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A Breakdown of Shohei Ohtani Gambling Scandal Why It Could Soon Be A Good Time To Buy His Cards

shohei ohtani sports betting gambling scandal

There has been so much happening with Shohei Ohtani lately that following it all can be challenging. For those of us who collect cards, the first thought when someone as important to the hobby as Shohei is in the headlines is, “What will this do to his card values?”

Sure, that is a bit of a sad commentary on our priorities when lives and reputations are at stake. But we chose to dedicate our lives to little pieces of cardboard and their value, and we are doubling down on that choice.

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What is going on with Shohei Ohtani and his card values?

We have some facts and a whole lot of rumors surrounding the current situation. But here is what we know for sure. Millions of dollars were transferred from Shohei Ohtani’s account to a known gambling ring operating in Orange County.

The ring is under federal investigation, which is how the story initially came to light. Once reporters started asking questions about these events, the Dodgers fired Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. Ippei was a long-time friend and employee of the superstar.

Mizuhara detailed his role in this and claimed that the money was used to cover his out-of-control gambling habits. However, the story has taken another turn since. For unknown reasons, the Ohtani camp is now disavowing Mizuhara’s account.

The situation has raised doubts about the integrity of the story. Many observers are skeptical of the claim that Ohtani was only peripherally involved. We will go into more detail below.

Collectors’ concerns are clear. Despite claims to the contrary, they are concerned that when the smoke clears, Ohtani will be implicated in a severe batting scandal. That could theoretically lead to a lengthy suspension and put his eventual indictment into doubt in Cooperstown, which is generally seen as a slam dunk.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this story, it is important to note that there is no clear evidence that anyone has committed a crime. Neither Mizuhara nor Ohtani are currently being accused of anything. But there is cause for concern.

A lot of money has gone from the superstar’s accounts into a known gambling ring. Even worse, the Ohtani camp’s story has proven inconsistent.

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The greatness of Shohei Ohtani

But first, a few words on why this matters. There have been countless breathless overviews of what makes Shohei such a phenomenon. But forgive me if I cannot resist the temptation to join the chorus. Of course, his ability to pitch and hit at an elite level makes him unique. So, let’s break down each of these capabilities.

His pitching is fabulous. The player enjoys a 38-19 record with an ERA of 3.01 and 608 strikeouts. He is widely considered one of the best pitchers in the game. Indeed, Bleacher Report ranks him #21, and Bill James at the #14th spot. Therefore, he would be the no. 1 pitcher for most teams.

But if the pitching from the Japanese phenom has been outstanding, the hitting has been ridiculous. The best statistic for understanding hitting contribution is the OPS+ advanced stat. It compares players to the median league player. Last season, Shohei had an OPS+ of 184, not far from double the average, which is always held at 100.

His active peers, who are similar in number, are Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt. Retired players with similar OPS+ are Mike Piazza and Harmon Killebrew. So, Shohei would be a definite Hall of Famer even if he didn’t pitch at all.

With the pitching contribution, he will be in the Cooperstown inner circle and be in the conversation for GOAT.

With this kind of contribution, it is no surprise that Ohtani has won two MVP awards and led the league in WAR every year, aside from when Aaron Judge had that historical season in 2022.

No one had seen anything like it since Babe Ruth’s time, and he only did it for a short while. Shohei seemed determined to spend his entire career fantastic everyone with his ability to do both.

How important is Shohei Ohtani to the hobby?

Since his first Bowman cards dropped in 2018, there has been strong interest in them. Then, he put in performances in the MLB that have made writers wear out words like “historic” and “unprecedented.”

Ohtani managed to pitch at an almost ace-like level while hitting with the quality of a Hall of Famer.

He has been the most-graded baseball player for about two years now. However, in 2023, he passed Michael Jordan as the most-graded athlete in any sport.

Every month, he tops the charts, well ahead of anyone else. Indeed, he has been the only athlete able to challenge Pikachu and Charizard as the most graded real or fictional figures in the entire hobby. And they are all Japanese and have a winning smile!

The large number of Shohei cards that have been graded over the last year means that he is the most influential athlete in the hobby right now. It is not even close. For all the talk about the coming of the Victor Wembanyama era, he has yet to show anywhere near the popularity of Ohtani.

