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Could Shohei Ohtani face punishment for interpreter gambling scandal? What legal expert, MLB rules say

Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani kicked off the 2024 season — and his 10-year, $700 million contract — by going 2 for 5 against the Padres in the first MLB regular-season game of the year, a 5-2 L.A. victory over the Padres in Seoul, South Korea. But before he and the team could even prepare for Game 2, a scandal had boiled up around the two-way player. Ohtani’s lawyers have accused his now-former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, of stealing millions of dollars from him to cover illegal gambling debts

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” a spokesperson for Berk Brettler law firm told CBS Sports.

Mizuhara has changed his story already, first telling ESPN that Ohtani had willingly given him the money, then saying a day later that Ohtani had been unaware of the payments. Mizuhara reportedly addressed the clubhouse about his gambling after the season opener in Seoul on Wednesday, just hours before he was fired by the Dodgers and Ohtani’s lawyers made the statement about “massive theft.” Mizuhara also told ESPN that he did not bet on baseball.

“The Dodgers are aware of media reports and are gathering information,” a team spokesperson said in a statement late Wednesday. “The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated. The team has no further comment at this time.”

Nobody has alleged that Ohtani knew about Mizuhara making the bets before they happened or that he was gambling himself, but his apparent involvement, whether voluntary or not, has raised questions. CBS Sports spoke to a legal expert to try to answer some.

Could Ohtani face legal trouble?

The illegal bookmaker Mizuhara was allegedly working with, Mathew Bowyer of Orange County, is under federal investigation and had his house raided by investigators last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Bowyer’s lawyer, who told CBS Sports that her client “had no contact with Mr. Ohtani,” told the Times that her client has not yet been charged with any crimes.

The same federal investigators looking into Bowyer have also reportedly been working on a wide-reaching gambling operation in the area, one that has even roped in former Dodgers player Yasiel Puig, though it’s unclear if the two are formally related. 

The Department of Justice declined to comment when reached by CBS Sports.

Which version of Mizuhara’s story is true (or if neither is) could determine Ohtani’s culpability, I. Nelson Rose, an expert on gambling law and co-founder of the California Council on Problem Gambling, told CBS Sports.

“There are so many potential crimes here, state and federal, and the big dangers with violating the anti-gambling laws is they’re all written to go after organized crime, which means all the organized crime statutes can kick in, like RICO and money laundering,” said Rose, who has served as a government consultant to entities including the Arizona Department of Gaming, the Delaware State Lottery, the Illinois Gaming Board, the Michigan State Lottery and the New Mexico Gaming Control Board.

If Ohtani did knowingly wire the money to pay Mizuhara’s debt, either to Mizuhara or directly to the bookie, he could be considered complicit in helping an illegal gambler collect, according to Rose.

“In other words, he’s helping the bookie collect the debt. It gets extraordinarily bad if he knew any of this was going on and agreed to it,” Rose said.

All of this, again, would only be an option if Ohtani voluntarily handed over the money, whether to Mizuhara or Bowyer, according to Rose. If the money was stolen, as Ohtani’s lawyers alleged, he could not be considered an accomplice.

“What I can’t figure out is why the lawyers didn’t tell everyone to just shut up,” Rose told CBS Sports.

What do the MLB rules say?

Gambling on baseball (and softball) is strictly banned for MLB employees, but they are allowed to place legal bets on other sports.

Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee who places bets with illegal book makers, or agents for illegal book makers, shall be subject to such penalty as the Commissioner deems appropriate in light of the facts and circumstances of the conduct. Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee who operates or works for an illegal bookmaking business shall be subject to a minimum of a one-year suspension by the Commissioner. For purposes of this provision, an illegal bookmaker is an individual who accepts, places or handles wagers on sporting events from members of the public as part of a gaming operation that is unlawful in the jurisdiction in which the bets are accepted. 

Mizuhara claimed to ESPN that he never gambled on baseball and instead bet on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football. A Dodgers spokesperson told the outlet that Mizuhara met with the team after Wednesday’s game and told players he had a gambling addiction.

As for Ohtani, he has not been accused of placing any bets himself. “Ohtani is not currently facing discipline,” an MLB official told The Athletic. MLB is monitoring the situation and plans to gather facts, CBS Sports has learned. The league was not notified about the investigation before the news broke publicly.

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