Shohei Ohtani Betting Scandal – What Really Happened?

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Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani cut ties with his interpreter last month after revelations that the interpreter was in too deep with gamblers, owing millions of dollars, and used his access to Ohtani’s money to rescue himself and pay off his debts.

Ohtani claimed to have no prior knowledge of the situation before the interpreter told the team about the problem. Ohtani then held a news conference with reporters to detail his level of knowledge.

He said he was hurt, surprised, and that he never bet on sports.

Whether Ohtani knew all the legal ramifications as well as details about Major League Baseball’s rules governing gambling activities is unclear.

Keep reading to find out how we think Ohtani’s current situation might have developed.

Shohei Ohtani
Image: Twitter/Los Angeles Magazine

Who is Shohei Ohtani?

It’s not hyperbole to say Major League Baseball (MLB) has not seen a player such as Shohei Ohtani since Babe Ruth, the New York Yankees star who transformed the sport in the 1920s.

Ohtani’s elite hitting and pitching skills landed him the American League Rookie of the Year in his first season in MLB with the Los Angeles Angels and later, AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2021 and 2023, among a number of MLB honors.

Following last season, Ohtani became a free agent and signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $700 million. The 10-year agreement is widely viewed as the largest in pro sports history.

The Japanese sensation was born July 5, 1994, in Oshu. He made it to the professional ranks in his home country in 2013 and played there through the 2017 season.

During this time, Ohtani met and befriended Ippei Mizuhara.

Ippei Mizuhara – Interpreter & Friend

Ippei Mizuhara, now 39, worked as a translator for the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Nippon Japanese Professional Baseball League and met Ohtani during Ohtani’s rookie season there in 2013.

The pair struck a friendship that carried over to Ohtani’s recruitment and a contract to join the Los Angeles Angels.

Ohtani and Mizuhara, it certainly seems, had more than just a professional relationship.

Although Shohei Ohtani is intensely private (he even kept his marriage status secret until fairly recently – he’s married now, apparently), he allowed Mizuhara to become a cherished friend.

Mizuhara and Ohtani were often seen at the ballpark playing catch and hanging out, talking and laughing.

Ippei Mizuhara and Shohei Ohtani
Image: Twitter/Dodgers Nation

At baseball’s All-Star Weekend festivities in 2021, Ohtani had Mizuhara serve as his catcher during the annual Home Run Derby.

The two were also together to celebrate Ohtani’s fellow Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s $325 million signing with the Dodgers late last December at Matsuhisa Beverly Hills, a trendy sushi spot in LA, according to Yamamoto’s Instagram.

There is little doubt that Ohtani and Mizuhara were close friends, and also that Ohtani might well have given Mizuhara full access to financial accounts and delegated some business duties to the interpreter.

Shohei Ohtani’s Gambling Scandal

Taking several reports and factual events into account, the Ohtani-Mizuhara situation might have unfolded in a way Ohtani and the Dodgers would not like to see the light of day.

Attempting to set the record straight, Ohtani’s law firm issued a statement that read, in part:

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities.”

The full story, we believe, is a bit more complicated.

Shohei Ohtani Meets and Befriends Ippei Mizuhara

The lifestyle of a professional athlete in Japan during the mid-2010s had become similar to that of the sports stars in the United States: glorious amounts of money paid to the elite players, who didn’t always make the best choices with their sudden wealth.

In 2013 we see Ohtani, by all accounts a likable and humble 18-year-old baseball player blessed with immense talent.

Now, he is joined by Ippei Mizuhara, a team interpreter who quickly latched on to Ohtani – it’s his job, after all, to acquaint himself with the players – and the two formed a bond.

Mizuhara graduated from high school in Southern California and had moved to Japan, bringing with him his knowledge of sports betting in the US.

Mizuhara, in his late 20s at the time, likely had been gambling on sports for some time and might not have been aware he was going to have a sports betting addiction soon.

To Ohtani, the world of sports betting might have appeared glamorous and Mizuhara might have earned further credibility because he could explain to Ohtani how it all worked.

And Mizuhara likely believed, as do most problem gamblers, that he could earn vast amounts of money because he knew sports so well.

Having no real interest in actually placing bets on sports, Ohtani might have lived those thrills vicariously through Mizuhara, keeping himself at arm’s length but allowing his interpreter his adult freedoms.

Another possible way for Ohtani to be seen turning a blind eye to Mizuhara’s activities: It has been reported that Ohtani hates all forms of gambling, creating a natural gulf between him and his interpreter.

Ohtani Immersed in Mizuhara’s Gambling Problem

Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara
Image: Twitter/astros_dud

There are those who suggest Shohei Ohtani gambled on baseball, as well as other sports, and will never be convinced that he didn’t.

There are those large wire transfers from his account, after all, targeting a repayment of gambling debts to a representative of Mathew Bowyer’s (illegal) Southern California bookmaking operation.

We don’t think so.

Here’s a more likely version of the events that culminated with Major League Baseball launching its investigation last month.

While MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was in Seoul for baseball’s March 22-23 opening games between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, the story broke wide open.

Communications between MLB and a spokesman for Ohtani initially revealed two wire transfers totaling $1 million. But later, that number became $4.5 million.

Further damaging is that the transfers occurred as early as last September, indicating Ohtani might have known about the situation (contrary to what he would later tell the media).

Ohtani initially was reported to have said he paid to settle the debts Mizuhara had run up, being quoted by his agent, Naz Balelo, via his spokesman as saying: “I sent several large payments. That’s the maximum amount I could send.”

Those payments, reported to be nine individual transfers of $500,000, were aimed at wiping out Mizuhara’s debt.

At about the same time, Mizuhara is talking to ESPN – without lawyers – in what became a 90-minute interview.

And he’s implicating Ohtani minute by minute.

By the time the stories about Mizuhara and his relationship with Bowyer come to light, Ohtani and his advisers realize there is a baseball-rules problem as well as a State of California problem.

In short, with regard to MLB, you can’t gamble on baseball (ask Pete Rose how that turns out) or be associated with known gamblers.

As for the state laws, you can’t pay off a friend’s gambling debts in California.

Now, it’s all happening quickly.

Ohtani was simply doing a favor for a friend, but needs a way to avoid becoming implicated.

His hastily assembled team decides to tell a new story. Mizuhara is also given a new accounting of the events.

He’s told to relay the most important item – one that could prevent Ohtani from receiving a permanent ban from the sport.

“I never bet on baseball,” Mizuhara told ESPN. “That’s 100 percent. I knew that rule.”

So the new stories have Ohtani blindsided by this information, claiming the money was taken from his account without his knowledge.

Ohtani could not legally admit he paid off his good friend’s gambling debts without risking prosecution under California laws.

Sorry, Ippei, you’re on your own.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara, who later might then have agreed to take the hit for the best possible outcome.

The Conflicting Stories

Mizuhara first said he bet only on other sports and that Ohtani agreed to pay off his debts with the understanding that Mizuhara would stop gambling.

But as the rumors gathered steam, Ohtani met with Mizuhara and asked for clarity.

“Hey, I never agreed to pay off anything,” Ohtani might have said, though he might have been well aware of everything Mizuhara was doing with Ohtani’s money.

“I assumed you were OK with me using your money to bail me out of trouble,” Mizuhara might have responded. “I will revise my explanation. I am sorry to have taken funds from your account.”

Mizuhara had indeed flipped and said he – alone – had handled the specifics of the wire transfers and that Ohtani had no idea.

Ohtani, too, flipped his account from admitting to making wire transfers to claiming he had no knowledge of Mizuhara’s troubles.

With new interpreter Will Ireton on March 25, Ohtani held a news conference.

“I’m very sad and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this,” he said.

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

He might well have arrived at this conclusion after intense consultation and advice from his team, and Mizuhara, it might have been decided, would be paid off – if possible, and much later – for his new explanation.

Shohei Ohtani’s Gambling Investigation

Shohei Ohtani
Image: Twitter/mattkgraves

As Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Shohei Ohtani gambling scandal continues this week, the focus narrows to the specifics governing MLB rules on gambling.

Simply put, if Ohtani is found to have bet on baseball, he’s done.

Short of that, if it is found that Ohtani paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debts, Ohtani’s penalty could take the form of any number of outcomes determined subjectively by Commissioner Manfred.

Conclusion

We think Mizuhara came to Ohtani asking for help with his gambling debts that had reached $4 million.

We think the quote to ESPN is the truth, with Mizuhara saying: “I explained my situation, and obviously he wasn’t happy about it, but he said he would help me.”

Our opinion is that Ohtani might not have realized fully that the debts were all from gambling. But he never questioned the legality of paying off the balance.

He likely made those payments, perhaps not aware that the recipient worked for an illegal bookmaking group.

In the ESPN interview, Mizuhara says Ohtani had no idea about the gambling details, and, via Bowyer’s attorney, Bowyer “never met, spoke with, or texted, or had contact in any way with Shohei Ohtani.”

It is likely that MLB will find fire to the smoking rumors that wire-transfer payments worth $4.5 million were sent from Ohtani’s account to somebody working on behalf of Bowyer.

Mizuhara, we think, agreed to take the fall – an honorable decision considering Mizuhara likely created the scandal in the first place. He now says he executed the wire transfers without Ohtani knowing about it.

Ohtani finally had enough of Mizuhara after all the steps he’s had to take to avoid full transparency — for the sake of avoiding stiff penalties.

Ohtani and Mizuhara likely have officially separated, with Ohtani dumping Mizuhara’s Instagram as evidence.

Ohtani and the Dodgers have their story in place and now hope for the best once the MLB investigation concludes.

Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert
Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert

Jay is a Sports Betting Writer at Techopedia.com, and has been working in US sports for more than 20 years. He's worked for Daily Racing Form, the Arizona Republic, The Athletic and FanDuel among other sports and gambling positions.