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Major League Baseball’s Latest Gambling Trend


In December of 2023, Shohei Ohtani signed a record-breaking contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers worth $700 million over 10 years. Fast forward to March of 2024, where Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers are getting ready to play the first regular season game of 2024 against the Padres in South Korea. In the eighth inning, Ohtani recorded his second hit of the game, an RBI single into left-center field to put the Dodgers up 5-2. Afterwards, cameras caught Ohtani sharing a laugh with his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.

That same day, the Dodgers fired Mizuhara and Ohtani’s lawyers accused Mizuhara of a “massive theft,” in which he supposedly stole $17 million from Ohtani’s bank account. Opening Day had not even happened yet, and it seemed like Major League Baseball’s worst nightmare had come true.

On March 22nd, 2024, MLB launched an investigation into the gambling scandal regarding Ohtani and Mizuhara. Since the scandal first became public, much speculation has occurred surrounding the truthfulness of Mizuhara’s story. The original claim was that Ohtani (knowingly) paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debt as a favor, but every version of the story since has portrayed Ohtani as a victim. Mizuhara stated (after his initial claim) that Ohtani actually did not know about the transfers being made from his bank account, and that Mizuhara did actually steal from him. The process in which Mizuhara placed bets was through an illegal bookmaker located in Southern California (Matthew Bowyer), but the bets Mizuhara placed, he claims, were not on baseball.

Bowyer’s name was not only associated with Ohtani and Mizuhara’s gambling scandal, but with other Major League Baseball players and their own scandals as well. On May 20th, MLB announced that they were investigating former Los Angeles Angel and former teammate [Ed. Note—and very close friend] of Ohtani, David Fletcher, for his own gambling scandal. Fletcher allegedly placed illegal bets through Bowyer on games not involving baseball, which is still prohibited by MLB because he is betting through an illegal bookmaker, rather than an official sportsbook. The MLB allows its players to place bets on any sport besides baseball, as long as they are doing it through a legal sportsbook. In Mizuhara or Fletcher’s case, they are subject to punishment because they have (reportedly) placed bets through an illegal bookmaker such as Bowyer, in California, where sports betting is illegal.

But players are lucky to even have this opportunity to bet legally, as even in 2018 sports betting was completely illegal across the country. Since then, huge online betting services such as DraftKings and FanDuel have been endorsed and advertised by professional leagues such as the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB. Before 2018, players, fans, and even commissioners of these leagues spoke out against sports betting and were opposed to the idea of leaving it up to individual states to decide the legality of sports betting. Many feared that if it were to become legal, match-fixing would become a widespread issue and the integrity of the game would be affected. This has already happened in baseball history with the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, in which members of the 1919 White Sox were accused of losing the World Series on purpose in order to receive a payout from another gambler. However, in recent history, baseball has not been the sport most associated with suspicious games or match-fixing.

According to Sportradar (a company that specializes in analyzing, tracking, and flagging suspicious matches), baseball was not even in the top three of sports with the most flagged matches. Since 2018, almost all of the major gambling scandals that break out to the public have been from NFL and NBA players, most recently with Tennessee Titans receiver Calvin Ridley in March of 2022 and former Raptor Jontay Porter (who is now banned from the NBA for life) just this past March.

So moving forward, Major League Baseball will most likely attempt to forget about the scandal. On paper and in the news, a gambling addiction tied to the face of the league does not look good at all for the league itself. And with players such as Ohtani getting involved in gambling, fans and league officials can only hope that this situation will influence other players to stay out of trouble and play by the rules. But with professional sports leagues endorsing gambling themselves and failing to recognize how addictive gambling can be, this unfortunately does not look like it will be the case.

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