VIDEO VAULT | Finding the true stories behind the movie 'Casino'

Tony Spilotro with Oscar Goodman.jpg
Tony Spilotro, right, walks with his then-attorney Oscar Goodman to the federal courthouse in Las Vegas.

Next month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie "Casino," a lightly fictionalized version of real events involving Midwestern mob activity in Las Vegas in the 1970s and early '80s.

This week, we take a look back with a man who covered some of the key events depicted in the movie: former News 3 photographer Greg Rundell.

On October 4, 1982, Rundell was heading over to Sunrise Hospital where his wife worked to join her for dinner when a radio transmission caught his attention.

"On the scanner, there was a car fire that came out at Marie Calendar's," Rundell said. "And that's all the initial dispatch was. So I kind of hemmed and hawed about going over. Because a car fire was something we normally didn't cover. But I was so close I decided to go over."

Rundell had been covering the crime and courts beat for Channel 3, and as soon as he arrived on the scene, he knew it was something much bigger.

"And I went over and I immediately recognized Frank," said Rundell.

That's Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, reinterpreted in "Casino" as the character Sam "Ace" Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro in a similar scene that both opens and closes the movie.

Rosenthal had gotten into his car after dinner at Tony Roma's next door, and when he turned the key, an explosion came from under the floorboards.

"So I got out and shot it. You know he was still literally -- there was steam coming off of him from the fire. His clothes were burnt off," Rundell said.

Rundell was later given a commendation from his news director to Channel 3's general manager, and columnist Don DiGilio used his column in "The Valley Times" to mock the other stations for trailing so far behind.

"I think we broke in live with it, and once we broke in the other stations started showing up," Rundell said.

Rundell's other close mob encounter came in a routine part of his job.

"My beat was the federal courthouse," said Rundell. "So I was constantly there with Tony Spilotro and Oscar [Goodman] and the whole gang that would come in and out of there."

Tony Spilotro served as inspiration for the "Casino" character Nicky Santoro, played by actor Joe Pesci.

There was a fairly standard routine when high-profile court proceedings were underway.

"We used to sit at the bottom of the federal courthouse at the elevators waiting for the court to break," said Rundell. "And that was our opportunity to get the B-roll of them coming in or out of court."

Although Rundell and the rest of the media were always surrounding the characters coming in and out of the courthouse, it was all business. Nothing personal.

"I think more or less we were a nuisance, but they knew we were doing our job and we were not on there radar as far as retaliating at us for taking pictures."

In fact, on one occasion, something different happened after Rundell finished shooting video and put down his camera.

Spilotro noticed Rundell had stopped shooting and paused.

"He turned around and said, 'You want to have a sandwich?' And across the street from the courthouse was a little sub place."

Basso's Italian Grinder House was very popular with the courthouse crowd.

"So he took me over and bought me a subway," Rundell said. "And we didn't have much of a conversation. But he actually offered to take me to lunch. So that was something unique in the Spilotro days."

Greg Rundell so enjoyed the crime and courthouse beat that in 1985 he joined the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, working both as a regular beat cop and a specialist in the Audio/Visual Department until retiring in 2014.

Channel 3 still has plenty of Rundell's tapes stored in the Video Vault.