Frank Culotta, a former mobster close to the end of his life, said that the Las Vegas he knew is long gone. Never to return is the Las Vegas atmosphere that was best depicted in the 1995 movie “Casino” starring Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone. Culotta passed away in August 2020, but not before sharing his thoughts and experience working his way through the Las Vegas underworld. The details of which have been shared online and with Dennis N. Griffin, who has written many books about the Las Vegas mafia.
Griffin has reported his thoughts on Culotta’s passing saying that he believes that the former mobster’s passing marks the end of an era in the history of Las Vegas and what that time entailed. The author has also co-written as many as three books with Culotta about a period in Southern Nevada at the beginning of his career as a mobster. Culotta moved to las Vegas to help his childhood friend, Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, run a criminal enterprise in the region when Culotta arrived in the late 1970s. The Chicago branch of the mafia put Spilotro in charge of overseeing operations in Las Vegas.
During the start of Culotta’s tenure, money was skimmed from casinos in Las Vegas and then sent to Mafia families in the Midwest, illegally. This period is well depicted in the movie casino and Frank Culotta even starred in the film, showing up as a hitman. Furthermore, two books published after Culotta’s death were co-authored by Griffin. The first is called Frank Culotta’s Greatest (Kitchen) Hits: A Gangster’s Cookbook. Culotta did have experience in this field having run a pizza restaurant in Las Vegas called the Upper Crust, which was close to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) campus east of the Las Vegas strip. The second is still on its way and will be released in 2021, and seems to be quite intriguing. The book titled Bringing Down Cullotta: The Story ‘Casino’ Couldn’t Tell You was written by Griffin and David Bowman.
The history and aura of Las Vegas will last forever is what Griffin said. He added that it is like no other place in the world and that books and movies like Casino will keep it alive. Nicholas Pileggi, the man that co-wrote the movie Casino along with director Martin Scorsese went on to say that he misses the times in Las Vegas when walking into a small casino on the Las Vegas strip was like meeting an old friend again even though the present-day Las Vegas remains spectacular. He added that the city used to be a town for gamblers, new and old and now it's just an amenity offered by big casinos. Casinos from this era have mostly been demolished in Southern Nevada. In the 1980s there was a megaresort boom in Las Vegas after corporations started taking over casinos. Griffin went on to say that these corporations could never bring back the old days and he thinks that they don’t even want to.
With all the innovation and control of corporations in the casino industry in Las Vegas, its difficult to see how the strip could return to its former glory. David G. Schwartz, a gaming historian at UNLV still has a chance to recapture some of the magic by engaging in personalized attention. The Rat Pack era was an exciting time in Las Vegas. Stars such as Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra performed in the city in the 1960s and even mingled with guests at the casinos. These performances from well-known entertainers took place in the Copa Room at the Sands Hotel-Casino that has now been demolished.
Schwartz went on to say that the experience inside the casino has been overshadowed by the brand. While casinos have no trouble telling the public how great the brand is and what it has achieved, the personal touch is what’s lacking. These brands tend to forget what people want to know, if the experience will be unique and worth the effort to get there.