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Nebraska philanthropist posts bail in Las Vegas debt case

A prominent Nebraska philanthropist facing felony theft and bad check charges for $14.75 million in debts with two Las Vegas casinos surrendered himself to authorities and posted $1.5 million bail today.

Terrance "Terry" Watanabe did not enter a plea or speak during a brief court appearance except to clarify the pronunciation of his last name.

After Watanabe’s attorney David Chesnoff handed over a bail check to the court, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Bill Jansen ordered his secretary to expedite Watanabe’s arrest warrant so the 52-year-old former Omaha businessman could quickly enter and exit jail without spending the night.

A status check on the case was set for April 21, but Watanabe is not required to appear.

Authorities say Watanabe accepted 38 casino markers between October and December 2007 from Caesars Palace and the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino. The criminal complaint against him did not specify which games Watanabe gambled on.

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

Chesnoff has said Watanabe will "absolutely" plead not guilty when the time comes. He could face probation or up to 16 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Watanabe is well-known in Omaha, Neb., as a donor for political campaigns and nonprofits. His father founded Oriental Trading Co. in 1932, which grew from a gift shop to a large import wholesaler and direct marketer of toys, novelties and party supplies. Watanabe ran the company for 23 years before selling in 2000.

Nevada law treats casino markers — written promise notes to pay a debt, similar to an IOU — as checks.

Jurisdictions can recover 10 percent collection costs is criminal charges are filed, meaning Watanabe will be billed $1,475,050 by Clark County for fees and surcharges if he is convicted.


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