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In the “very predatory” world of illegal betting which attracted the interpreter of Shohei Ohtani

In the story that Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, initially told to ESPN, the two men logged into Ohtani’s bank account together on eight or nine occasions in 2023 and transferred payments of $500,000 to Mathew Bowyer, an alleged illegal bookmaker under federal investigation. In the story Ohtani told the public days after Mizuhara recanted his initial claims and was fired by the Dodgers, the performer stole the money to pay his gambling debts.

Both versions of the story generated a question that baffled the general public: why would a bookmaker extend a line of credit of at least $4.5 million to someone who claimed to have a salary of $85,000? $ as a performer for the Los Angeles Angels? The scenario was easier to understand for those familiar with the inner workings of gambling markets.

“Credit is the lifeblood of illegal bookmakers,” said Chris Grove, an entrepreneur and investor in the gambling industry. “So we shouldn’t be surprised when an illegal bookmaker uses credit to attract a high-profile customer. value, especially when that customer has shown they are good at it.”

The scandal captivated the baseball industry and the sports world at large in an era where gambling and sports consumption have become intertwined. Ohtani, 29, a two-time American League MVP who recently signed a 10-year, $700 million contract, said he has never bet on baseball or any other sport, and that he had been accused of no wrongdoing.. He describes himself as a victim deceived by a friend. “Ippei stole money from my account and lied,” he said through his new interpreter, Will Ireton. Major League Baseball has launched an investigation. The IRS Los Angeles Field Office partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to investigate Mizuhara and Bowyer.

The story also opened a portal to the public into the less understood world of illegal book creation. Since the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law banning sports betting in most states, the majority of the country now has access to legal betting on games. Yet a 2022 report from the American Gaming Association estimates that Americans wagered a total of $63.8 billion with illegal bookmakers and unregulated offshore sites in 2021. So why do these bookmakers and offshore operations maintain- Is there such a thriving business?

The lure of credit – the ability to bet money you don’t actually have – is the main reason for this, as indicated in interviews with gambling lawyers, entrepreneurs, researchers and professional players. These experts focused most of their comments on the broader world of illegal gambling, rather than the saga of Ohtani and Mizuhara. But they also highlighted a variety of additional factors that drive punters to bookmakers, including the promise of privacy, the ability to avoid taxes on winnings, the removal of artificial betting limits and the enduring appeal of convenience .

“Ohtani’s situation reminds us that there is still a thriving illegal market, because there are still people in the illegal market willing to offer consumers things that the regulated market cannot or will not,” he said. Grove said.

The prosecution team tracking Bowyer is the same group that investigated another gambling ring run by former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix, the Los Angeles Times reported. One of dozens of people charged in the investigation is former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who has pleaded not guilty. The Nix investigation demonstrated the modernity of the practice. The concept of meeting a bookie in a dark alley or in a dingy saloon is outdated. Nix used a network of bookmakers who collected bets via a website and telephone line, according to the Washington Post.

Convenience adds to the appeal, especially when placing an illegal bet only requires clicking a few buttons rather than walking into a Las Vegas casino, one professional gambler said. “The last thing a guy wants to do is go on Circa Sportsbook every day and bet $20,000 on (games),” Ingram said. “Some people just text a person or go to the website.”

Bookmakers often maintain a personal relationship with their customers, forgiving certain bets, offering free play credits or complaining about “bad beats”, the unlucky outcomes that bind all players. “They offer customer service that sometimes can’t be offered through an app,” said Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA’s gaming studies program.

Fong, a psychiatrist, studies the causes and treatment options for gambling addicts. Some of those who bet through illegal bookmakers wish to remain anonymous. Others don’t want to pay taxes on a potential jackpot.

Daniel Wallach, a Florida sports betting and gambling attorney who has previously written for Athleticism, suggested that a sense of loyalty can keep punters connected to bookmakers. “These patterns can be difficult to break, given all the incentives,” Wallach said. “There are perhaps better lines, better odds” for a regular.

Bookmakers also offer bets that legal betting companies can’t or won’t, depending on state laws or exposure risks. Some states, for example, prohibit betting on their local college teams, and in the context of March Madness college basketball tournaments, the NCAA is attempting to further restrict college betting; Last week, NCAA President Charlie Baker urged states to completely ban prop betting on college athletes. Bookmakers exist in a world indifferent to these developments, which can attract punters looking for specific types of action that legal books don’t offer.

