The Tragic Tale of Akio Kashiwagi, or How Baccarat Can End Very Badly

We love the true heroes of the casino, those with the guts to go all in, potentially losing everything. These are the men and women who don’t know the meaning of a safe life, a moderate existence, or a comfortable casino experience. Rather, they prefer to live life far out on the edge, where precious few choose to dwell. In some ways, they’re fortunate, as they can find a unique perspective on the world, even if they end up paying a very high price for it.

And so begins the tragic tale of Akio Kashiwagi.

Kashiwagi was a wealthy Asian real estate mogul who loved wagering high on the Las Vegas strip.

casino lossHe regularly played his favorite game, baccarat, for outrageous amounts of money, sometimes $100,000 to $200,000 a hand on the game, often for hours at a time. The only reason he stopped at the $200,000 mark was because the table would admit no higher wagers. Who knows how high Kashiwagi would have gone were he given the opportunity.

According to Dennis Gomes, president of the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, [Kashiwagi] would play two days straight without sleeping, go to bed, get up and gamble some more. He was a friendly guy, but he was a tough negotiator when it came to paying his debt. It was frustrating to deal with him. Out of an $8 million debt, you’d probably collect maybe $5 million.”

One day, Kashiwagi accepted a challenge to a $12 million freeze-out at an Atlantic City casino. With $200,000-maximum bets, the basis of the wager was for Kashiwagi to play until he’d either lost the full $12 million or doubled his money. For some six days, Kashiwagi feverishly played up to 12 hours a day with little sleep in between.

He left with $10 million less than he started. In with $12 million, out with $2 million.

Can we hear a collective ouch? Wait. You haven’t heard the worst of it.

On January 3, 1992, Kashiwagi was stabbed about 150 times with a samurai sword. His body was discovered at his home near Mount Fuji. It is believed that Kashiwagi was murdered by the Yakuza (Japanese mobsters) over a business deal that had gone sour. When Kashiwagi died, he left casino debts of several million dollars.

Kashiwagi lived by the sword and ended up, ironically, dying by the sword. You can’t expect to wager in the world of high rollers, sharky businessmen and the cut-throat Yakuza and not find yourself coming up short at least once. The world is quick to cheer at your successes, but slow to forgive your mishaps. We’re sorry for Kashiwagi’s fate. His story even garnered a mention in the New York Times when he died in 1992.

But we appreciate that Kashiwagi lived a life less ordinary. Had he won his $12-million challenge, he’d certainly have been a wealthier man. But just like the casinos, life can throw its collective disadvantages at all of us if we’re not careful about how we lay our cards and make our choices.