MLB Star Ohtani Denies Betting, NBA Player Under Investigation

March 26, 2024
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Potential gambling scandals bubbled to the surface in multiple U.S. sports on Monday, with one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) top stars denying betting on games, while an NBA player is reportedly under investigation by the league regarding suspicious activity on player proposition bets.
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Potential gambling scandals bubbled to the surface in multiple U.S. sports on Monday (March 25), with one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) top stars denying betting on games, while an NBA player is reportedly under investigation by the league regarding suspicious activity on player proposition bets.

MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani spoke Monday for the first time since an investigation was opened into bets placed with a California illegal bookmaker by his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.

According to an ESPN report, $4.5m was transferred from a bank account of the Los Angeles Dodgers star to bookmaker Mathew Bowyer. 

Initially, Mizuhara told ESPN in an interview that was set up by Ohtani’s public relations team that the payment was willingly made by Ohtani to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts, but reporters said that shortly before publishing the story, attorneys for Ohtani claimed that he had no knowledge of the payments and was the victim of “massive theft.”

Amidst a MLB investigation into Ohtani’s role in the situation, and an escalating federal criminal investigation into illegal bookmaking activity involving Bowyer and Mizuhara, Ohtani said Monday, through a new interpreter, that he was “saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this.”

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked someone to do it on my behalf, and I never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports,” Ohtani said. 

“Up until a couple days ago, I didn’t know this was happening,” he continued. “Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies.”

Ohtani did not take questions after giving the statement. The star is in the first year of a ten-year contract with the Dodgers that includes almost $700m in deferred compensation and is believed to be the highest-paid endorser in the sport due to his popularity in Japan.

Representatives of the legal sports-betting industry stressed it was important to distinguish between the expansion of lawful sports wagering and illicit bookmaking activities alleged to have been involved in the case of Ohtani's interpreter.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the pervasive illegal market persists and continues to prey on Americans,” said Cait DeBaun, vice president of strategic communications and responsibility for the American Gaming Association. “This only reinforces the need for federal action on illegal gambling operations that target vulnerable Americans, steal tax dollars from communities, and undermine the regulated marketplace.

“We commend Congress for recently calling on the Department of Justice to investigate and enforce the law.”

NBA Player Under Investigation

The Ohtani situation is not the only potential gambling scandal in major American sports, as ESPN reported Monday night that Toronto Raptors player Jontay Porter is under investigation by the National Basketball Association (NBA) amid concerns over questionable betting on player props involving Porter.

The article cited two different games, one on January 26 and another on March 20, where wagers on unders involving Porter were among the heaviest bet on DraftKings and where Porter left both games after playing less than five minutes, resulting in the unders being a winning bet.

In the January 26 game, Porter played four minutes and scored zero points while collecting three rebounds and one assist, all of which were below his over/under totals on DraftKings, before leaving with what the Raptors called a re-aggravation of an eye injury. 

The following day, a report released to the media by DraftKings highlighted two Porter player props, including under 0.5 three-pointers and under 3.5 rebounds being the first and third highest “moneymaker” props.

Then, in the March 20 game, Porter played only three minutes before leaving with what the team said was an illness.

The next day, Porter was listed as the highest “moneymaker” player on another DraftKings daily report.

Porter was signed by the Raptors on a two-way contract in December, which allows the team to shuttle players more easily between the active roster and an organization’s G-League developmental team. The salary for two-way players is $415,000 per year.

By comparison, the minimum salary for a veteran NBA player like Porter would be more than $1.8m. Before this season, Porter, 24, had not played in the NBA since 2021, having spent the last two seasons in the developmental G-League.

Porter has been out for the last two Raptors games for “personal reasons”, according to team injury reports.

“Unlike offshores, legal sportsbooks have robust compliance programs to actively monitor for anomalies and work with sports leagues, regulators and law enforcement to investigate concerning trends,” DeBaun said.

“Competition integrity is central to the success of the sports-betting ecosystem and is a top priority for the legal, regulated industry.”

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