Betrayal In Baseball: Fraud, Gambling Debts, And Shohei Ohtani’s Missing Millions

Erik Gibbs

A baseball bat and baseball on top a pile of money

Shohei Ohtani, the two-time American League MVP known for his dual-threat pitching and hitting prowess, is, according to the latest charges and reports, an innocent victim in the gambling scandal that has distracted from his first weeks playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Department of Justice announced Thursday that Ohtani’s longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, faces federal charges of bank fraud after allegedly transferring over $16 million from Ohtani’s account to an illegal sportsbook.

Mizuhara, a friend of Ohtani’s since their time playing in Japan, had served as the baseball star’s interpreter since his arrival in MLB in 2018. He was considered a trusted confidant, often acting as a bridge between Ohtani and the American media and fans.

News of the alleged embezzlement first surfaced last month when reporters investigating unusual activity in Ohtani’s bank account reached out to the Dodgers. Initially, Ohtani’s representatives claimed the funds were transferred to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts, portraying the interpreter as the victim of a personal struggle.

However, as the investigation deepened, a far more sinister picture emerged. Federal authorities allege that Mizuhara, fueled by a “voracious appetite for illegal sports betting,” engaged in a calculated scheme to exploit his access to Ohtani’s finances.

As Mizuhara’s gambling losses mounted, prosecutors allege that in 2021 he diverted Ohtani’s bank account contact details to his own phone number and an anonymous email he controlled. Then, from November 2021 to January 2024, he transferred at least $16 million out of Ohtani’s account.

According to reports, Mizuhara allegedly made multiple transfers to a Southern California bookmaking operation currently under investigation. These transfers, prosecutors claim, were made without Ohtani’s knowledge or consent, constituting a clear case of bank fraud.

He allegedly returned $142 million on $183 million wagered, according to a report by ESPN, citing authorities. Overall, he lost a little more than $40 million.

Sports betting under fire once again

The news has sent shockwaves through the baseball world. Initial reports said Ohtani, known for his quiet demeanor and focus on the game, may have been involved. Those rumors were later quieted, but the incident highlights the vulnerability of athletes, particularly those who rely on trusted confidants to navigate the complexities of life in a foreign country.

The scandal also casts a shadow on the world of illegal sports betting. While legal sports betting is becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S., illegal bookmakers still operate a significant underground industry, particularly in states like California, which has not yet legalized sports wagering.

These operations often lack the regulations and protections offered by legal sportsbooks, leading to greater potential for addictive behaviors, significant financial losses, and even threats of violence.

recent report commissioned by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFG) and prepared by technical intelligence platform Yield Sec highlighted the prevalence of illegal betting in the U.S., despite the increase in legal alternatives. It determined that, in 2023, the illegal online gambling sector (online gambling and sports betting) achieved $40.92 billion in gross gaming revenue (GGR). The legal sector, on the other hand, had GGR of $16.88 billion.

The black market is alive and well in America. Legalizing iGambling was never going to adequately weaken the illegals. But the presence of the black market has served as a useful foil — the legal gambling sector’s main rationalization for expansion.

CFG Founder Derek Webb

The CFG report also found that 89% of the total online gambling marketplace (casino and sports) in 2023 was controlled by illegal betting operators, while legal operators only controlled 11%.

Mizuhara faces lengthy sentence

MLB released a statement acknowledging the charges against Mizuhara. It also emphasized that Ohtani is considered a victim in the alleged fraud and won’t face any disciplinary actions. The MLB Players Association is likely to review its financial literacy programs for athletes in the wake of this incident.

Mizuhara faces a “statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison” if found guilty, according to the DOJ announcement. His appearance before a judge to respond to the charges is still not on the calendar.