Something Doesn’t Add Up About Ohtani’s $4.5M Betting Scandal

Cash from Ohtani's bank account went to an illegal gambling operation

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Uncertainty surrounds MLB star Shohei Ohtani.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty

On the eve of the start of a basketball tournament that is expected to cause U.S. bettors to wager more than $2.72 billion (about twice as much as the amount of bets placed on the Super Bowl) using legalized sportsbooks, news about an illegal gambling scandal involving the biggest name in Major League Baseball slipped out and flew largely under the radar.

Before we get to what stinks to high heaven about the accusations of “massive theft” against MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara in a case tied to an alleged $4.5 million illegal sports gambling debt, here’s a refresher on what happened, but largely ignored, leading up to the beginning of March Madness with the tip-off of the NCAA Tournament around noon on Thursday.

  • Speaking with ESPN on Tuesday, Ohtani’s closest companion since he arrived in MLB in 2018, said his friend had transferred $4.5 million to a bookmaking operation to cover his gambling debts. Though his story has changed, Mizuhara first said “Ohtani had sat with him and the two transferred the money in $500,000 increments in several different settings,” according to ESPN. Mizuhara said he never bet on baseball but he did wager on international soccer, the NBA, NFL and college football.
  • In a subsequent interview with ESPN, Mizuhara said he had been lying and that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling activities, debts or efforts to repay what he owed to a Southern California sportsbook allegedly run by Mathew Bowyer. (Sports gambling is still illegal in the Golden State.)
  • On Wednesday following reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN about his alleged ties to the illegal bookmaker, 39-year-old Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers and Ohtani’s reps contacted law enforcement and asked them to investigate a “massive theft” of money from the player. Now, the story is that Mizuhara stole Ohtani’s money without his knowledge, although it has never been disputed that a bank account owned by the star player wired millions of dollars to an illegal gambling operation last year.
  • Despite that link, the apparent connection between Bowyer and Ohtani is being blamed entirely on Mizuhara. “Mr. Bowyer never had any contact with Shohei Ohtani, in-person, on the phone, in any way,” Diane Bass, Bowyer’s attorney, told the Associated Press. “The only person he had contact with was Ippei. I have been in touch with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, trying to resolve the case.”

It’s 5,482 miles from Los Angeles to Denmark, but something is rotten in LA.

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Unless Ohtani, who surprisingly announced he married a “Japanese woman” later revealed to be ex-professional basketball player Mamiko Tanaka (possibly because now she can’t testify against him?), is the most trusting or least observant person on earth, there’s no way $4.5 million could have been moved out of his bank account in nine separate transfers without his knowledge. Ever heard of 2-step verification?

Adding to the idea that there’s no way Ohtani didn’t have some knowledge or involvement about what was going on with Mizuhara is the amount of money involved. The longtime interpreter told ESPN he has been paid between $300,000 and $500,000 annually. That’s a hefty salary, but it’s not nearly high enough for a bookie to allow him to get $4.5 million into debt without assurances of payment. Where did those assurances come from?

Finally, there’s the timing of all this. Is it a coincidence all of this occurred while the majority of sports fans were filling out brackets and watching the start of the NCAA tournament? It’s also fairly convenient the Dodgers were in Korea playing the Padres when this news broke, making it much more difficult for the media to speak to members of the Dodgers, Mizuhara or Ohtani, who now (conveniently) does not have an interpreter.

With the IRS investigating and other cleats sure to drop, the real story will get clearer. Until that happens, expect plenty of rumors and conjecture. Here’s some from ProFootballTalk: “My own pasta-and-meatballs gut reaction to the story is that Ohtani himself might have been doing the gambling, and that the interpreter is taking the fall.”

Seems more likely than the (revised) story that’s currently out there.

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