Casino is a movie that was released in 1995 and was directed by Martin Scorsese. It is based on a book of the same name that was written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi also co-wrote the screenplay for the movie along with Scorsese. This movie takes a look into the way that casinos operated in Las Vegas in the 70’s, 80’s. Because Casino is based on the life of Frank Rosenthal and reveals the influence that the Chicago Outfit crime family had on casino’s in Las Vegas, there is much to be observed and learned in this film about deviance as it is understood from a sociological standpoint. If we view this film from the symbolic interactionist perspective we can see how deviance plays a role in the everyday life of the people portrayed in this movie and how belonging to particular groups influences our behaviors and the decisions that we make.
One way that sociologist view deviance is through the lens of the Differential Association Theory. This theory tells us that we learn to deviate from or conform to society’s norms primarily from the different groups we associate with. The main characters in the film, Sam Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, model this theory for us perfectly. In becoming part of the Chicago crime family, this association led Rothstein and Santoro to deviate from what society considered to be normal. These deviances included lying, cheating, stealing and committing acts of violence including murder to get what they wanted. However, the crime family itself didn’t see these things as deviance at all; for them it was simply how business was done. For example, most people wouldn’t consider digging holes for dead bodies in the desert as a normal part of doing business. But for Nicky Santoro, it was just as normal as a stockbroker reading the Wall Street Journal.
Another way that we can see how deviance plays a role in our lives is through control theory. Control theory says that two control systems work against our motivations to deviate. One of these systems, our inner controls, consist of our conscience, religious principles, and our ideas of right and wrong as well as fears of punishment, integrity, and the desire to be a good person. The other, outer controls include people such as family, friends, and police who influence us not to deviate. Nicky Santoro faced this struggle when Rothstein’s wife Ginger began to seduce him. The outer controls in his life, namely the rest of the crime family, did not look favorably on this sort of behavior. Even his own inner controls, such as his ideas of right and wrong, told him not to give in to her. However, his desire for her outweighed all of these controls and he gave in to the temptation.
One final way that we can see deviance through the symbolic interactionist perspective is through the labeling theory. This theory says that labels tend to become a part of our self concept and help to set us on paths that either propel us into or divert us from deviance. One example of this is in the rejecting of labels by the money counters in the film by condemnation of the condemners. The technique was used by the money counters to deny that the bosses had a right to judge them for skimming money from the casino. As Nicky alluded to concerning John Nance and the money counters; if someone helps you steal, no matter how good you take care of them, they are going to steal a little more for themselves. Nance even tried to normalize the act and called it “leakage.”
In conclusion the perspective that perhaps best allows us to see the effects of deviance on the characters of this film as a whole is the functionalist perspective. Functionalists say that deviance is a natural part of society and that some of our mainstream values actually generate deviance from society’s norms. Our society arouses discontent among people who then try to attain cultural goals such as wealth or high status. The problem is that not everyone in society has the same access to legitimate means of attaining these cultural goals. These people become frustrated with their circumstances and become motivated to pursue a deviant path. This functionalist perspective is known as the strain theory. The characters in this film from Rothstein and his wife Ginger to Nicky and the rest of the crime family all have this in common; the desire to live what society considers the good life. They also lack the means society has determined as acceptable to achieve this goal. They have accepted the goals of society but because they lack access to society’s means of achieving these goals they were forced to become innovative, each in their own way, in order to succeed in their goals. This is the main reason for their deviance.
How do we solve the problem of deviance such as is depicted in Casino? There are many theories as to how this problem can be solved such as better laws and stricter supervision of people who regulate these laws. But if people found ways around the controls we already have in place, it is inevitable that any new controls that may be instituted will be met with the same innovation. Could it be that the answer lies not more laws and harsher penalties but in adopting new goals for our culture?