That is because he has crossed the threshold from potential superstar to the best player in the game and one of the best who ever lived. There is little doubt that Bowman’s 1st cards will be considered among the most iconic rookie cards in the hobby in the long term.

Therefore, anything that happens to Shohei and his cards’ collector appeal is massive news for the hobby.

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The squeaky clean image of Shohei Ohtani

Not long ago, Ohtani was making headlines for all the right reasons. On December 9, 2023, it was announced that the superstar had signed a historic (everything with this guy is historic) 10-year contract for $700 million.

That was quickly the most significant contract in baseball history, topping Mike Trout’s 2019 12-year, $426.5 million extension.

From the slugger/pitcher’s viewpoint, it was a very responsible contract. He defrayed the vast amount of the money due in the contract for the period following the contract (and possibly his retirement).

While the contract is active, Ohtani will make $2 million a year—a modest amount for such a massive superstar. But then, in the years following, Shohei will receive 68 million dollars annually.

All this played into the superstar’s image as a quiet and responsible young man. He was also known for obeying his mother, who tried to ensure the phenom lived a modest lifestyle.

For example, even after signing his first big contract in Japan, the protective mother made sure he didn’t live on more than an allowance of $1,000 per month. Because of this image, the new allegations and scandals are particularly surprising, if not shocking.

What happened?

Okay, so there are facts and rumors regarding Shohei’s current situation. This is a fast-moving situation, but we will do our best to unpack it and separate fact, rumor, and fiction.

The first hint that something was wrong came when the Los Angeles Times reported that a federal investigation had been opened into Matthew Boyer of Orange County, California. The article provocatively hinted that “Ohtani’s name had surfaced” in the inquiry.

We later discovered that in October 2023, Bowyer’s home had been raided by the Feds. They took a lot of evidence, including many computers, cell phones, storage devices, and banking documents.

That is when the authorities obtained evidence linking Ohtani to Bowyer and his network. The investigation ascertained the connection to the baseball star through banking documents in January 2024.   

On March 21, 2024, the Dodgers announced that they had fired Shohei’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. This individual is well-known to hardcore baseball fans and Ohtani followers.

He has appeared next to the superstar in countless interviews and has been the bridge between the superstar and his American fans. The relationship between the two is considered uncommonly close. They go almost everywhere together.

Shohei’s former teammate Jared Walsh said of the two, “They’ve transcended friendship into brotherhood, truly. It sounds dumb, but it’s true.”

Mizuhara claims to have a serious betting problem

According to his story, Mizuhara had been placing bets on DraftKings for quite a while when he met Mathew Bowyer in San Diego during a poker game. The translator claims he believed that placing bets with the bookie was legal and, therefore, started placing increasingly large bets.  

But now, the interpreter is accused of using the superstar ballplayer’s money to cover millions of dollars in alleged illegal bets.

Mizuhara said, “Obviously, he [Ohtani] wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me to ensure I never do this again. He decided to pay it off for me. I want everyone to know Shohei had zero involvement in betting. I want people to know I did not know this was illegal. I learned my lesson the hard way. I will never do sports betting ever again.”

According to this version of events, Ohtani added the word “loan” to the description to indicate that Mizuhara was expected to pay the sum back.

When asked why Shohei didn’t simply give him the money instead of paying the debts himself, Mizuhara said, “He didn’t want me to gamble it away.”

Tisha Thompson of ESPN revealed, “The wire transfer payments that were sent from Ohtani’s account were sent to an associate of Bowyer’s.” Indeed, ESPN has seen bank data and has multiple sources confirming that.  

External sources confirm the story

According to ESPN, they talked to people within the Bowyer gambling operation. They confirmed that Mizuhara placed the bets and not Ohtani. They also said that the bets placed were focused on soccer and other sports.

However, they did not involve baseball. Mizuhara explained, “I never bet on baseball. That’s 100 percent. I knew that rule. … We have a meeting about that in spring training.”

The information provided by these sources sounds somewhat convenient for the Ohtani camp. When asked about Shohei’s name appearing on the bank statement, according to ESPN, “A source said Bowyer was aware of the name on the wire transfers but chose not to ask any questions as long as payments came in; however, the source said Bowyer allowed people to believe Ohtani was a client to boost business.”

