memories. I wouldn't be willing to dispute what you just said, but I certainly wouldn't confirm it.

Did you meet like the scene in the movie (where Geri, portrayed by Sharon Stone, throws chips in the air at a craps table)?

Almost. I had met Geri in Miami Beach by coincidence about 7-8 years before I went to Las Vegas, Nevada. And then when I went there, she walked up to me one night and reminded me that we met in Miami Beach.

The movie is accurate to a point. The craps scene in the movie is accurate. I witnessed that particular situation, but I had known Geri and was just about ready to begin dating her when that scene you are referring to took place.

How old where you back in those days?

I was 39 and Geri was 32.

Did you actually wear those clothes (mint-green jackets and so forth)?

Well, all my clothes where custom-made; from my shoes to my shirts, suits, sports jackets, and ties. About the mint green jacket, no Henrik, that color was not one of my colors. I did like pastels and earth tones. Not from a sense of being showy. I just enjoyed bright colors.

Did you really do all that smoking (Robert De Niro smokes in almost every scene)?

Like a chimney. I still smoke and I'm in the process of reducing. Bob (Robert De Niro), unknown to me, was watching every one of my characteristics for months and months.

Tell us about your treatment of high rollers

In the movie, there is a scene where they fix the plane so the players had to stay another night. There are certain players that can turn the lights out and it's up to the casino operator to make sure the electricity stays on. That particular scene was exaggerated. Certainly we had little, if I might use the word, "angles." We might bring in couple of good-looking gals if we thought he had an appetite for women. Anything we could do to keep you there-to attract you, to break your concentration-was part of the game. Flowers, alcohol, shows, and clothes - you name it. The strongest attraction was generally the girls-the girls from Beverly Hills.

Do you know if the big casinos still do like that?

I can't promise that they are, but if they don't they are missing the boat. We all had our own formulas.

Is it true that high rollers can either make or break a casino?

There are certain players that can turn the lights out and it's up to the casino operator to make sure the electricity stays on.

What is the typical high roller game?

Baccarat is a game that is perceived to be somewhat sophisticated. The average player will not sit down at the baccarat table. There is a charm to the game. There is an intrigue to the game, but it isn't any different than shooting craps or going over to the BJ. You're going to lose your money anyway sooner or later - generally sooner.

How has the movie affected you and your life?

It certainly has put me in a situation that whenever I travel, I'm easily recognized. And I believe it's fair to say that the movie has created a somewhat of a fan club for Frank Rosenthal over the last 3-4 years. Other than that, I'm not sure if I really quite understand the affect it had on me. People seem to be in awe of the character in the movie. That's a very good question. A good handicapper is someone that has spent most of his adult life, if not all of it, studying and educating himself. To be a good handicapper it requires that you want to eat, sleep, and drink the game as opposed to 9-5.

Can you call it a lifestyle?

It's a lifestyle where you have to be very disciplined-not only disciplined, you can't have any weaknesses in your character, or you shouldn't have.

How do you define "weakness"?

Weaknesses being someone that indulges anything other than very, very clean living.

By this you mean drinking, smoking, and similar activities?

I wouldn't include smoking, but certainly drinking, drugs - anything in excess.

The game is too tough. How long have you been a sports bettor?

I have been a handicapper for more than 40 years. Before that, I would describe myself as an apprentice.

How have the conditions changed for a handicapper?

The Internet has become a marvelous tout instrument for the handicapper-not the line-maker, but the handicapper. In addition to that, there are a handful of people in the world who have developed computer programs, handicappers, that are able to offset the line to their advantage. It's been a remarkable transition; one need not be a handicapper with a definition of a student of the game in order to beat the game like it was years ago. The computer has taken charge.

Can you explain how these computer programs work?

While millions and millions of people, possibly billions of people, will be using the computer on the Internet within the next few years, the ability to create programs that can help to beat sports and horse wagering is reserved for a select few. There have to be brilliant minds that will be able to feed the computer information that the average human being cannot do. To my knowledge, there are at least three programs that are unbeatable. Not necessarily-because of the volume. We are talking about three programs today that are the crème de la crème-the elite-vs. millions and millions of players.

How will these programs affect sports betting in general in the future?

The enormous growth of sports betting and horse racing will only increase, and 99.9% of the players will loose.

How do think the Internet gaming industry will affect the traditional gambling market?

It will only grow and grow and grow until such time as one or more governments will recognize that the public enjoys gaming. The more you place a prohibition towards a situation like gambling throughout the world, the more you enhance the offshore online bookmakers.

Do you think Internet gambling should be regulated in the US?

I do. All industries require regulation. However, in order to regulate, you must understand what you are regulating, and the problem in this country is that regulators are clueless.

Can't US regulators use the experience gained from LV and Atlantic City?

"Gaming should not be any different than the New York Stock exchange, which is probably the largest casino in the world." The regulations that are current as we speak in Las Vegas or Atlantic City are prohibitive and restrictive. They do not allow the industry to reach it's optimum. I think they are counterproductive. There is still an imbalance towards the definition of the word "gamble." In this sense, some say it's sinful and others do not. As long as there is an imbalance, you will undoubtedly be able to maximize the industry the way it should be. Gaming should not be any different than the New York Stock exchange, which is probably the largest casino in the world. That's my opinion.

If the US does try to ban Internet gambling, what do you think will happen?

They won't be successful. You cannot place a ban or prohibit something where you have no control. I don't know how they intend to succeed. This country has no jurisdiction over the UK, nor do they have any jurisdiction over Costa Rica or Venezuela. If, in fact, Senator Kyl's bill or others that are similar in substance are successful, it only creates a boom for the illegal bookmaker. It does not eliminate the situation. Gambling operations just go underground. It's the same situation that existed during the prohibition. It didn't work then. It won't work now.

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