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In 1973, sports handicapper and Mafia associate Sam "Ace" Rothstein is sent by the Chicago Mafia to Las Vegas, Nevada to run the Tangiers Casino. Front man Philip Green serves as the casino and hotel CEO, but Sam unofficially runs everything. Sam quickly doubles the casino's profits, with cash skimmed directly from the count room before it is tallied and delivered to the Midwest Mafia bosses. Chicago boss Remo Gaggi sends Sam's childhood friend and mob enforcer Nicky Santoro to protect Sam and the casino. Nicky makes sure everyone is kept in line, but his own criminal activities start drawing too much media and law enforcement attention. He recruits his younger brother Dominick and childhood friend Frankie Marino to gather a crew that specializes in loan sharking, shakedowns, safe cracking and jewelry store burglaries. Nicky is eventually placed in the Nevada Black Book, banning him from every casino in Nevada.
Sam meets and falls in love with beautifulhustler, dancer, and former prostitute Ginger McKenna. They have a daughter and marry, but their marriage is quickly thrown into turmoil due to Ginger's relationship with her former boyfriend,con artistandpimpLester Diamond. Sam has Nicky and his crew beat Lester when they catch him accepting $25,000 from her. Ginger turns to alcohol and develops an increasingly problematic drug addiction.
In 1976, Sam fires slot manager Don Ward for incompetence. When Ward's brother-in-law,Clark County Commissionchairman Pat Webb, fails to convince Sam to rehire Don, Webb arranges for Sam's gaming license to be denied, jeopardizing his position. Sam starts hosting a local television talk show from inside the casino, upsetting both Nicky and the bosses back home for making himself such a public figure and bringing unneeded attention. Sam blames Nicky's recklessness for ongoing police and Nevada Gaming Board pressure, and the two argue furiously in theMojave Desert.
When the Midwest bosses discover that people on the inside are stealing from their skim, they install incompetentKansas CityunderbossArtie Piscano to oversee the operation. Piscano ends up keeping written records of the operation's financials. Additionally, an FBI bug placed in Piscano's store for a separate crime catches him talking in detail about the casino skim, prompting a full investigation into the Tangiers Casino.
Sam seeks to divorce Ginger, who kidnaps their daughter, planning to flee toEuropewith her and Lester. Sam convinces Ginger to return with Amy, then overhears her planning on the phone to kill him. Sam kicks her out of their home but later relents. Ginger approaches Nicky to get her valuables from Sam's safe deposit box, and the two start an affair. Sam confronts and disowns Ginger, and ends his friendship with Nicky. Nicky throws Ginger out when she demands he kill Sam. Drunk and furious, Ginger crashes her car into Sam's on the driveway and retrieves the key to their deposit box. She takes the contents of the box but is arrested by the FBI as a witness.
In 1979, the FBI closes the casino and Green agrees to cooperate. Piscano dies of a heart attack when federal agents discover his notebook. The FBI approaches Sam for help by showing him photos of Nicky and Ginger together, but he turns them down. The bosses are arrested and get ready for trial, and start arranging the murders of anyone who might testify against them and prolong their subsequent sentences. Ginger dies of a drug overdose, and Sam barely escapes death by acar bomb, suspecting Nicky to be the culprit. The bosses, finally fed up with Nicky's recklessness, order Frankie and his crew to kill Nicky and his brother Dominick. Under the impression that they are attending a meetup in anIndianacornfield, they are beaten with baseball bats, covered inquicklime, and buried alive in a shallow grave.
With the mafia now out of the casino industry, Sam laments the new impersonal, corporate-run resorts of Las Vegas. He is last seen working as a sports handicapper inSan Diego, ending up in his own words, "right back where I started".
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