Indeed, the head of the gambling ring denied ever talking to or meeting the Dodger star.

It is important to note that no one has been accused of committing a crime in this situation. Not Boyer, not the interpreter, and certainly not Shohei himself.

Mizuhara has said that Ohtani does not gamble and that the money was used to cover his own gambling losses. Tisha Thompson has confirmed to NPR that her sources say, “ Ohtani does not gamble and that the funds were being used to cover Mizuhara’s gambling losses.”

Meanwhile, from a legal perspective, Boyer, the main suspect here, has denied knowing or speaking to Ohtani. All these are good signs for the player and may limit his involvement and exposure if they prove true. That is certainly what those heavily invested in his cards would like to hear.

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The story changes

If the account from the Ohtani camp had ended with the position that the money was transferred to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts, there would be some basis for the hope that the issues for the Dodgers slugger would end there. But that is now how things went down.

On Wednesday, March 20th, Shohei’s law firm, Berk Brettler LLP, released the following statement: “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.”

Needless to say, this statement completely contradicts the detailed account previously provided by Ippei Mizuhara. The lawyers would not comment on who they believed had conducted the theft. The only way that story would even remotely fit Mizuhara’s story was if he was the thief. But the Ohtani camp may also be saying this was an external job.

The allegations of theft raise some questions as well. The transfers were relatively orderly and regular, not suggestive of some hack or external attack. On the other hand, they were indeed large enough that it would be hard to believe they were executed without Ohtani’s knowledge, especially since he has a reputation for being very careful with his money.

After the statement, Mizuhara was asked about it and whether Ohtani and his lawyers were accusing him of the theft. The interpreter answered that he was told not to comment on the issue. However, it is unclear if that order came from the Ohtani camp, federal investigators, or the interpreter’s own legal representation. Either way, this matter was becoming more contentious.

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Why Ohtani changing his story is a huge deal

This development raises the most apparent red flags in the entire story. Investigators always look for inconsistencies in the stories of witnesses and defendants. Here, a whopper came right off the bat (if you will pardon the metaphor).

What concerns me is that any good lawyer will be very aware of the dangers of changing your story this visibly and this publicly. Therefore, if Berk Brettler LLP advised Shohei to do it in this manner, they must have an excellent reason. It most likely means that the original narrative has very material issues.

There is a more straightforward explanation, but it would involve serious incompetence by Ohtani’s lawyers. The initial story makes Shohei seem like a nice guy. But it also exposes him to liability as an accessory to a federal crime by paying for an illegal gambling operation.

They may have advised him to change his story to theft to protect the star. But if so, it begs the question of why they didn’t recommend this to begin with. Or possibly Shohei tried to get out front of the story independently and made a misstep?

The bottom line is that we don’t know exactly what this change means. However, it guarantees that the story will develop since this is an entirely new story. The lawyers will have to explain the new narrative more fully. It will likely be challenged by the media and possibly by federal authorities as well.

The MLB opens an investigation

On Friday, March 22nd, commissioner Rob Manfred announced that it was investigating allegations against Mizuhara. According to the statement, “Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhari from the news media. Our Department of Investigations (DOI) began their formal investigation process earlier today.”

Considering the high profile of these allegations, there was no chance an MLB investigation could be avoided. However, they announced it quickly to show they were taking the matter seriously and were on top of things.

Why is all of this a problem?

There are two major ways in which Shohei could end up in serious trouble if he is caught up in a betting scandal.

First, sports betting is illegal in California. The state is somewhat behind (or ahead, depending on your perspective) and is among only ten states where it remains unlawful. You are allowed to use a sportsbook, which is a system where you pay upfront.

However, the traditional method of taking a bet on credit from a bookie remains illegal. Of course, this scandal involves bets on credit; otherwise, a debt of $4.5 million could not have been incurred.

Second, the MLB has harsh rules regarding betting on baseball. The best known, of course, is the prohibition against betting on your games. That clause refers to what the White Sox did when they threw the 1919 World Series. There is no suspicion (at least so far) that anyone involved in this scandal was betting on Los Angeles Angels games.

The policy in MLB rule 21 clause 1 is very clear: “Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year.“

As you can see, this refers to betting on baseball games. Right now, it appears the bets were placed on other sports. Therefore, rule 21 would not come into effect.

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What is happening now?

