Terry Watanabe

Terry Watanabe: The whale that lost $204 million

watanabe-2The most famous casinos have seen some big whales and high-rollers (people who like to wager a lot), but no whale ever beached itself in such spectacular fashion as Terrance (Terry) Watanabe. In the space of a year, Watanabe blew most of his amassed fortune, by losing $204 million in Las Vegas. Today, his remains one of the biggest losing streaks of all time.

Terry’s Rise to Wealth

Terry Watanabe was actually born to wealth, unlike some other high-profile gamblers who went on earn their millions at the table. His vast wealth came from the Oriental Trading Company, which was founded in 1932 by Harry Watanabe as a gift shop. They soon began to expand outside of Omaha, Nebraska, and became one of the biggest carnival suppliers in the world.

It was in 1977 that Terry Watanabe took control of the company and decide to focus the business primarily on party materials. The Oriental Trading Company was soon bagging over $300 million per annum in revenue. By 2000, the time was right to sell. Brentwood Associates bought the company, and although the figure wasn’t disclosed, it certainly made Terry a rich man as he began retirement. Things should have been good for him, and Terry Watanabe should have had the kind of comfortable later life that most of us can only dream of. Gambling and alcohol problems, though, changed all that.

Gambling and Alcohol Don’t Mix

According to his sister; after the sale of the company, Terry Watanabe grew restless and he didn’t know what do with his time. It is also likely that he didn’t really know what to do with his money, either. The answer was Harrah’s Casino outside of Omaha. Watanabe began gambling in the casino in 2003, and with his kind of cash, he quickly become the casino’s favourite customer. That led to Watanabe trying his luck in Las Vegas, where wrapped up in the sight, sound and culture of Vegas, he began to drink intensely.

Watanabe finds Vegas

During 2006, Watanabe primarily resided inside Wynn Resort’s Las Vegas Casino. It was there that his heavy betting and alcoholism led to him being barred from the casino, according to Steve Wynn, Chief Executive of Wynn Resorts.

Harrah’s then appears to have jumped at the chance to get Terry Watanabe into their casinos, offering him lucrative packages, something which Watanabe later reveals in his civil suit against Harrah’s, they reneged on. According to reports, though; Watanabe stayed for free in a three-bedroom suite at Caesars Casino, had his own bartender and drank Jewel of Russia vodka. He was also equipped with his own special attendants and had his food delivered to him (such as a seven-course meal), whilst he played.

Losing Big Money Daily

Terry Watanabe was not an experienced gambler, though. Over the course of a couple of years, he lost millions. He would play house games which favour the casino, and according to two of his handlers, “he made such bad decisions on the blackjack table.” Some reports have Watanabe staying at the tables for up to 24 hours at a time, losing $5 million here and there, and playing $50,000 a hand games of blackjack. Some casinos are known to raise credit for high-rollers, and in the case of Terry Watanabe, Caesar’s raised his to $17 million.

2007 saw the end of a losing streak unparalleled in gambling history. Some say that whatever Watanabe wanted, he got. If he didn’t like a member of staff, they were assigned elsewhere in the casino. However, is there a darker side of the casino? Mr Watanabe and his lawyers later filed a suit which said that Caesars allowed him to play whilst heavily intoxicated, and there are incredible reports of them giving him painkillers so he could continue playing at the tables all day and night. There are even reports that Caesars turned a blind eye to Mr Watanabe’s sexual advances to female employees, though these are unsubstantiated.

In just a year, Watanabe managed to blow $204 million in the Rio and Caesars Casinos. Not all of those losses were in poker. If you want to know what that did for Caesars, just think about this. 5.6% of all Caesars revenue for the year, were made up of Terry Watanabe’s losses!

Such reckless gambling was bound to have a bad ending, and it all came to a head when Watanabe was broke, and he reportedly owed Caesars $14.75 million. The relationship between favoured client and generous host was over. They sued Terry for theft and writing bad checks in 2009.

Suing Caesars

Watanabe would sue Caesars right back. He claimed the Caesars had agreed to refund him 30% of all his losses, but that they neglected to make such a payment. This kind of agreement is not unheard of in the casino world. Later on, a private agreement was decided between Caesars and Watanabe, in return for all charges being dropped on both sides. It is thought that Watanabe paid Caesars $100,000 of the $14.75 million they claim he owed. Caesars, however, would suffer a $225,000 fine for not stepping in to assist Terry Watanabe, even though he was clearly in trouble. Bizarrely enough, the fine came from the New Jersey Gaming Control Board, and not Las Vegas. This was because Caesars had several properties in Atlantic City, and the New Jersey Gaming Control Board may have insisted that it looked bad on their state.

Watanabe Today

Terry Watanabe entered a treatment facility in 2008. Terry sold his Omaha mansion in 2008 for over $2.5 million. He now resides in San Francisco and has reported stayed away from all casinos since entering rehabilitation. It is unknown how much of his family’s fortune he has left, although he is thought to have lost somewhere around the $204 million mark gambling.He is not thought to be bankrupt. That fate befall the company he sold, which went bankrupt in 2010, although that had nothing to do with Watanabe.

Terry Watanabe’s experience has big life lessons for all about gambling. Not least what could happen when a whale (as they are known), with more money than they know what to do with, unwisely sits down at tables to play high-stakes gambling games.


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