Watanabe restates his casino losses
Terry Watanabe has given new heft to his unofficial title as Vegas’ biggest loser.
Watanabe alleges in his latest court filings that in a single year he gambled away $189 million — an average of more than a half-million dollars a day — at two Las Vegas casinos owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.
His total losses over a two-year period hit $200 million, said Pierce O’Donnell, his attorney from Los Angeles.
Watanabe, a former Omaha businessman, is embroiled in a dispute with Harrah’s on several legal fronts. He is believed to be one of Vegas’ all-time biggest “whales” — the name used for high-rolling gamblers.
Watanabe faces criminal charges for allegedly skipping out on $14.7 million owed to Harrah’s. And, in rebuttal, Watanabe filed a civil complaint alleging that Harrah’s took advantage of his gambling addiction and allowed him to gamble when drunk.
In earlier court filings, Watanabe had reported $112 million in gambling losses in 2007. He upped that number last week in his civil complaint against Harrah’s after receiving more information from the casino, his lawyer said.
“It’s an incomprehensible number. He was very, very ill at the time, and Harrah’s took advantage of his vulnerability,” said O’Donnell.
Gary Thompson, a spokesman for Harrah’s, questioned whether Watanabe lost $189 million in one year or whether he took out “markers” that he never used to gamble. He also said Watanabe’s civil complaint and other allegations were an effort to “divert attention” from his criminal case. “It’s not going to change the fact he owes us money,” said Thompson.
Watanabe, 52, is the former owner of the Oriental Trading Co. of Omaha. He claims to have embarked on a compulsive gambling binge in 2007, during which he lived at Caesars Palace for six months. His gambling woes came to light last year when county attorneys in Las Vegas brought felony charges against him in Clark County District Court, alleging he skipped out on money owed to Caesars Palace and the Rio. Harrah’s owns both. His trial is set for July 12.
O’Donnell met last month with the lead prosecutor in the case, Bernie Zadrowski. He said he supplied information to Zadrowski in an effort to get the case dismissed. Zadrowski has said he would review the information, as he would in any case.
In addition, Watanabe has filed a complaint with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, alleging Harrah’s violated its policy of allowing a visibly intoxicated person to gamble. Harrah’s has denied the allegation.
Thompson said the casino company is confident that when the board finishes its investigation, it will find that Harrah’s acted “appropriately” in its dealings with Watanabe.