1The Gambler Who Blew $127 Million
Harry Watanabe founded a gift shop, the Oriental Trading Company, in 1932 and made it grow until it became one of the largest players in its market, until 1977 when his son, Terry Watanabe, became its CEO. Later, in 2000, Terry sold his entire stake in the company to a private equity firm. From this sale, Terry amassed a huge fortune that would later propel a drinking and gambling problem into astronomical losses at various Harrah's owned casinos.
It started in 2007 when Mr. Watanabe took a trip to Las Vegas, but then never left. Enjoying the various comps and perks of being a high roller, the casinos slowly drained his fortune for an entire year. It was a gambling binge that ended up costing him over $200 million.
During that year, 6% of Harrah's total Las Vegas gambling revenue came from Terry Watanabe. He gambled so much that Harrah's invented a new tier in their Total Rewards program just for him called “Chairman.” It came with various perks such as $12,500 a month for airfare, free concert tickets, and $500,000 in credit at the gift stores. That's a nice little bonus for losing $200 million!
Mr. Watanabe finally ended his gambling binge after opening up to his sister about his problems during a Thanksgiving visit. She brought him back to Omaha and he entered a treatment facility for addiction. He hasn't entered another casino since then, but unfortunately that's not where his problems ended.
Harrah's eventually had to file criminal charges against Terry after he refused to repay all his losses. He agreed to pay $112 million of it, but says that Harrah's irresponsibly fueled his addiction by supplying him with alcohol and encouraging his gambling habits. Employees at Harrah's say that Mr. Watanabe would sometimes lose $5 million a day, gamble for 24 hours straight, and was allowed to play three hands of blackjack at once. Reports also indicate that managers routinely dismissed his obvious signs of intoxication while playing and did whatever they could to keep him gambling in the casino.
Mr. Watanabe plead not guilty to the charges, filed his own civil suit against Harrah's, and was scheduled to appear in court in 2010. However, a confidential agreement was met two weeks before the trial and all claims from both parties were dropped.
Terry Watanabe's year long gambling run is believed to be the single biggest losing streak by an individual in Las Vegas history.
2The Grandma who had a 154-roll lucky streak
What are the chances of rolling a pair of dice 154 times continuously at a craps table without throwing a seven? The answer is roughly 1 in 1.56 trillion, and on May 23 Patricia Demauro, a New Jersey grandmother, beat those odds at Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. Demauro's 154-roll lucky streak, which lasted four hours and 18 minutes, broke the world records for the longest craps roll and the most successive dice rolls without "sevening out."
Demauro declined to reveal how much money she won, but gambling experts estimate that if she made good bets, her winnings were probably in the hundreds of thousands; expert bets would have put them in the millions. Demauro spent the rest of their holiday weekend in Atlantic City, and even returned to the same craps table two nights later — but only as spectators. "The expectations were too high," she says. "I wasn't ready to be the shooter again."
3The Man who gambled ALL he had on a SINGLE spin of roulette... and WON!
In 2004, as part of the reality mini-series "Double or Nothing," British professional gambler Ashley Revell sold all his possessions, including his clothes, and gambled $135,300 on a SINGLE spin of a roulette wheel in the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Revell placed his bet on red; the ball ended up on 7 red, and Revell had doubled his money to $270,600. Everybody waited for new bets from him, but he gave $600 to a dealer as a tip, said, "thank you!" and left the casino.
Revell used his winnings to set up his own online poker company called Poker UTD. According to TV producer Simon Cowell, he's the inspiration behind his new game show called "Red or Black?"
4The $5,000 gamble that saved FedEx
While FedEx might now look like a highly successful company, its founder once saved the company by taking its last $5,000 and turning it into $32,000 by gambling in Las Vegas.
In 1971, Frederick W. Smith, founder and current CEO of the company, took his personal fortune of around $4 million and raised an additional $90 million to found a delivery company structured so that it could potentially deliver packages overnight to anywhere in the world. This is something that, at that time, had never been done.
