Nineteen thirties, Las Vegas, Nevada. A sleepy desert outpost is transforming. Potent in its charm, mysterious in its fascination, it draws in gamblers, gangsters, and crooked politicians. It’s a lucky time for those more sinner than saint, any man can become king for a night, or maybe a lifetime. In steps Tony “the Hat” Cornero, a prohibition-era bootlegger who’s no stranger to operating on the other side of the law, his fortunes on the make. Down on Freemont Street he opens The Meadows, touted as the highfalutin’ glamour-soaked, fine-liquored establishment in town; it’s an instant success. Offering up live entertainment, carpeted casinos and a staff of attractive and friendly waitresses, it’s a far cry from the dusty boots, thirsty cowboys and dirty brothels of the old days. But the underbelly of Sin City rumbles with threats and extortion, mobsters Meyer Lansky and east coast boss Lucky Luciano want their cut of the action. Famously defiant, Cornero takes a stand, refusing, sparks fly, timber snaps, and flames dance as The Meadows burns to the ground. It’s a lucky time for some, but not for others. The stage is set for a future of bad blood.
Three miles of the coast of Santa Monica, California. Flush with cash and big ambitions, Cornero heads west. Launching the SS Rex and SS Tango, the biggest offshore gambling operation in the Pacific makes front-page news. Laced with pleasure and possibility, the temptresses rock atop international waters, outside the grasping fingers of the law. Cornero is high profile, and soon his golden floating empire begins to bring unwanted attention. Enter Attorney General Earl Warren, a political climber, ruthless and ambitious. Seeking national attention, Warren hopes to make his name with a campaign to protect public morality from the “floating narcotic dens, filthy houses of prostitution.” Setting his sights on Cornero, boundaries are redrawn, domestic waters redefined, and gambling licenses denied. The coast guard leads a nine-day siege on the Rex coined “The Battle of Santa Monica Bay”. Check-mate, a battle of wills, Cornero calls Warren’s actions “piracy on the high seas”, and vows to go down with his ship. Finally, in an unexpected surrender, Cornero mocks, "I have to get a haircut and the only thing I haven't got aboard ship is a barber." It’s a lucky time for some, but not for others. Earl Warren will soon become California’s Governor and eventually a US Supreme Court Justice.
South of the US border, Baja, Mexico. Cornero’s mind is dominated by romantic visions of a gambling empire, uncharted and exotic. But the atmosphere is charged and threatening as watchful eyes move suspiciously, Mexican mobsters calculating. Paying the thunder no mind, he is unrelenting in his pursuit. Revolvers go bang, bang! Two Latin hit men send bullets searing through Cornero’s stomach, the pain harsh, a brush with death. It’s a lucky time for some, but not for others. Gambling will be allowed in Baja, but without Cornero.
Nineteen Fifty-Five Sin City, Nevada. Having cheated death, Cornero returns to where it all started with a larger-than-life dream, but Vegas is a far cry from what he left behind twenty years earlier. Promising 500 rooms and “astronomical luxury at down-to-earth prices”, Cornero’s Stardust Hotel will be the biggest casino Vegas has ever seen. But it’s only seventy percent built, funds are running low, and his vision is fleeting. Obsessing, and fueled with compulsion, the stakes have never been higher. Dark characters come sniffing around like dogs in the night, and Cornero, with nothing left but empty pockets, is forced to approach his old foes for funds to complete the Stardust. Rolling the dice, Cornero takes a last chance meeting with the mob, but The Stardust may just cost more than any one man can afford.
It’s a lucky time for some…