When I was first becoming a film lover, Martin Scorsese was a name I became familiar with very quickly. Taxi Driver. After Hours. Goodfellas. Mean Streets. For a teenager to be acquainted with those films are a rarity. But I was a sponge. Yet, I didn’t see Casino until nearly twenty years after its release. For me, the most visceral parts of the film were when Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci took turns teaching us about the operations of the casino, from how the mob skims money from the count room to how they keep an eye on potential scammers. I’ve never been a card player and would never consider cheating on blackjack, but after DeNiro shows us what the casino does to a guy they bust, my anti-cheating position is further solidified.
DeNiro plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a bookie whom the mob recruits to run one of their Las Vegas casinos. Ace is a genius with numbers and would give the casino appearance of a legitimate business, so he’s perfect for the role. Pesci’s his childhood friend, Nicky Santoro, who comes out to Vegas and worms his way in as the casino’s enforcer. He’s essentially playing the same guy he did in his Oscar-winning turn in Goodfellas, a violent sociopath who lives by his own rules. Still, he embodies that persona.
The pro-single message comes in through the love angle of the story, where Ace meets Ginger (Sharon Stone got an Oscar nomination for the role). Ginger’s a hooker and a con woman with whom DeNiro unwisely falls in love. He sees her running her hustle on a TV security monitor, and he’s smitten. “For Ginger, love cost money,” he admits, and he showers her with gifts to get her to marry him. It’s hard, because she’s been with a pimp (James Woods) for a long time. And after Ace has him beaten up for mooching money off her one too many times, she falls into a downward spiral: drinking, popping pills, starting fights with Ace in public, neglecting her child. He thinks he can control her the way he controls the odds as a bookie, but she isn’t having it.
At one point, she ties their daughter, Amy, to a bed while she’s out partying, which leads Ace to keep Ginger from her. Ginger eventually sleeps with Nicky, which is a no-no in the world of the mob. They can launder money. They can commit murder. They can squeeze guys’ heads in vises until their eyeballs pop out. But they can’t sleep with each other’s wives. In one Mafioso’s words, “it’s bad for business.” This action eventually leads to Nicky’s death and the mob being pushed out of Vegas by giant corporations. “Now it works like Disneyland,” DeNiro narrates.
SPOILER ALERT: In the end, Ace survives, living a quiet life in San Diego as a bookie, same as he was doing before his Vegas adventure. “I just want everything nice and quiet,” he says at one point. He’s gotten what he wants. And for him, it’s happy singlehood.