Shohei Ohtani and the Consequences of Sports Gambling Ubiquity

Sports Gambling
Shohei Ohtani and the Consequences of Sports Gambling Ubiquity

Let’s just start with this gif from Desus and Mero to establish how we will talk about a story involving Los Angeles Dodgers superduperduperstar Shohei Ohtani, millions of dollars disappearing into the vacuum of space, the Feds, his interpreter, and a lot of stuff that we don’t know.


Here’s a summation of what we do know so far, per ESPN:

The Los Angeles Dodgers interpreter for Shohei Ohtani was fired Wednesday afternoon after questions surrounding at least $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from Ohtani’s bank account to a bookmaking operation set off a series of events.

Ippei Mizuhara, the longtime friend and interpreter for Ohtani, incurred the gambling debts to a Southern California bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation, multiple sources told ESPN. How he came to lose his job started with reporters asking questions about the wire transfers.

Initially, a spokesman for Ohtani told ESPN the slugger had transferred the funds to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debt. The spokesman presented Mizuhara to ESPN for a 90-minute interview Tuesday night, during which Mizuhara laid out his account in great detail. However, as ESPN prepared to publish the story Wednesday, the spokesman disavowed Mizuhara’s account and said Ohtani’s lawyers would issue a statement.”

Ohtani’s lawyers said that they discovered he was “the victim of a massive theft, and we are turning the matter over to the authorities.” ESPN’s reporters have repeatedly followed up with authorities and Ohtani has declined ESPN’s requests to answer questions about what authorities they have contacted, and as of Tuesday night, “received no confirmation from any of the likely local, state or federal agencies that could investigate allegations of theft that they received a report from Ohtani’s camp.”

After speculation began to rise around exactly how much Ohtani knew about the “at least $4.5 million” in wire transfers sent from his bank account to a gambling operation under active federal surveillance, he called a press conference where he denied the core element of this speculative furor: asserting that he “never bet on baseball or any other sports.”

The inspiration for the internet’s speculation are people like Michael Jordan, perhaps sports’ most celebrated gambling figure, or Tiger Woods and his well-documented exploits in Las Vegas. Pete Rose would be the less glamorous and much more sinister portrayal of this accusation, and it is the implication that Ohtani is fighting in that press conference as he tries to reclaim a narrative he so far refuses to tell reporters.

Ohtani’s potential gambling is compared to Jordan and Woods’s confirmed gambling in large part because that’s just how damn good he is. He is Michael Jordan. He is Tiger Woods. Honestly, he’s better than both of them. He will throw one of baseball’s hardest pitches by you then turn around and hit it farther and faster over the wall than anybody else. He’s incredible. He’s unequivocally the greatest individual athlete I’ve ever seen in sports. If he is doing what the internet baselessly accused him of doing, it’s probably because he’s bored with dominating mere mortals and is looking for sports’ greatest challenge: getting 60% of your bets right (I will throw harder than Ohtani does before anyone reading this hits that figure on a consistent basis).

The other aspect fueling this speculation is his contract, a $10-year $700-million-dollar deal with $680 million deferred until after it expires in 2033. The man has Michael Jordan-levels of gambling money to spend with most of it not coming for quite some time, paving the way for him to use the wonders of fiat to stay flexible in the meantime. Jordan and Woods’ gambling dollar figures only exist in lore, but “at least $4.5 million” does feel like it is in range of our perception of Tiger and MJ’s degeneracy. That figure alone has led people to baselessly speculate that this may be more than what it looks like, so many that it forced Ohtani to tell everyone to cut the shit.

Again, to repeat on all of this, including Ohtani’s allegations towards his interpreter.


This case is currently under federal investigation, which means that speculation is the best we’re going to get for now and is also a terrible idea. The story Ohtani is telling is entirely believable and it would not be the first or last time something like this ever happened, plus I have no idea nor expertise nor interest in ascertaining whether it is true or not.

What I do know and care about is that this is the exact situation these leagues want, whether they like it or not, in their unholy alliance with the gamblification of sports.

What the Hell Do You Think All Those Ads Are Selling?

As sports gambling has moved from taboo to commonplace to everywhere in this late-stage capitalist hellscape, it has actively degraded the games in its attempt to turn them into the Dudebro Stock Exchange. Who cares who wins when you just need Tee Higgins to catch an eight-yard pass to hit a same game parlay (it’s me, I’m the Dudebro who needs this). If MLB thinks this Ohtani thing is a unique PR problem to wriggle out of, they’re wrong. It’s an outgrowth of one of their major business partners now, and it is becoming an existential threat to their product. Wading through this dark, shady, gambling forest is the norm across all sports now that they have made their deal with the devil.

I love sports. I love gambling. I hate that I cannot watch a single sports game now without knowing the spread or being reminded to bet some stupid prop bet that they’re only pushing on you because no one else wants to take that action. Ohtani and his interpreter’s alleged gambling problems are simply just the next step in this evolution of sports as a gambling-based enterprise at its core. There are plenty of examples across every major sports league where their proclamation of “Everyone bet everything all the time!” was forced to add a “no not like that” addendum as soon as the players touched it. Hell, just the other night, Toronto’s Jontay Porter became the subject of an NBA investigation into irregularities on prop betting. Weird stuff surrounding gambling and players is a common occurrence now, and I’m not sure why the leagues would ever be surprised about this or think that is something that can be managed away. The trend of this stuff happening is up, not down.

It’s always been tongue-in-cheek that one of the NFL’s great advantages was point spreads and how well its scoring system lends itself to accessible gambling, and I would genuinely enjoy the season less if not for my gambling pools (you think I actually give a shit about Panthers vs. Bears? No, I do not—I want to win money damnit). But there comes a point where gambling becomes more outwardly important to the leagues than the games and we’re way past that.

ESPN, ostensibly the last big major sports journalism outlet, is now the owner of a betting operation. It’s all over. The battle has been lost. Betting is now the complement product to every sport commoditized by the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL (MLS too I guess, but I’d be lying if I told you I knew what they advertised on those broadcasts).

So why wouldn’t this universal push to integrate gambling into every inch of our sports experience flow through to its players? The leagues are obviously terrified of this outcome because again, labor controls the product—not capital—and players throwing games to serve their own interests is perhaps the simplest expression of this universal maxim. If anyone ever starts thinking that these games are anything other than a genuine attempt to win, the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL will go the way of boxing.

I’ll spend all of my allegedly’s on whatever the hell this Ohtani situation is, but as far as the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL are concerned, they own this shit. They’ve normalized it and integrated it into their product to such a staggering degree that they’re not allowed to be shocked when it shows up everywhere, especially in the places that worry them the most.

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