Will Shohei Ohtani Translator Scandal Impact the Future of California Sports Betting?

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: May 27, 2024 08:00 PM
Will Shohei Ohtani Translator Scandal Impact the Future of California Sports Betting?

Could the recent illegal gambling scandal involving the former interpreter to Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani, Ippei Mizuhara, wind up impacting the timeline for California sports betting to get legalized? 

This question is, for now, unanswerable. And it’s important to note that no one factor or scandal will determine the fate of sports betting in California on its own. 

Still, this situation plays exactly into the concerns many opponents to sports gambling vocalize when speaking about the subject. And with many expecting the Golden State to revisit sports betting legalization in 2025, this is among the developments that may stand out the most. 

Former Shohei Ohtani Interpreter Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges

The impact this scandal might have on the future of online sports betting in California is once again front and center. Earlier this month, Ippei Mizuhara submitted a guilty plea to federal charges. Legal Sports Report’s Mike Mazzeo has the full details:

Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter last week agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of stealing $17 million from the Major League Baseball star’s bank account, the Justice Department announced. Ippei Mizuhara faces up to 33 years in federal prison for the crimes. Mizuhara stole the money to pay off sports betting debts to an illegal bookmaking operation. He has agreed to plead guilty to one count of bank fraud (maximum of 30 years) and one count of filing a false tax return (max of three years).”

It has been confirmed that Ohtani was neither directly involved nor had any knowledge of Mizuhara’s gambling debts. And yet, because he’s a global sports icon, this is an issue that will be associated with him. (But again, it must not be attributed to him.)

In many ways, this scandal confirmed the worst fears held by certain policymakers when it comes to California sports betting. And this says nothing of it reiterating concerns held by sports leagues themselves. The idea that pro athletes can be tied to sports betting scandals is jarring. This instance is unique. Ohtani didn’t do anything or help influence the outcome of games or stat lines. But it's an adjacent issue. And at the very least, it’s a reminder of the worst-case scenario in which athletes actually do wager on themselves or their own team and compromise the integrity of competition.

The California Illegal Bookmaking Ring Used by Ohtani’s Ex-Translator is Under the Microscope Yet Again

Speaking of the worst-case scenario: A former Los Angeles Angels outfielder and current Atlanta Braves minor leaguer, David Fletcher, is currently under investigation by Major League Baseball after reports surfaced that he used the same bookie, Matthew Bowyer, as Mizuhara.

According to ESPN, Fletcher is not accused of betting on MLB games. However, his friend and former Kansas City Royals minor-leaguer, Colby Schultz, is accused of gambling on MLB games—including Angels tilts in which Fletcher was playing.

As monumental as the allegations are, they’re not exactly new. The NFL has issued plenty of suspensions related to sports betting violations. Most recently, and more extremely, the NBA banned former Toronto Raptors player Jontay Porter for betting and influencing his own prop lines. 

Indeed, each of these issues looms as relatively minor in the grand scheme of scandals that warp the outcomes of official games. But they are also a stone’s throw from being gargantuan problems.

What happens if (when?) a star player who has more of a singular influence on a game or postseason series outcome gets wrapped up in something similar? More broadly speaking, is it only a matter of time before a sports betting scandal ends up influencing the fate of a game? Or even a championship?

People are Paying Close Attention to These California Sports Betting Scandals

To be fair, it isn’t just California sports betting scandals that are piquing attention and concern. It’s the potential for scandal in general. But because Ohtani’s name is linked to one, and because top online sportsbooks in the United States are just itching to enter the California market, the Golden State is now at the center of this discussion.

And to that end, Dave Zirin wrote an op ed for the Los Angeles Times in which he used the Mizuhara gambling scandal to argue against the legalization of California sports betting:

“The fact that the bets were done with an illegal bookie is not an argument for legalization; in fact, quite the opposite. The Ohtani scandal should compel us to consider how many more stories like this could happen if sports gambling were legal in California and what a pall it could cast across sport in the state. Legality means easier access and easier access means more temptation, perhaps especially for highly competitive athletes with excessive down time, big paychecks and phone addictions already in place.”

Zirin’s stance is, for the record, speculative. But it is rooted in reason. And if he’s using the Ohtani scandal to discredit the prospect of California online sports betting, then you better believe elected decision-makers will invariably do the same.

Will that ultimately derail the next round of sports betting efforts in California? It’s tough to say. Many experts still think California sports betting will be legalized within the next two years. But if more scandals involving pro athletes or people close to them continue to surface, there’s no guarantee the state responds with sports betting legalization.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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