EXCLUSIVE: Foundation Media Partners has secured exclusive book, film and documentary rights to the life story of Terry Watanabe, the notorious gambling addict who made history as Las Vegas’ biggest ever whale, losing over $200 million in a single year after gambling an unprecedented $825 million.
While it’s as yet unclear what exactly will come from the deal, Foundation Media plans to adapt the cautionary tale into a feature film, documentary and/or book, while collaborating with Watanabe himself. It will be the first time the legendary whale speaks out on his experience since settling a lawsuit with an undisclosed casino group in 2010, with no official adaptation of his story having previously been announced.
More from Deadline
Watanabe’s downfall is perhaps the most epic and pitiful in Las Vegas gambling history. The Omaha native with a keen eye for marketing and selecting merchandise built his massive fortune after acquiring his father’s humble trade business, Oriental Trading Co., and growing it into an empire raking in $300 million in revenue. He sold the company and retired as CEO in 2000 to focus on philanthropy, notably giving millions to AIDs research and services, according to his foundation’s records.
With considerable downtime, Watanabe started gambling at Harrah’s casino in Iowa in 2003, beginning to embark on regular trips to Vegas two years later, where his consumption and prodigality intensified. It was there that he made a name for himself as both a generous patron and a high stakes gambler. Many employees recount he would stay at the tables for up to 24 hours, sometimes losing as much as $5 million per day. His indulgences were so excessive that one casino created a special customer tier for him called “Chairman” and provided lavish perks to keep him happy, including Rolling Stones tickets and exorbitant gift store credit. Watanabe was also rumored to have increased that casino’s bottom line by 6%.
The multi-millionaire business mogul eventually fell into immense debt. He reportedly gambled away over $200 million in 2007, leading to prolonged lawsuits with casino corporations. Throughout the legal battles, Watanabe claims the casinos and their guileful hosts enabled his substance abuse and contributed further to his mental health issues, creating a highly exploitative environment to prey on his wealth. But it’s a long and convoluted tale that Foundation Media Partners is eager to tell, and one that Terry Watanabe seems ready to set straight.
“I’ve heard a lot about Terry over the years and became kind of obsessed with learning more about him,” said Foundation Media Partners’ Founder and CEO, Patrick Hughes. “I’ve always imagined telling his story with a filmmaker that could really capture the kind of claustrophobic surreal world he was trapped in. All the money in the world and a heart of gold, and then he got caught on a crazy hamster wheel of opulence and self-destruction that’s as tragic as it is fascinating.
“Our goal is to tell his story unfiltered and in various formats that will allow audiences to really emerge into this world that literally only ONE PERSON has ever experienced at this level and somehow came out the other side to tell the tale,” Hughes added. “I am honored and excited that Terry has agreed to work with us on this.”
Founded by Hughes in 2016, Foundation Media is a specialty partnership entity that aims to support outstanding creatives, including emerging and established companies and individuals in the arts, entertainment, digital media, corporate, music, tech, retail and fashion industries. Its network extends across the entire entertainment ecosystem, incorporating strategy, licensing, sync/licensing, labels, distribution, marketing and branding. Some of its notable partnerships include Build-A-Bear Workshop, DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys (based on the bestselling novel by Aaron Blabey), as well as a host of musical artists with their partner Blueprint Group such as G Eazy, The Roots, Latto and Jill Scott.
Best of Deadline