The Worst Gambler In Las Vegas History

“Gambling is risk-taking. It might be said the owner of a casino gambles, takes risks, but he has the odds in his favour, so that’s intelligent gambling. If I wanted to gamble, I’d buy the casino.” —Jean Paul Getty Sr.

In A Nutshell

In the worst losing streak in history, Terrance Watanabe lost a staggering $127 million at Las Vegas casinos. After he paid $112 million, it was determined that he’d actually been allowed to continue gambling after he was drunk and on pills. Eventually, the casinos were fined $225,000 for their handling of the situation.

The Whole Bushel

In 1977, Terrance Watanabe became the president of Oriental Trading Company, which originated in Wichita, Kansas of all places. He turned the company around and made a fortune selling party gifts. You wouldn’t think a business that distributed bags of coins, candy, and trinkets would be terribly lucrative, but his family had more than $100 million. Unfortunately for him and his family, Terrance retired and headed straight for Las Vegas.

The first sign that his drinking and gambling habits would lead to a record-setting disaster was when he lost $21 million at the Wynn Casino and was subsequently banned from it, seemingly for his own well-being. Even those losses paled in comparison to what he would ultimately lose over the course of 2007. At the Rio Hotel and Caesars Palace, he lost a breathtaking $127 million, still the largest in world history.

Certainly no deadbeat, Terrance Watanabe spent 2007–2009 paying off $112 million of his massive debt. Then he ran out of money and legal action began. The casinos claimed he was criminally refusing to pay the remainder of his debt. Watanabe countered by claiming that he’d been plied with both drink and prescription medicine to keep him gambling, and even claimed the fact he was barred from the Wynn as evidence that he should not have been allowed to gamble during his streak. While the casino denied that it gave him drugs, multiple witnesses confirmed that Watanabe was being sexually inappropriate in addition to doing cocaine and smoking marijuana.

Ultimately, Harrah’s, the parent company of the casinos that Watanabe had lost his fortune at, decided to forgive the remainder of Watanabe’s debt. For several years, that seemed to be the end of it.

But it turned out that the law was ready to step in and punish the casinos for their behavior, albeit belatedly. In 2013, it was determined by the New Jersey Division of Gambling Enforcement (probably because Harrah’s has casinos in New Jersey, specifically in Atlantic City, and thus it was subject to their rulings even though the events happened out of state) that Watanabe’s situation was unacceptable, particularly in regards to his sexual misconduct and drug use, so the casinos owed a fine. After acquiring $112 million from Watanabe, the casinos were fined all of $225,000, or 0.2 percent of the amount Watanabe paid.

Of course, the financially devastated Watanabe wasn’t going to get any of his money back anyway, but you’d think gambling regulators would go after an infraction that became national news and effectively a world record with a bit more enthusiasm. What they actually got was essentially a rounding error years after the fact. The casinos probably didn’t mind too much.

Show Me The Proof

Poker’s Greatest All-Time Whales: Terrance Watanabe
ABC News: Man Sues Casino for Gambling Debt
AOL: Caesars Fined for Role in $120M Gambling Spree
New Jersey Regulators Fine Caesars Entertainment $225K Over Watanabe Case