After Goodfellas put the Mob in the mainstream consciousness, Casino ascended to the summit of the box office mountain. It sported an all-star cast (including two of De Niro’s fellow Goodfellas stars, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco), a fact-based script written by Nicholas Pileggi, and a premise that made it a spiritual sequel to the earlier crime epic.
But Casino’s biggest achievement may be its depiction of Vegas life. It’s an ugly, seedy movie – every key character is mired in greed and treachery and the film never condescends to its audience. It also does a remarkable job of laying bare the city’s history with organized crime. Other movies portray Las Vegas as a playground for partying and weekend bus trips; Casino goes a step further by showing the underbelly of this opulent, neon-lit world.
Casino shows how casinos manipulate gamblers to make them spend more money. For example, they rarely show the time of day and use decor to confuse people about their current position on the clock. They also highlight games with lousiest odds, amplifying them with flashing lights and bright colors. In the end, it’s all about making the most money.
Gamblers are also enticed by comps, which are free goods and services the casino gives out to “good” players. For instance, players can get free hotel rooms and meals, tickets to shows, or even airline tickets if they play for long enough. Another trick casinos use is by changing cash into colored discs that represent real currency. This dissociates the gambling from spending actual money and makes losing it seem more acceptable.