In 1932, Harry Watanabe founded a gift shop called the Oriental Trading Company. Today, it is a million dollar business that ships gifts and novelties all over the world. By 1977 it was the biggest business of its type and absolutely dominated industry and that is when Terry Watanabe (pictured), son of Harry, took over the business.
He remained the CEO for several years and in 2000 sold his entire share of the company to a private equity firm. The small fortune that he acquired from the sale would be the legacy of his father’s company; and it would be wasted on uncontrollable drinking and gambling.
It was 2007 when Terry Watanabe took a trip to Las Vegas and never went home. He spent an entire year being a high roller at various casinos, enjoying the perks and slowly whittling down his personal fortune.
During this year he played at several of the Harrah’s owned casinos on the Las Vegas strip and his money accounted for nearly 6% of the revenue at those locations for that year. He gambled at the Harrah’s casinos so much that the company actually created a new high roller tier for him called the “Chairman.” It is their most prestigious reward level with free concert tickets, $12,500 a year for airfare, and $500,000 in gift shop credit. It was a small reward for gambling away close to $200 million in the year he spent living and playing in Las Vegas.
Watanabe’s casino binge lasted until he blew it all in late 2008, and reportedly asked his sister for help during the family Thanksgiving dinner. After his revelation about how long he had spent in casinos and how much money he had gambled away, he entered a rehabilitation center in Omaha.
The center worked with him for several months to clean him of both his alcohol and gambling addiction. But, Mr. Watanabe’s problems did not stop there…
After being released from the rehabilitation center Harrah’s sued the man for the remainder of the losses that he had not paid before leaving Las Vegas. Watanabe came forward with $112 million of the losses but refused to pay anymore. His reasoning? He claims that all of the casinos he played at not only took advantage of his addictions, but encouraged them making the problem worse.
Eyewitness accounts tell a shocking story of employees who would allow the man to play 3 hands of blackjack at once, sometimes loosing him $5 million in one night. Reports also claim that a manager would do almost anything to keep Watanabe on the casino floor; offering him discounted or free drinks, ignoring the clear sign of intoxication in order to keep him gambling for 24 hours straight.
Terry Watanabe plead not guilty to charges that could land him in prison for nearly 28 years. He filed his own civil suit in order to prove that thier employees took advantage of him and his high roller status. Jan Jones, senior vice president of communications for Harrah claims that the civil suit will have no effect and that it was simply filed so that Watanabe would not have to pay a debt that he owed.
Watanabe’s case was supposed to appear in court in late 2010 but never did. Instead, a confidential agreement was met two weeks before the court date and charges on both sides were dropped with no money exchanged. Nevada’s Gaming Control Board claimed that they would still be doing an investigation to see if Harrah’s has broken any legal gambling regulations due to Watanabe’s allegations.
Today, the year long gambling binge is considered the biggest losing streak to even take place on the Las Vegas strip until another billionaire heir tops his rock bottom