“Instead of the 30 kinds of cereal they offer,” Fong said, “I can get 100 different kinds of cereal offered by my bookmaker.”


Viewers watch March Madness NCAA tournament games at the Borgata Casino sportsbook in New Jersey in March. (Wayne Parry/Associated Press)

In the case of Mizuhara and Ohtani, location matters. California is one of 12 states where sports betting is not legal. In 2022, voters rejected two competing ballot initiatives to keep it that way, showing how difficult it will be to legalize gambling amid a costly and often bitter fight between tribal casinos and private betting companies. Proposition 26 would have legalized in-person betting at tribal casinos and racetracks. Proposition 27 would have allowed online sports betting.

By the time voters rejected those initiatives, Mizuhara was already facing a gambling debt of more than $1 million, he told ESPN. Mizuhara said he met Bowyer at a poker game in San Diego in 2021. To expand his business, Bowyer told associates that Ohtani was his client, the Los Angeles Times reported. Diane Bass, Bowyer’s attorney, said her client had no contact with Ohtani.

In many cases, a player must be referred to a bookmaker by an existing customer, with the existing customer sometimes receiving a referral bonus when the new player bets. If the new player does not pay the bookmaker when required, the sponsorship will be terminated; Peer pressure is often a sufficient first resort to encourage gamblers to pay their gambling debts.

Bookmakers also offer incentives for customers to pay in the form of free games or other forms of free bets; the punter is incentivized to pay out and use free bets to continue chasing losses and get back into the black. In cases where punters are heavily in debt, bookmakers accept partial payments or offer their customers weekly or monthly payment plans. Payments are frequently made on money transfer apps like Venmo or PayPal, although sometimes money is sent by mail, depending on the size of the transaction.

Mizuhara told ESPN that Bowyer gave him a line of credit that allowed him to extend his losses into the millions, which experts described as typical for a bookmaker that had confidence in the bettor’s ability to pay.

Bookmakers can make a lucrative living, especially if they can attract a few wealthy, high-value customers – provided they can stay out of the authorities’ crosshairs. Bettors themselves rarely, if ever, face legal consequences if they bet with illegal bookmakers; the government has generally sought to pursue operators, not customers, when going after illegal bookmakers. At the same time, however, the lack of government oversight can also hurt bettors who win big. If the bookmaker decides not to pay a significant win, players have few options.

Some of the largest unregulated betting operations are completely outside the jurisdiction of US state regulators because they are based in foreign countries. These so-called “offshore” sites often model themselves to resemble regulated US sports betting sites and carry domain names like “.lv” to suggest they are based in Las Vegas (in this example, lv means Latvia). These generally don’t offer the personal experience that illegal US-based bookmakers do, usually don’t offer credit, and money transfers can be difficult; some players use cryptocurrency to transact with these books. A small subset of punters have placed bets on sites like this without knowing they were illegal, after coming across one of the many unregulated sites that offer some semblance of ownership.

“You look at it: it’s clean, it’s fresh, it looks like a regulated thing,” Fong said. “It doesn’t feel like a cheap version of DraftKings or FanDuel. All bets are on that. The unaware consumer, Fong explained, “has no idea that he or she is actually participating in unregulated and unprotected gambling activity.”

If they do well enough – and can be sure of getting paid – betting on an illegal operation can also be lucrative for the bettor; In addition to taxing a player’s winnings, regulated websites sometimes limit the action of players perceived to be winning, experts say. The bookmaker can offer more freedom, certainly in terms of taxes but also in terms of limits. “In the illegal market, you probably won’t find any restrictions on how much you can bet,” Wallach said.

The evidence suggests that Mizuhara was far from a winning bettor. Mizuhara presented himself as a drug addict unable to recoup his losses. In these cases, using credit also helps the bookmaker.

“What they’re doing is letting these people invest a lot of money that they don’t have,” the professional player said. “It’s very predatory. It’s really sad, because that’s how much of the world works, when it comes to gambling.

(Top photo of Mizuhara and Ohtani at a Los Angeles Rams game in December: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)



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