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December 20, 2014

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High roller posts $1.5 million bail to avoid jail stay

Man faces charges stemming from $14.7 million in gambling debts

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Steve Marcus

Terrance K. Watanabe, right, 52, of Omaha, Neb., appears in court with attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld (background) at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Watanabe, in a negotiated deal, posted $1.5 million and turned himself in for processing. According to prosecutors, the high-rolling philanthropist owes $14.7 million to Caesars Palace and the Rio, which are owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.

Terrance Watanabe in court (Feb. 2008)

Terrance K. Watanabe, 52, of Omaha, Neb., talks with a woman (identified as a sister) and attorneys before his appearance in court at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Watanabe, in a negotiated deal, posted $1.5 million and turned himself in for processing. According to prosecutors, the high-rolling philanthropist owes $14.7 million to Caesars Palace and the Rio, which are owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc. Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Nebraska philanthropist Terrance K. Watanabe made his initial appearance this morning in Las Vegas Justice Court on felony charges of theft and passing bad checks stemming from $14.7 million in gambling debts.

His Las Vegas attorney, David Chesnoff, submitted a $1.5 million check in court to pay for Watanabe's bail after Justice of the Peace Bill Jansen signed an arrest warrant sought by the district attorney's bad check unit.

Jansen ordered him released after going through the booking process at the Clark County Detention Center.

Jansen scheduled a status check in the case for April 21.

Watanabe, wearing a charcoal blazer and light beige pants, stood quietly in court with his hands clasped in front of him during the brief court appearance.

Afterward, he declined comment, but Chesnoff said his client planned to fight the charges.

"Mr. Watanabe has consistently shown himself to be an honorable customer of the gaming institutions in Nevada, and that will certainty be a defense," Chesnoff said.

Watanabe's case is the largest ever brought by the district attorney’s bad check unit

According to Chief Deputy District Attorney Bernie Zadrowski, who runs the unit, the 52-year-old Watanabe of Omaha, Neb., owes the massive debt to Caesars Palace and the Rio, which are owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.

On top of that, Watanabe now is to be billed a state-mandated fee for the bad check unit’s handling of the case. Because the fee is based on the size of the debt, the amount for Watanabe is $1.48 million.

Watanabe’s wealth comes from the Omaha-based Oriental Trading Co., a wholesale novelty importer founded by his father. The younger Watanabe ran the company from 1977 until 2000, when he sold it. He has his own charitable trust foundation and is known as a generous donor to nonprofit organizations.

Watanabe is facing a four-page complaint prepared by the district attorney charging him with two counts of theft and two counts of passing bad checks at the Rio and Caesars Palace in 2007.

He allegedly obtained $2.7 million in markers from the Rio by writing eight bad checks from Oct. 22 to Nov. 26, 2007, according to a copy of the complaint. He obtained another $12 million in markers from Caesars Palace using 30 bad checks from Nov. 11 to Dec. 11, 2007, the complaint charges.

The checks, the complaint notes, ranged from $200,000 to $875,000.

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