‘Casino’ by Nicholas Pileggi (and why you should read it)

If you have, or have had, any interest in the world of gambling – you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Nicholas Pileggi’s Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas (to give its full title) is a thrilling real-life expose of the Mafia’s hold on 1970s’s Las Vegas. It only inspired the classic Martin Scorsese movie of the same name, but also stands on its own as an iconic piece of narrative journalism.

Sure, the salacious details can be a little yawn in today’s age of social media. Plus, the now-dated slang and Mafioso lingo might be a little confusing to the modern reader.

However, if you’re interested in the inner workings of casinos, and how they’ve changed since Vegas’ mob-controlled heyday – there aren’t many better books out there.

It reads, in places at least, like a fedora-wearing informant with the whisky-soaked breath is spinning you a yarn in a smoky, seedy backroom somewhere on the Vegas strip.

If that sounds too intense for you, modern casinos are a lot less dangerous and salubrious – for example casino nightrush online review here. Try them out for a more relaxed gambling experience, no mafiosos involved!

Love and Scheming 

Anyway, back to the story. Casino follows two mobsters and their showgirl companion:

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, the mob’s main manager at the Vegas casinos, Tony Spilotro, the big-man enforcer and Frank’s adulterous showgirl wife Geri.

However, their fiery (and murderous) love triangle is not the main focus. It plays second fiddle to the main story – the sordid tale of how the mob ripped off the Vegas casinos of the era.

It loosely follows Frank’s perspective as he manages the Stardust, Hacienda, Fremont and Marina casinos for the Chicago Mob. From the tail end of the 60s all the way up to 1981.

Yes, there’s action, with double-crosses and murders.

But the main “action” of the book is told through thorough detailing of the Mafia’s criminal tactics.

From casino playing floors to the streets and alleys to the hallways of congress or the casino’s VIP suites and boardrooms – Pileggi touches on every finger of the Mob’s iron grip on the Las Vegas pie.

The Mafia euphemistically called it The Skim, and if you’re interested in exactly how this vintage slice of criminal Americana went down, then Casino is the book for you.

Casino: The Movie of the Book or the Book of the Movie?

Interestingly, although they tell the same core story, with the same real-life characters inspiring them, Martin Scorsese’s 1995 movie Casino takes a more blockbuster approach. There’s less emphasis on the gritty details and more kidnapping, car chases and shoot-outs!

But then, some of those things really did happen, too.


Pileggi himself came from a documentarian journalistic school, working as a crime reporter for the Associated Press for some 30 years before writing his own books.

We guess he was sure glad he did because the first book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family was a massive hit that ended up being adapted into the bonafide classic movie Goodfellas.

Pileggi and Scorsese would return to their cinematic partnership five years later with Casino. Pileggi simultaneously wrote the book and the screenplay for the film with Scorsese.

The great director asked Pileggi to release his book after the movie, but the author refused. However, both projects did fairly well – with the movie grossing well over three times its budget and doing $116 million box office.  

The book clearly never made that much money! However, it did fairly well with reviewers, and we’re still talking about it 27 years later. It offers a different perspective to the events of the movie, one more for real gambling fans perhaps, so it’s well worth checking out!