The casino industry is a big world. Many establishments have enticing gimmicks and intricate strategies to keep them relevant and inviting to new and upcoming players. However, casinos need not much trick to keep their whales. Whales have a very different and distinguished meaning in the casino world. It is the name branded ton high rollers—those who wage so much that most traditional casinos make majority of their profits from them. These high rollers are often comped by the casinos they frequent with freebies including private jets, limousines, thousand-dollar wines, and the biggest suites accommodation. Sounds expensive? It sure is, but with millions and millions of wagers by known whales, the houses still win. There may be no other story more extravagantly heartbreaking than the story of Terrance Watanabe.
Terrance Watanabe is an American business man who inherited the Oriental Trading Company, an establishment that supplies party goods, arts and crafts, novelties, and school supplies, from his father Harry Watanabe. Upon inheriting the company in 1977 and at only 15 years old, Watanabe shifted the production focus to schools, churches, retailers, and individuals.
In 2000, he sold his stake in the company to a private equity firm in Los Angeles called the Brentwood Associates. After resigning as CEO and president of his Oriental Trading Company, Watanabe became a philanthropist and later infamous as one of the biggest high rollers loses of all time.
Watanabe isn’t the usual casino industry whale, he was and still is the biggest whale the strip has ever seen. In a span of one year, his losses amount to over $200 Million. To put into perspective, a minimum wage-earner in the USA will have worked for 66 years and not even have a million dollars—and that’s without spending not even a single cent. But this high roller lost over 200 million dollars in a single year. The amount is just inconceivable to mere mortals. How and why did he do it?
No man in their sane mind would say they intend to lose, specially in casinos. However, Watanabe admits that he is in fact a compulsive gambler. Uncharacteristic of traditional casinos, most management even offered him prescription drugs, sometimes illegal ones, just to keep him away from their tables. These actions were even brought to court as they counted as customer mistreatment in the states. They were settled out of court though as the courts fined casinos such as Caesars Palace are way below Watanabe’s gambling sums.
Watanabe is even considered a VIP among the VIPs. In fact, Caesars Palace created a special tier for him called the “Chairman” which ranks above “Seven Stars”, then the highest tier rank the casino offers. With this, Watanabe was comped tickets to Rolling Stones, sponsored monthly airfare, and half-million dollars credit in associated gift stores. But all of these were ultimate losses for Watanabe when he lost $127 Million in Caesars and the Rio Casinos in 2007.
Without a company to go back to, Watanabe was unable to pay his gambling debts to casinos and has filed for bankruptcy. Worse, he lives without insurance, and can’t pay for his cancer treatments. Worst, he now asks strangers for financial help, including setting up a Go Fund Me stating that he wants people to forgive him for his mistakes in the past.