Wall Street Journal has the incredible story of 52-year-old Japanese American Terrance Watanabe, believed to have the biggest losing streak in Las Vegas history – losing an estimated overall total of $127 million in gambling, of which $112 million dollars in ONE year in 2007. $112. Million. Dollars.
Terrance built his personal fortune from a growing his Omaha, Nebraska business, Oriental Trading Company, importing and selling party-favors – a business he took over and grew from the age of 20 from his father who founded the company in 1932, shortly after immigrating to the United States from Japan. Annual revenues exceeded $300 million dollars before Terrance sold the business in 2000.
Being a workaholic, Terrance no idea what to do with his free time and appears to have become addicted to alcohol and gambling to fill his time; he is currently fighting a law suit against Harrah’s Entertainment from them claiming $14.7 million that the casino says it extended to him as credit and subsequently lost, and contends that the casino offered him cash back on some loses and is counter-suing on predator grounds:
“Several former and current Harrah’s employees say their managers told them to let Mr. Watanabe continue betting while he was visibly intoxicated, even though casino rules and state law stipulate that anyone who is clearly drunk shouldn’t be allowed to gamble. These employees say they were afraid they would be fired if they did anything to discourage Mr. Watanabe from gambling at the casinos… Mr. Watanabe alleges that during this period Harrah’s not only didn’t make him leave when he was drunk, but it plied him with alcohol and prescription drugs to encourage him to stay and gamble. Several Caesars employees say there was no policy to keep Mr. Watanabe drugged or drunk. But, they say, staff knew the company wanted to keep one of the Strip’s most lucrative customers, and so looked the other way. A picture of him was hung in employee back rooms, they say.”
What I find disturbing — yet fascinating — is that Terrance initially gambled at the Wynn casino, but CEO Steve Wynn quickly concluded that Terrance was a compulsive gambler and alcoholic and banned him from his casino.
Obviously, Terrance is responsible for his own behavior, and he admits his faults. But from the reporting, it appears that Harrah’s actively encouraged Terrance’s behavior and preyed on him, ignoring not only their legal obligation, but a moral one. (Then again, we are talking about a casino company here; we might as well be talking about Wall Street morals.)
I’ve blogged about Asian Americans and gambling before, so it is really sad to read about one of the worst, if not the worst, examples of gambling addiction in Terrance Watanabe.
One of Terrance’s goal after selling his business was to become more active in his non-profit foundation and philanthropic work. Imagine what $127 million dollars could have done to numerous good causes instead of going into the pockets of Las Vegas casinos?
(Image Source: The Wall Street Journal / The Omaha World-Herald)