Inside the ‘very predatory’ world of illegal betting that lured Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter

Inside the ‘very predatory’ world of illegal betting that lured Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter

Fred VanVleet

In the story Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara initially told to ESPN, the two men logged into Ohtani’s bank account together on eight or nine occasions in 2023 and wired increments of $500,000 to Mathew Bowyer, an alleged illegal bookmaker under federal investigation. In the story Ohtani told the public days after Mizuhara recanted his initial claims and was fired by the Dodgers, the interpreter stole the money to pay off his gambling debts.

Both versions of the story generated a question that stumped the general public: Why would a bookie extend a line of credit of at least $4.5 million to someone who said he was drawing an $85,000 salary as an interpreter with the Los Angeles Angels? The scenario was easier to understand for those acquainted with the inner workings of gambling markets.

“Credit is the lifeblood of illegal bookmakers,” said Chris Grove, a gambling industry entrepreneur and investor. “So we shouldn’t be surprised when an illegal bookmaker utilizes credit to attract a high-value customer, especially when that customer has shown they are good for it.”

The scandal has captivated the industry of baseball and the larger sporting world at a time when gambling has become intertwined with sports consumption. Ohtani, the 29-year-old two-time American League MVP who recently signed a 10-year, $700 million contract, said he never bet on baseball or any other sports, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He described himself as a victim duped by a friend. “Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies,” he said through his new interpreter, Will Ireton. Major League Baseball has opened an investigation. The IRS’s Los Angeles field office has partnered with the Department for Homeland Security to investigate Mizuhara and Bowyer.

The story also opened a portal for the public into the lesser-understood world of illegal bookmaking. Since the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively banned sports betting in most states, the majority of the country has gained access to legally wagering on games. Yet a 2022 report by the American Gaming Association estimated that Americans wagered a total of $63.8 billion with illegal bookies and unregulated offshore sites in 2021. So why do these bookies and offshore operations maintain such a thriving business?

The allure of credit — the ability to bet money you don’t actually have — is the primary reason, as gleaned from interviews with gambling attorneys, entrepreneurs, researchers and professional gamblers. These experts framed most of their commentary on the broader world of illegal gambli
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