Shohei Ohtani Interpreter’s Bombshell Gambling Scandal: An Explainer

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On March 20, lawyers for Shohei Ohtani accused the Dodgers star’s longtime interpreter and close friend of stealing millions of dollars from the athlete to cover bets with an alleged illegal bookmaker under federal investigation. 

It’s a remarkable story with many layers. There’s the alleged betrayal by Ippei Mizuhara, who up until his abrupt firing Wednesday, was interpreting for Ohtani that same day in Seoul, where the Dodgers began their season with a special pair of games against the San Diego Padres. There’s the involvement of an alleged illegal bookie based in sunny Orange County, just south of Dodgers’ territory. And then there were the two contradicting explanations that emerged from Ohtani’s lawyers and then Mizuhara himself, which have only led to more questions than answers.

As the conspiracy theories swirl, there’s been mostly silence from Major League Baseball, which has simply said its “looking into” the matter and “gathering information,” an MLB spokesperson told The Athletic. No doubt, MLB’s advertising ties with legal sports betting companies like DraftKings paired with having its top international player associated with baseball’s worst sin has become a public relations nightmare.

To sort out the shadowy affair, Rolling Stone breaks down the timeline of events, plus what we know so far —  and why that makes everything murkier.

What the Los Angeles Times reported

The Los Angeles Times broke the news Wednesday, March 20, that Mizuhara was fired amid allegations of illegal gambling and “massive theft” from the baseball star. Ohtani’s lawyers accused the interpreter of theft after the publication reportedly learned that the ballplayer’s name surfaced during an investigation of Orange County resident Matthew Bowyer. In response to the paper’s inquiries, Ohtani’s reps looked into the matter.

Mizuhara reportedly placed bets with Bowyer. Sources said the alleged bookie would brag to Las Vegas associates that he had a connection with Ohtani for “marketing purposes.” (Sports betting remains illegal in California.)

According to The Times, the probe into Bowyer involves the same prosecution team investigating a multimillion-dollar illegal sports gambling scheme centered on a bookmaking operation led by former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix of Newport Beach.

What ESPN reported (Here’s where it gets weird)

Shortly after the LA Times broke their story, ESPN published a report with a distinctly different bent. In an interview Tueday, March 19, Mizuhara claimed that he had asked Ohtani in 2023 to pay off his gambling debt — with sources saying the amount reached $4.5 million. The interpreter said he thought bets placed via Bowyer were legal.

“Obviously, he [Ohtani] wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again,” Mizuhara said. “He decided to pay it off for me.” In the interview, Mizuhara also admitted that he placed bets on NBA, NFL, college football and international soccer games, but never baseball. “I never bet on baseball. That’s 100 percent. I knew that rule,” he told ESPN.

However, by Wednesday, Mizuhara walked back his interview and said the athlete was not aware of his gambling debts and did not transfer money to Bowyer’s associate. “Obviously, this is all my fault, everything I’ve done,” Mizuhara said Wednesday. “I’m ready to face all the consequences.”

In a statement to The Athletic on Wednesday evening, the Dodgers confirmed that Mizuhara had been fired.

Some History on the Black Sox, plus the MLB’s full circle moment

Decades before Pete Rose was permanently banned from the sport for allegedly placing bets involving his own team, in 1919, baseball’s original sin was committed when the Chicago White Sox allegedly threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. This marked a tectonic shift in the game, not because it was the first time someone had fixed an outcome, but because it was the first time the public found out about it. 

“No one trusted the sport anymore,” says investigative reporter and sports gambling expert Scott Eden when discussing the aftermath of the Black Sox scandal. As a result, Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed the first commissioner of the league and proceeded to clean house. 

“There was a period of this sanctimonious righteousness: ‘We can never have gambling in sport, it’s a total anathema to everything here,” adds Eden, who also points out that “now it’s come around this time, it’s kind of broken down again.”

While MLB gambling policy still prohibits any ballplayer from placing bets on the game or making illegal bets on other sports, baseball’s attitude toward gambling has changed since it became legal across most of the U.S. The league has incrementally increased sportsbook ad slots allowed during broadcasts and in 2018, Commissioner Rob Manfred titled MGM Resorts the first “Official Gaming Partner of Major League Baseball.” Last year, MLB made a show of announcing its multi-year partnership with FanDuel that made it “a co-exclusive Official Sports Betting Partner of MLB.”

What Would (Probably) Be MLB’s Worst Nightmare

A potential worst case scenario for the league? With MLB’s superstar adjacent to illegal gambling allegations and Mizuhara’s status as Ohtani’s closest companion while on team facilities, it brings into question if the interpreter used insider knowledge beyond the dugout.

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“Here’s why Major League Baseball would be freaking out: It doesn’t matter if Ohtani’s betting or not, that translator has locker room information that big time betters would want — professional hedge fund-type betters would want to know about,” says Eden, explaining, “‘Who’s injured, who’s not? Who’s healthy, who’s not?’ That’s truly actionable betting information.”

While the end of this story remains unclear, it currently stands as a cautionary tale for athletes and the access given to those closest to them. Whether the allegations against Mizuhara prove to be true or lead to more nefarious revelations within the league, it could force MLB to reevaluate some of its biggest partnerships — and reckon with how it both profits from and polices the realm of sports gambling.



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