I’ve been trying to post this for almost a week.. long story

[Bells Ringing]

Four reels, sevens,

across three $ jackpots.
Do you have any idea what the odds are?

It’s gotta be in the millions, maybe more.

Three fuckin’ jackpots in minutes! Why didn’t you call me?

It happened so quick. Three guys won. I didn’t have a chance.

You didn’t see the scam?

There’s no way to determine that.

Yes, there is. They won!

It’s a casino. People gotta win sometimes.

Ward, you’re pissing me off. Now you’re insulting my intelligence. You know goddamn well somebody had to get into those machines and set those fuckin’ reels. The probability on one machine is a million and a half to one. On three machines in a row, it’s in the billions. What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you see you were being set up on the second win?
I think you’re overreacting.

Listen, you fuckin’ yokel. I’ve been carrying your ass ever since I got here. Get your ass outta here.

You’re firing me?

I’m firing you. No, I’m not firing…

You might regret this.

I’ll regret it if I keep you.

This scene follows the famous torture scene in which Joe Pesci puts a rival gangster’s head in a vice. The following scene is also memorable; DeNiro demands of his cook that an equal amount of blueberries be place in each muffin. Both of those are included on the IMDB memorable quotes page.

First, I think this decision is very intentional. Technically, this scene could have happened at a slightly different time in the movie. It’s almost meant to somewhat ignored, but after watching it a couple times, I think it’s clear that the entire movie rests on this scene.

Casino starts out briefly telling the story of how Sam Rothstein, a Jewish bookmaker who grew up around the Italian mafia, and Nicky Santoro, Rothstein’s longtime friend and vicious gangster, came to run one of Las Vegas’ most profitable casinos for the mafia. Shortly after that introduction, we see Rothstein and Santoro at the peak of their success. We learn the hustle of the casino, Rothstein’s meticulous tactics, and the ruthlessness of Santoro. This is them at the peak of their game, hustling a world-class card player, spotting and punishing a couple of low time cheats, and delivering duffel bags of money back home to the bosses. They cultivate relationships with the local government and real estate developers. Sam falls in love with a high-class prostitute and popular casino figure named Ginger. They soon marry, and become socialites. Quite simply, everything goes right.

Nothing can last forever. Ginger’s former pimp comes into town and asks Ginger for money. Sam responds by giving him the money, but not before beating him and telling him never to come back. Ginger’s initially distraught and falls into drug abuse. She promises to get clean though, and Sam offers to send her to a discrete rehab. The businesses also faces competition when a rival gang shoots up a mafia restaurant. Nicky ably deals with that challenge, as mentioned above.

The scene quoted comes in here. The slots manager that Rothstein fires is the brother-in-law of the gambling commissioner. Rothstein meets with the gambling commissioner soon after, but he does not agree to reinstate his brother-in-law. The commissioner counters by investigating Rothstein’s mafia ties, and attempting to suspend his license. The stress of this process distracts Sam from Ginger, whose drug problem worsens. He’s no longer able to curb Nicky’s reckless violence. The duffel bags don’t come as stacked as they once did, because of people skimming off the top while Sam and Nicky are distracted. Ginger kidnaps her and Sam’s child, and runs away with her pimp. When Ginger returns, she turns to Nicky for comfort. The two have an affair; Sam learns of this and rivalry with Nicky blossoms into full-blown hatred. Ginger leaves Las Vegas, taking thousands of dollars from Sam in the process. Nicky attempts to car bomb Sam, but Sam is saved on a technicality. Nicky gets killed for this act, plus it didn’t help he had lost the bosses money. Sam lives the rest of his life under a low profile.

This one scene is the catalyst for the well-cited drama in the rest of the movie. Sam acts out of character, his intelligence insulted. His pride kills him when he acts irrationally. He could have brought the guy back on with less responsibility.

I kinda have a history with these moments in real life. When I was 8, I chose to play football instead of soccer and no lie, this basically set the course for the rest of my life. Not in a moral way really, but things could not have happened the same way if not for this decision. Probably a story to delve into deeper at another time.

This phenomenon as I understand it is the Butterfly effect. From the wiki on chaos theory:

Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, physics, and philosophy studying the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. This sensitivity is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.[1] This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future dynamics are fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable. This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.

I can’t really tell you that Scorsese had chaos theory in mind, but Casino almost seems a perfect case study. All of the initial conditions were there for Rothstein’s fall, and once he sets things in motion by firing the slots manager, his fate is sealed.

I’m a inordinately self-analytical person, at times to a fault. But one of the bi-products of all that examination is constantly seeing the pathways of different scenarios. In a way, I think of it as a way of things happening for a reason. However, it’s important to differentiate that phrase from how it’s used popularly.

Normally, things happen for a reason is used as a way of getting us through a challenge, knowing something better is around the corner. This is also known as the power of positive thinking. I’m sure Barbara Ehrenreich would agree with me in saying it’s clearly wrong to apply this take on the phrase to Sam Rothstein.

Anyway, this is really a call to start looking out for initial conditions. Part of the problem with the country on the whole is a failure to look at the long-term consequences of our actions. See Global Warming and Health Care Reform. I do have some fear that politics, which brought down Sam Rothstein, may bring us down to small time odds makers ourselves.

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