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The research for Casino began when screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi read a 1980 report from the Las Vegas Sun about a domestic argument between Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, a casino figure, and his wife Geri Mc Gee, a former topless dancer.

This gave him an idea to focus on a new book about the true story of mob infringement in Las Vegas during the 1970s, when filming of Goodfellas (the screenplay which he co-wrote with Scorsese) was coming to an end.

The fictional Tangiers resort reflected the story of the Stardust Resort and Casino, which had been bought by Argent Corporation in 1974 using loans from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.

Argent was owned by Allen Glick, but the casino was believed to be controlled by various organized crime families from the Midwest.

Over the next six years, Argent Corporation siphoned off between $7 and $15 million using rigged scales.

This skimming operation, when uncovered by the FBI, was the largest ever exposed.

Real-life characters were reshaped, such as Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, Geri, Anthony Spilotro, and Spilotro's brother.

Some characters were combined, and parts of the story were set in Kansas City instead of Chicago.

A problem emerged when they were forced to refer to Chicago as "back home" and use the words "adapted from a true story" instead of "based on a true story." They also decided to simplify the script, so that the character of Sam "Ace" Rothstein only worked at the Tangiers Casino, in order to show a glimpse of the trials involved in operating a Mafia-run casino hotel without overwhelming the audience.

According to Scorsese, the initial opening sequence was to feature the main character, Sam Rothstein, fighting with his estranged wife Ginger on the lawn of their house.

The scene was too detailed, so they changed the sequence to show the explosion of Sam's car and him flying into the air before hovering over the flames in slow motion—like a soul about to go straight down to hell.