‘Saddened and Shocked’ Shohei Ohtani Addresses Gambling Scandal

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File
A spectator places a bet before the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Louisville, Ky.

Shohei Ohtani denied betting on sports and accused interpreter Ippei Muzuhara of stealing money from his accounts to pay gambling debts, ending days of deafening silence with his first public comments since his longtime friend was fired last week amid theft allegations. The Los Angeles Dodgers megastar was adamant in his denials that he bet on baseball and thorough in outlining a timeline in which he learned of his confidant’s gambling addiction only when the rest of the world did last week.

“I’m very saddened and shocked that someone who I have trusted has done this,” Ohtani told reporters through his new interpreter, Will Ireton, before the Dodgers’ exhibition game against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on Monday afternoon.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sport, and I’ve never asked somebody to do it on my behalf,” Ohtani said. “I never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports.”

His remarks, which lasted roughly 12 minutes and came in a small media room packed with reporters, clarified the story his representatives have been pushing behind the scenes since reports that Ohtani’s name had come up in connection with a bookmaker broke last week while the Dodgers were in South Korea.

“Until a couple days ago, I did not know this was happening,” Ohtani said.

The story Ohtani presented, a few sentences at a time to allow Ireton to interpret, was this: Reporters began contacting Ohtani’s representatives inquiring about why his name was coming up in those investigations. Mizuhara, Ohtani’s interpreter and main conduit to his baseball and representative teams, did not tell him about it. Mizuhara did, however, tell the Dodgers and Ohtani’s representatives that Ohtani was paying off his debt on behalf of a friend.

“Upon further questioning, it was revealed it was actually Ippei that was in debt and told my representatives I was paying off that debt. All of this has been a complete lie,” Ohtani said.

“Ippei obviously lied about, basically didn’t tell me about the media inquiry, so Ippei has been telling everybody around that he has been communicating with [me] on all of this account to my representatives, to the team, and that hasn’t been true.”

Ohtani said he first learned about the issue when the rest of his team did, after the Dodgers’ season-opening game in Seoul on March 21, when Mizuhara addressed the team at a meeting. Mizuhara was speaking English, so Ohtani was listening without an interpreter. He said that while he didn’t fully understand what was being said, he could tell something “was amiss.” Ohtani claimed it was not until later that night, when he and Mizuhara spoke one-on-one at the hotel, that he learned of the gambling problem for the first time.

“That’s when I found out he had a massive debt. And it was revealed to me in that meeting that Ippei admitted he was sending money using my account to the bookmaker,” Ohtani said. “At that moment, it was obviously an absurd thing that was happening, and I contacted my representatives at that point.”

Ohtani said he plans to cooperate fully with all investigations into Mizuhara. Exactly how many such investigations will occur is unclear, though the IRS confirmed last week it is opening an investigation into the situation, and MLB announced it will conduct its own investigation, too. MLB prohibits its players from betting on baseball and betting on any sport using illegal bookmakers, which is what Mizuhara is alleged to have done. Sports betting of any kind is illegal in California, where Ohtani has played his home games since 2018.

“I do want to make it clear that I have never bet on sports or willfully sent money to a bookmaker,” Ohtani reiterated as he closed his remarks. “To summarize how I’m feeling right now, I’m just beyond shocked. It’s really hard to verbalize how I am feeling at this point.”

The Dodgers open their stateside season in Los Angeles with a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.