Ohtani’s Interpreter: Sports Betting Scandal Illustrates Terrible Nature of Gambling Addiction

Many people were likely shocked by the allegations of illegal gambling against a close ally of the world’s best baseball player, a person who has walked together with that player. It is hoped that the truth will be clarified and a situation restored in which Shohei Ohtani can fully enjoy playing baseball.

Ippei Mizuhara served as an interpreter for Ohtani, who belongs to Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, but was fired by the team after allegations surfaced that he was involved in illegal gambling. Mizuhara is also suspected of stealing large sums of money from Ohtani.

The allegations came to light after the Dodgers’ season opener in South Korea. It is extremely regrettable that this scandal has thrown cold water on fans who were excited to see how well Ohtani would perform this season after joining the Dodgers.

The facts are unclear in many respects. According to U.S. media, at least $4.5 million (about ¥680 million) was transferred from Ohtani’s bank account to a bookmaker.

At first, Mizuhara said he had asked Ohtani to cover his gambling debts. However, the next day he allegedly reversed his statement, saying Ohtani had known nothing about it.

For that reason, suspicious eyes also were cast on Ohtani, who gave his account to the press on March 26, Japan Time.

Ohtani denied any involvement in gambling, saying that Mizuhara stole money from Ohtani’s bank account and lied to the people around him. Ohtani did not take questions from the press.

The MLB and other entities have already launched an investigation into the case. If Ohtani’s statements are true, there remains the problem of why Mizuhara could gain unauthorized access to Ohtani’s bank account. It is necessary to wait for more progress in the investigation to determine the truth.

Mizuhara was a colleague of Ohtani’s from his days with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. He not only served as an interpreter for Ohtani, but also played catch with him and drove him to and from stadiums.

Mizuhara has reportedly confessed that he is a gambling addict. In the United States, sports betting is legal in many states and betting can be done easily, even via smartphone. The risk of addiction is therefore said to be increasing.

Two years ago in Japan, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry compiled a draft proposal to lift the ban on sports betting. The aim reportedly was to promote the sports industry, but the current scandal involving Ohtani has illustrated both how dangerous the discussion of easily allowing sports betting can be, and the frightening nature of gambling addiction.

A plan is underway in Osaka Prefecture to open an integrated resort with a casino at its core. Won’t this newly create people like Mizuhara who will be saddled with huge debts and have their lives ruined? These doubts are only growing stronger.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2024)