In the gambling industry, extremely wealthy patrons, who consistently gamble far more than the average man in the street are known as ‘high rollers’ or ‘whales’, depending on the level of their bankroll. In Las Vegas, casino hosts offer generous complimentary services to these high-stakes gamblers, safe in the knowledge that they are not immune to the unswayable laws of mathematical probability and may, periodically, come a cropper and suffer eye-wateringly heavy losses.
The man who has the dubious distinction of achieving what is believed to be the biggest losing streak in the history of Las Vegas is Japanese-American Terrance Watanabe, former owner of the Oriental Trading Company, founded by his father, Harry Watanabe, in 1932. In 2000, Watanabe sold his stake in the family business, for an undisclosed fortune, and became a philanthropist and self-confessed gambling addict.
In 2007, while staying in what was later described as the ‘most elegant suite’ in Caesars Palace, Watanabe claims that he bet over $825 on a variety of casino games at Caesars Palace and The Rio, losing a total of $127 million. Unlike most high-stakes gamblers, his choices included games, such as keno, roulette and slots, which carry a large house edge. Even in games carrying a much smaller house edge, such as blackjack – which Watanabe would reputedly play, three $50,000 hands at a time, for hours on end – he repeatedly made awful decisions and could lose up to $5 million a day.