If there was a prize for the biggest gambling debts, Terrance Watanabe would be a clear winner.
At the casino tables of Las Vegas, however, he was quite the opposite, racking up $127million of debts in an astonishing year-long losing streak.
Now the 52-year-old Nebraskan – who made his money by selling his father’s toy import firm – faces criminal charges over nonpayment of his debts.
In turn, he is suing the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos alleging they let him play while drunk, in violation of gambling rules.
His witnesses are said to include a Caesars security guard who ‘does not recall ever seeing Mr Watanabe in a sober state’.
His playing was so bad that in 2007, Watanabe lost $5million in one 24-hour binge.
Watanabe’s colossal losses soon became the stuff of legend – not to mention a tourist attraction.
‘It got to the point where people would go just to watch,’ said one Vegas regular.
‘There are a lot of things that make you cringe in Vegas – but I’ve never seen anything like that.’
Watanabe has paid back $112million but he is refusing to hand over the rest.
The philanthropist, from Omaha, Nebraska, claims the casinos plied him with alcohol and painkiller while he gambled.
Throughout 2007, Watanabe, 52, practically lived at the two casinos, betting a stunning total of $825million.
He would sometimes stay up for 24 hours at a stretch placing bets on games with some of the worst odds in the house – roulette and $25 multi-line slot machines.
When he played blackjack, he would often play three hands at the same time, each with a $50,000 limit.
‘He made such bad decisions on the blackjack table,’ said Kristian Kunder, one of Watanabe’s personal handlers at Caesars Palace.
At his rock bottom in 2007, Watanabe lost $5million in just one 24-hour gambling binge.
At Caesars and the Rio, he was assigned his own bartender and gave stacks of $100 bills, some times as much as $20,000, as tips.
But Watanabe claims he was allowed to play while drunk and out of control, in violation of gaming rules.
His former lawyer, David Chesnoff, submitted a letter to a jury earlier this year, stating casino witnesses would testify that he was regularly drunk.
This would allegedly include a Caesars security guard who ‘does not recall ever seeing Mr. Watanabe in a sober state.’
Harrah’s, the parent company of the two casinos named in the suit, dismissed Watanabe’s claim, saying he is the one who is at fault.
‘Mr. Watanabe is a criminal defendant who faces imprisonment,’ said Harrah’s spokeswoman Jan Jones.
‘All of his statements need to be seen in that light. We will not get into a public debate with a criminal defendant who is trying to avoid imprisonment.’
Watanabe’s suit against Harrah’s alleges fraud, breach of contract, conspiracy and negligence.
The action came after he was slapped with criminal theft and bad-cheque charges in Vegas over $14.5million in losses that he has allegedly failed to pay the casino.
He is free on $1.5million bail and awaiting a trial in July, at which he will face up to 16 years in prison.