Shohei has already gotten into trouble for changing his story, so he avoids the press wisely. After the game on March 21, 2024, his locker was guarded by a PR team, and he refused to comment on the developing story.

The Ohtani camp appears ready to throw Mizuhara under the bus and accuse him of stealing the money. However, they may face an uphill battle in trying to do so. It seems strange that the interpreter would sit down for lengthy interviews and disclose this many details if he had stolen, or was even suspected of stealing, 4.5 million dollars from Ohtani.

He would set himself up for failure by giving all those details about something he knows is untrue. It would be suicidal entrapment. In addition, wire transfers are pretty tricky to forge and fake. They usually require more than one layer of security. It seems unlikely that Mizuhara would have been able to execute those without Ohtani’s approval.

The truth is, the original story makes a lot more sense than what the Ohtani’s lawyers are saying now. However, it exposes Ohtani to suspension and perhaps even prosecution. However, the latter possibility seems unlikely.

Why Shohei may not be off the hook

But that does not mean that Shohei is off the hook with the MLB.

According to clause 3: “Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee who places bets with illegal bookmakers, 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, Club, 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.” 

Since betting is unlawful in California, the bets in question would violate this rule. That means the commissioner would suspend him for a year if Shohei placed the bet, not his translator.

The rumors

Obviously, the main concern anyone watching this situation (and that is invested in Shohei’s cards) would have is that Ohtani incurred gambling debts.

It would not be too surprising if Ippei, who is seen as a very loyal employee, were covering for the Dodgers superstar and acting as the fall guy. Indeed, Mizuhara said something every fall guy in history has said: “Obviously, this is all my fault, everything I’ve done. I’m ready to face all the consequences.”

While nothing directly links Shohei to these issues, Mizuhara’s story has not been remarkably consistent. At first, he said that he owed a massive amount of money for gambling debts, a total of $4.5 million.

Then he went to Shoehei and asked for help. The star was disapproving but agreed to pay. It has been confirmed that two $500,000 in Ohtani’s name were sent in September and October. The transfers were designated as a “loan.”

ESPN has viewed the relevant bank statements. According to Mizuhara, more of these payments, totaling $4.5 million in wire transfers, moved from Ohtani’s bank account to Boyer’s bookmaking operation.  

A problematic pivot

The pivot towards blaming an unknown thief (or possibly Mizuhara) does not inspire confidence that Ohtani was not involved. There is also some skepticism that the interpreter would incur debts on this level.

According to reports, Mizuhara earns between $300,000 and $500,000 annually. Working up debts on that level with this amount of income would indicate a complete loss of control.

Indeed, that is what Mizuhara says happened. He explained, “I’m terrible [at gambling]. Never going to do it again. Never won any money. I mean, I dug myself a hole, and it kept on getting bigger, which meant I had to bet bigger to get out of it and just kept on losing. It’s like a snowball effect.”

Still, the sum looks pretty extreme for a man with more modest (though still significant) means. It would be around what Mizuhara makes in 11 years. Meanwhile, working up to that level of debt for an individual with Shohei’s income level seems more reasonable.

What other comparable cases can tell us about the Shohei Ohtani scandal and card values

Numerous betting scandals have occurred in MLB history. The two highest-profile were the Pete Rose case and the “Black Sox” scandal. However, there are also more modern ones. In 2022, another Dodgers player, Yasiel Puig, confessed to lying to Federal officials about his betting activity.

On the face of it, the Puig scandal has the most similarities to this case. The Cuban player withdrew $200,000 from his bank and made out two cashiers’ checks for what turned out to be an illegal gambling operation. However, he never admitted to any illegal gambling. Instead, he admitted to lying to investigators.

Of course, Yasiel Puig was never one of the leading lights in the hobby. He had some excellent seasons in the MLB, especially his first two, where he earned some MVP votes. But he was out of baseball following several disappointing seasons by the time this scandal broke.

More comparable cases

The more comparable cases are those of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. Jackson was promised $20,000 for throwing the 1919 World Series, though he eventually received only $5,000.

Though cleared by a jury of his peers, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned him and everyone else involved for life, despite Jackson playing well in the series and many doubt he tried to lose.