Unfortunately, three years after the company began, thanks largely to rapidly rising fuel costs, Federal Express was on the verge of bankruptcy. They were losing over $1 million a month, with no one willing to give them any additional loans or any investors interested in contributing capital.
At its low point, all the company had was $5000 to its name, leaving FedEx more or less dead on the ground when they were not be able to fuel their planes the following Monday. Not to be dissuaded, instead of taking a flight home to Memphis, Smith took the $5000 and flew to Las Vegas and played Black Jack that weekend with the remaining company funds. By Monday, to the shock of other higher-ups in the company, FedEx had $32,000 in its bank account, which was just enough to cover the fuel for their planes and to continue operating a few days more. When asked what he'd been thinking by taking a chance like that with company funds, he stated, “What difference does it make? Without the funds for the fuel companies, we couldn't have flown anyway.”
It turns out that a few days more was all he needed. Shortly thereafter, Smith successfully managed to raise $11 million to keep the company afloat and, by 1976, Federal Express made its first profit of $3.6 million. Four years after that, the company's profits were up to nearly $40 million with a gross revenue of nearly half a billion dollars. Today, FedEx is estimated to be worth $25-$35 billion, with Smith himself currently worth around $2 billion.
5The babysitter who won $2.4 million on her first trip to Las Vegas
In 2008, Jessica Agbunag, a baby sitter who graduated from high school six years ago, was in Las Vegas with her boyfriend and family in remembrance of her grandmother's birthday. Her grandmother was a frequent visitor to Las Vegas who loved slot machines.
At first, the Wheel of Fortune machines were good to Agbunag. Twice, she won much smaller amounts earlier that week at the same casino. But one day, she inserted $16 into a Mega-Jackpot machine from the California Hotel and Casino and it hit the big prize; she won $2.4 million on her very first trip to Las Vegas.
6The 8-year-old boy who --allegedly-- won $500,000 in an Online Poker Room
In 2010, it was reported in a myriad of casino websites and blogs that Aashish Nanak, an eight year-old boy from Chandigrah, India, won half of a million dollars (22,912,500.38 Indian Rupees) in an online Poker tournament.
Allegedly, the eight year old boy is a computer genius who was first introduced to computers at the age of three. He started building webpages at four and by the age of six he was already interested in online poker. When he won half of a million dollars, Aashish was using his uncle's account. “He has always loved the internet and computers, he started his own web pages when he was only four years old, he is a very clever boy,” said Aashish's mother.
According to the information, the poker room ended up refusing to pay out the winnings considering the age of the boy. The Nanak family says the poker website knew about the real age of the boy because even the staff members called the boy the “littlepokerwizard.” The boy had even managed to win and collect smaller amounts of money on the same website and he got paid through a PayPal account that his uncle had set up for him.
The poker website, which aims to remain anonymous, blocked his account. The boy's family and the poker room ended up in a legal battle in front of a New Delhi court. The outcome has not been reported.
7The Man who played 115 straight hours of Poker for charity
In what can only be described as an amazing display of endurance and charity, Phil Laak's Guinness World Record attempt for continuous Poker play finally came to an end 115 hours after it began. Playing for the record and for the charitable organization Camp Sunshine, Laak originally intended to stay at the Bellagio poker room table for 80 hours. Almost a day and a half after hitting the 80-hour mark, the "Unabomber," with his girlfriend Jennifer Tilly at his side, decided to cash in his chips.
Amazingly, Laak pulled off the poker marathon with absolutely no stimulants of any kind. He consumed no coffee, no caffeine, or anything illegal. He credits his fitness for this challenge to his nutritionist, who kept the "Unabomber" fed, healthy and alert throughout the challenge.
Laak remained remarkably fit and alert during the World Record try, and at one point he dropped to the ground to perform 30 push-ups in exchange for a $1000 donation to Camp Sunshine. With only 5-minute breaks every hour (which were allowed to be accumulated), Laak did experience some minor physical discomfort as the hours and days ground on, at one point complaining, “I've got itchy-ass syndrome a little bit, but I got some talcum powder on my last break.”