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December 22, 2014

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Man with $14.7 million in gambling debts pleads not guilty

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Tiffany Brown

Terrance K. Watanabe, left, of Omaha, Neb., leaves the Regional Justice Center following his arraignment in Las Vegas on May 20, 2009, accompanied by sister Pam Watanabe-Gerdes.

Updated Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | 5:04 p.m.

Watanabe arraignment

Terrance K. Watanabe, 52, left, of Omaha, Neb., leaves the Regional Justice Center following his arraignment in Las Vegas on Wednesday, accompanied by sister Pam Watanabe-Gerdes and attorney David Chesnoff. Launch slideshow »

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Nebraska philanthropist Terrance K. Watanabe pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges of theft and passing bad checks in connection with $14.7 million in gambling debts.

Watanabe, 52, made the plea during an arraignment in justice court.

Earlier this week through his Las Vegas attorney, David Chesnoff, Watanabe accused Caesars Palace and the Rio, both Harrah's properties, of plying him with alcohol and, at Caesars Palace, prescription painkillers as his losses mounted.

Watanabe, whose wealth comes from the Omaha-based Oriental Trading Co., has said he was kept in a constant state of intoxication by resort employees in the late months of 2007, which is a violation of state gaming regulations.

Nevada gaming regulations prohibit casinos from allowing "visibly intoxicated" players to continue to gamble.

Watanabe's court apperance lasted only minutes and his attorney did most of the talking. Watanabe spoke only to say he understood the charges against him, to spell his name and to enter his plea.

He left the Regional Justice Center flanked by his attorneys and a woman identified as his sister. Watanabe faces the possibility of probation or up to 16 years in prison if convicted.

In 2007, he lost $112 million at Harrah's casinos, including $94.1 million at Caesars Palace and $12.2 million at the Rio, Chesnoff has said. With the exception of the $14.7 million in dispute, all of that money was paid back to the casinos through wire transfers, Chesnoff said.

A Watanabe attorney declined to comment on the case Wednesday, referring to a statement he released days ago about the case.

Trial is scheduled for Nov. 16.

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