Multiple Flags On The Play In MLB, NBA Betting Scandals

Erik Gibbs

The perceived integrity of the NBA was shaken earlier this year when former Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter was banned for life for betting-related violations. Now, new details have emerged suggesting Porter may have attempt to manipulate his playing time to settle significant betting debts, with an alleged accomplice facing federal charges.

According to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office (UAO) for the Eastern District of New York, Porter accumulated substantial gambling debts to a group of co-conspirators, including Long Phi “Bruce” Pham, 38, of Brooklyn. The complaint alleges that Pham and his associates pressured Porter into manipulating his performance in certain games to ensure the success of bets placed on his individual statistics, known as prop bets.

Federal prosecutors claim Porter and Pham communicated through the encrypted messaging app Telegram, where they discussed specific prop bets and how Porter could influence the outcomes. This allegedly included prematurely exiting games under false pretenses, such as feigning an injury.

The complaint details an incident in February 2024 where Porter supposedly participated in a $10,000 parlay bet centered on his underperformance. According to the filing, Porter exited a game early, citing an eye issue, shortly before the prop bet deadline. This suspicious activity triggered an investigation by the NBA’s security department, ultimately leading to Porter’s lifetime ban.

Man on the run

The investigation further implicated Pham, who was apprehended at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Monday attempting to board a one-way flight to Australia. He faces a charge of conspiring to defraud a sports betting company, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Authorities allege Pham and his co-conspirators netted over $1 million in profits from the scheme.  It remains unclear whether additional charges will be brought against Porter or any other individuals involved.

“We take all allegations of gambling-related misconduct very seriously,” said an NBA spokesperson in a statement. “We are cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation and will take appropriate action based on the results.”

Pham is reportedly a pro poker player, according to the Daily News, which said he ranks in the “top 1%” of all players. However, a search on Hendon Mob, the largest database of poker players in the world, for him doesn’t support the claim. When he was arrested, Pham was carrying  $12,000 in cash; two cashier’s checks for $80,000, betting slips and multiple cell phones, according to the UAO complaint.

MLB looks to close chapter on Ohtani

The NBA isn’t the only league that has been embroiled in betting-related scandals, with the saga surrounding LA Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani and his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, finally coming to an end.

The Associated Press reported that Mizuhara has admitted in court to stealing nearly $17 million from the player in a California federal court. Mizuhara pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of filing a false tax return during a change-of-plea hearing. These charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 33 years in prison, with sentencing scheduled for October 25.

The case stemmed from accusations that Mizuhara, who served as Ohtani’s interpreter throughout his tenure with the Los Angeles Angels and during his first spring training with the Dodgers, embezzled funds from Ohtani’s bank account to fuel a gambling addiction. According to court documents, Mizuhara allegedly impersonated Ohtani over the phone on at least one occasion to facilitate a transfer.

Following Mizuhara’s guilty plea, MLB officially closed its investigation into the matter, completely exonerating Ohtani. In a statement, the league cited the thoroughness of the federal investigation and the information gathered by the league itself. Since the criminal proceedings were resolved without contest, MLB considers Ohtani a victim of fraud.

Ohtani released a statement expressing relief that the investigation had concluded. The incident had cast a shadow over his early career, raising concerns about potential involvement or knowledge of the embezzlement. However, with the investigation closed and Mizuhara admitting guilt, Ohtani can now move forward without this cloud of suspicion.

Maybe.

Mark Kreidler, a journalist who has written for ESPN, the New York Times and others, thinks there’s more to the story. He penned a piece suggesting that that while MLB is eager to move on as quickly as possible, there’s more to the story. An earlier story at Robn Sports explores similar issues in great detail.

More MLB strikes

As Casino Reports reported yesterday, San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano has been permanently ejected from the game of baseball in the U.S. Like Porter, his fall from grace was due to an exuberant penchant for betting, although all of it occurred while he was on the DL with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2023 season.

Marcano received the heftiest punishment, but he wasn’t the only player to fall. MLB also investigated other players, four of whom have received a year-long unpaid vacation from the league:

  • Oakland Athletics right-handed pitcher Michael Kelly
  • San Diego Padres minor league pitcher Jay Groome
  • Philadelphia Phillies minor league infielder Jose Rodriguez
  • Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Andrew Saalfrank

MLB added that none of the players bet on games in which they were playing. In addition, the league’s investigation determined that no games they bet on had been compromised or manipulated. The wagers they had placed were all relatively small – $100 or less – which factored into the light sentences the four received.