Meanwhile, Pete Rose was suspended in 1989 when allegations emerged that he had placed several bets on Reds games while active as a player and manager. Rose agreed to a lifetime ban in exchange for not determining whether he had made bets on baseball.  

Card value of betting scandal-related players

Sports card collectors are not a particularly judgmental bunch. In many cases, they will continue to spend large amounts of money collecting cards of legends with a problematic past. And as far as infractions go, betting seems relatively harmless in comparison to doping or (far worse) domestic violence allegations.

That is why the legendary players charged with betting violations have not seen much decline in their card values. Pete Rose is a great example. In his way, he was one of the greatest hitters ever seen. His 4,256 career hits remain an all-time high. Rose would have undoubtedly been a Hall of Famer, but the betting scandal got in the way.

Cards still fetch great prices

How has the hobby reacted? It has been very forgiving to Pete. A PSA 10 of the 1963 Rookie Stars Pedro Gonzalez/Ken McMullen/Pete Rose/Al Weis #537 sold for an incredible $731,000. Let’s ignore the fact that it may be trimmed for now.

Meanwhile, a PSA 9 has sold for $150,000.00. So, it is hard to make the case that “Charlie Hustle” has seen a decline in card value over the scandal. We all know he belongs in Cooperstown and value Pete’s cards accordingly.

The story for “Shoeless” by Joe Jackson is similar. He has remained a legend in the sport, and that stature was significantly strengthened by the immortal Field of Dreams movie, which is rewatched by every generation of fans.

I would go even further and say that his suspension and involvement in the “Black Sox” scandal (and the sense that he didn’t really throw the games) has dramatically increased the legend. You might argue that Jackson would have been forgotten by now if not for those events and been another vaguely familiar old-timer like Tris Speaker or someone like that.

Some Jackson card sales are evidence of his continued interest in his story and legacy. On August 21, 2016, Jackson’s 1909 American Caramel rookie card went for $813,493. The 34th most valuable sports card ever sold. Meanwhile, a 1910 Old Mill card sold for a tidy $686,763.

Does anyone doubt that Shohei is more in the category of Jackson and Rose than that of Yasiel Puig? I certainly don’t. Ohtani is going to be part of baseball lore for all eternity.

Even if his career were to end today, the romance surrounding his unparalleled achievements would be significant, and his cards would always sell for a lot. A ban may even increase his appeal, as it did for Jackson.

What is happening to the value of Shohei Ohtani cards now?

I am writing this story just a few days after the news broke. So, there isn’t much time yet to ascertain whether there will be a severe decline in card prices. I took a look at the prices of the 2018 Bowman Chrome #1 card when graded PSA 10. The sales are consistent, around $750 before and after the news broke. Other cards tell the same story.

However, that does not mean much. The hobby has little time to process this story and its significance. I guess that the price will begin to dip in a few days. As the investigation intensifies and more allegations are thrown around, it may go lower. If a suspension is rumored or occurs, the loss of value may be significant.

My advice? If the cards lose over 20% of value, buy them up. I believe Shohei and his reputation will survive any likely sanction for a possible gambling infraction. You could make a lot of money buying up his cards cheaply.

Final word on the Shohei Ohtani gambling scandal and card values

We don’t know where this story is going. As of now, there are no allegations that Ohtani or his interpreter did anything criminal. But while the initial story that the translator relayed to the press made sense and was backed up by evidence, the changing of the story by Ohtani and his camp bodes very badly for the case.

It appears that his camp cannot get their story straight. That would imply they know the superstar is exposed here and needs to guard himself.

Of course, neither Rose nor Jackson was convicted of any crimes. Far more likely is some sort of suspension, especially if Ohtani’s story does not hold up well. The swift announcement from the MLB that they are beginning an investigation is a sign that they are concerned there is meat to these allegations.

The organization has been willing to suspend players even when no legal wrongdoing was found. Sometimes in advance of legal decisions. The case of Trevor Bauer is an excellent example of that. The MLB gave a two-year suspension, even though the law did not prosecute the matter.

The legend of Ohtani is already assured. No one has played two-way for so long in such an effective manner. Shohei is also particularly good-looking and charismatic and is a god in Japan.

Right now, there is no certainty that this scandal will tarnish Ohtani and even less that there will eventually be a ban.

Check for prices on Shohei Ohtani rookie cards on eBay

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.
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