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A Tragic Tale

People who gamble a lot are usually pretty good at it, right? Whales who drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on a hand of blackjack generally do all they can to reduce the house edge and maximize their winnings. Right?

A Tragic Tale

Riddle me this.

People who gamble a lot are usually pretty good at it, right? Whales who drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on a hand of blackjack generally do all they can to reduce the house edge and maximize their winnings. Right?

I’m sure Terry Watanabe did. That’s why he followed the advice of the professionals, and made sure he was drunk and stoned-totally faced, really-whenever he played.

Yes, as the professionals will always tell you, there’s nothing like guzzling vodka and eating downers to sharpen your gambling instincts.

You remember Terry Watanabe, don’t you? He was the star of my June column. He’s the Iowa multimillionaire who racked up losses of $127 million gambling on credit at the Rio and Caesars Palace in 2007, and then tried to blame it on the casino because employees fed him drinks and, he claims, prescription painkillers, to keep him daffy enough to keep losing.

Watanabe’s back in the news because his lawyer has been trying to drum up public support in advance of his trial. Or trials, I should say. There’s the one that starts in July, on fraud charges stemming from the fact he paid back all his markers except $14 million and change, and wrote a bum check for the balance.

Then there’s the trial in his lawsuit against Harrah’s Entertainment, seeking damages because the company’s casinos allegedly won his money by letting him gamble when he was blitzkrieged on booze and goof balls, all supplied by those casinos.

Watanabe’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, went on Good Morning America last month, where he decried the “tragedy” of Watanabe, portraying the high-roller as an innocent victim who is in rehab, who has become a philanthropist for the cause of problem gamblers, and who regularly gives to the poor, saves puppies and cures cancer.

OK, I made the last part up. But only after the philanthropist part.

O’Donnell then previewed his open-and-shut case for Diane, Robin and the rest of the GMA luminaries, saying how he’ll show the casinos are responsible for his client’s record losing streak. “It’s a tragedy. Mr. Watanabe’s a tragedy,” he said with a straight face. “He was so addicted and so out of it, he didn’t really realize what was going on.”

Diane Sawyer didn’t seem to be buying it, particularly the part about it being Harrah’s fault that Watanabe gambled while snookered. (That’s right. He was GWS.) The reporter’s jaw kind of dropped when O’Donnell told of Watanabe’s partying-up to three bottles of vodka a day, and eight to 10 Lortab pills a day, allegedly brought to him in candy dishes by employees. (Lortab is hydrocodone, same as Vicodin and other painkillers.)

Except for the pills, it was all part of the standard high-roller treatment Watanabe received as a whale. He got the three-bedroom suite, gourmet food and a private stash of booze, flown in especially for him-Jewel of Russia vodka, the “Drink of the Czars.”

My own casino play, incidentally, qualifies me for a complimentary standard room with two queen beds, a free buffet, and some beer, the “Drink of the Mechanics.”

OK, there is something very fishy about the pills, but are you telling me that you can drink three bottles of vodka in a day and it’s not your fault? What’s more, as Diane pointed out, no one at the casino noticed Watanabe as being intoxicated.

(I meant Diane Sawyer. We’re on a first-name basis; I’m hoping to get on GMA myself.)

So, Watanabe’s whole case is that the casino should have known that he was intoxicated, even though he evidently didn’t show it, and in fact, they did know it because they kept giving him a drink when he ordered it. To quote Winston Churchill, that’s a load of crap.

(Well, Churchill must have said that at some point.)

It may not matter anyway. Watanabe’s on trial for criminal fraud, for writing the bum check and refusing to pay the $14 million he owes the casino.

Diane told O’Donnell his client must have agreed the casino won his money fair and square, because he paid most of the debt. The lawyer said he “just decided that the last $14 million was too much.” Good argument. After betting three $50,000 hands of blackjack at a time for days on end, and paying $113 million of his losses back to the casino, he decided he was putting his foot down for that last $14 million.

The good news: He’ll probably be able to score Lortab in prison. He may have a hard time finding Jewel of Russia, though. Maybe Harrah’s can send him some. 

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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