Shohei Ohtani says he never participated in any sports gambling and accuses interpreter of ‘stealing money’

Dalia Faheid, CNN | 3/26/2024, 11:01 a.m.
Faced with growing attention over a theft and gambling scandal, baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani on Monday adamantly denied betting on …
Ippei Mizuhara, left, the interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani, right, was fired from the team last week. Mandatory Credit: Lee Jin-man/AP via CNN Newsource
Faced with growing attention over a theft and gambling scandal, baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani on Monday adamantly denied betting on any sport or paying a bookie and placed the blame for the improprieties squarely on his former interpreter who the twice MVP alleged was stealing money from his account.

Ohtani, who during the offseason signed baseball’s richest contract with World Series favorites Los Angeles Dodgers, told reporters he didn’t know money – reportedly millions – was being sent from one of his bank accounts to a bookmaker until five days ago when he met one-on-one with his longtime interpreter Ippei Mizuhara after a team meeting in the clubhouse that left the slugger-pitcher thinking something was wrong.

“I’m very saddened and shocked that someone who I’ve trusted has done this,” said Ohtani, major league baseball’s only two-way player, whose statement was translated to English by Dodgers employee Will Ireton.

The remarks from Ohtani, who typically shies from media interviews, were his first public comments since the scandal broke last week. He noted he was limited in what he could say, acknowledging the ongoing federal and league investigations.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do it on my behalf and I have never gone through a bookmaker to bet on sports,” Ohtani told reporters Monday at Dodger Stadium before an exhibition game against their city rivals, the Los Angeles Angels..

The scandal has threatened to overshadow the start of MLB’s Opening Day on Thursday, challenged the public’s understanding of one of baseball’s biggest stars and brought renewed scrutiny to professional sports’ closeness with gambling.

The Internal Revenue Service and Major League Baseball are investigating the matter, with the league trying to determine whether its strict rules against gambling have been broken. A player or employee who gambles on baseball can be suspended for a year, while someone who gambles on a game they are in some way a part of can be suspended for life. MLB’s commissioner can also penalize someone who goes outside legal sports betting entities and gambles with a bookie.

MLB considers Rule 21 so important it requires it be posted in every clubhouse.

ESPN’s Tisha Thompson, citing multiple unnamed sources, said on CNN’s “The Lead” last week at least $4.5 million was withdrawn via wire transfer from Ohtani’s bank accounts, though it is unclear who initiated the transfers.

Ohtani’s attorneys have not detailed how they believe the funds were stolen, fueling questions about the scandal that emerged as Ohtani made his much-anticipated debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers while in South Korea last week.

Ohtani signed an unparalleled 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers this offseason after winning the American League MVP award twice over the past three seasons as a pitcher and designated hitter with the Angels.

Ohtani says he learned of translator’s gambling debt after Dodgers game

The scandal had broken while the Dodgers were in South Korea last week when ESPN and the Los Angeles Times – which broke the story – reported Ohtani’s lawyers accused Mizuhara of “massive theft” of millions of dollars and placing bets with a bookmaker who is under federal investigation. Mizuhara was fired while the team was in Seoul.

Ohtani said Monday he learned of the issue on March 20, after the Dodgers first game against the San Diego Padres in South Korea, when the team held a meeting in the clubhouse. Ohtani said the team meeting was in English and he didn’t have a “translator on my side” but he got a sense that something was wrong.

He said he met one-on-one after with Mizuhara at the club’s hotel. Ohtani said up until then he didn’t know Mizuhara had a gambling problem and was in debt.

“When we talked … that was when I found out he had a massive debt,” Ohtani said. “Ippei (Mizuhara) admitted that he was sending money from my account to the bookmaker.”

The translator had told the media and Ohtani’s representatives the player had paid off gambling debts on behalf of a friend, according to the superstar. Ohtani said he was not aware of the media inquiries.

CNN has sought comment from Mizuhara. Mizuhara told ESPN last Tuesday, “I never bet on baseball … That’s 100 percent. I knew that rule. … We have a meeting about that in spring training.”

Ohtani said his attorneys would deal with the scandal and legal issues and he would cooperate with the investigations and focus on baseball with his new team. On Monday, he was in the lineup against the Angels as the designate hitter, batting second.

Major League Baseball and the Internal Revenue Service are separately investigating Mizuhara.

“Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara from the news media,” officials said in a news release last week. “Earlier today, our Department of Investigations began their formal process investigating the matter.”

The IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office is investigating both Mizuhara and Mathew Bowyer, IRS spokesman Scott Villiard told CNN on Friday.

Bowyer, a former bookmaker, is a California resident who bankruptcy court documents show had gambling debts of $425,000 more than a decade ago.

Ohtani and Mizuhara first worked together from 2013 to 2017 when Mizuhara served as a translator for the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Ohtani’s team with Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League, according to When Ohtani joined the Angels in 2018, he asked Mizuhara to join him as his translator in his MLB rookie season, and Mizuhara eventually followed the star to the Dodgers.

Bookie’s attorney speaks to CNN

An attorney for Bowyer, the former bookmaker under federal investigation related to gambling, said he never met or had “any direct contact” with Ohtani but did do business with Mizuhara.

“Mathew Bowyer never spoke with or emailed with or texted with or had any contact whatsoever with Shohei Ohtani,” the attorney, Diane Bass told CNN in an on-camera interview on Saturday.

The attorney also said Ohtani’s interpreter never bet on baseball.

When discussing Ohtani’s name on “one of the wire transfers to Bowyer’s organization to cover a bet,” Bass said Saturday, “as far as Mr. Bowyer understood, the bet was from Ippei, or it was being covered by Mr. Ohtani for Ippei.”

Bass emphasized while Bowyer is under federal investigation, he has not been charged with a crime. She said Bowyer stopped his bookmaking operation in October 2023 when “feds showed up at his house.”

Bowyer met Mizuhara after a Padres game in San Diego in 2022, according to Bass. She told CNN she does not know how often Mizuhara placed bets or how much he bet, but said Bowyer told her Mizuhara placed bets regularly on “primarily soccer, occasionally football and basketball, but it was never baseball.”

Bass said Mizuhara’s gambling “got out of hand at a certain point,” but “he was making regular payments for a significant amount of time.”

Asked whether the payments were coming from Mizuhara’s or Ohtani’s account, Bass replied, “I honestly don’t know how many transfers came from which account(s), (or) whether it was more than one account. I don’t have access to that information,” she told CNN.

Shifting explanations and statements

The saga began with reporters asking questions about alleged wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account. Here’s how the scandal unfolded:

• Mizuhara told ESPN in a Tuesday interview, arranged by Ohtani’s representative, he asked Ohtani last year to pay off his gambling debt, ESPN reported. Ohtani had no involvement in his betting, Mizuhara said.

• But after the interview, Ohtani’s spokesperson “disavowed” Mizuhara’s account, then released a statement saying Ohtani had been the victim of theft.

• On the same day, Mizuhara was seen smiling in the LA dugout and talking to Ohtani before translating for the star in the team’s 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres in the MLB season-opening game in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.

• Later Wednesday, Mizuhara was fired as Ohtani’s interpreter.

After learning about the allegations against Ohtani and Mizuhara, MLB on Friday announced it would be pursuing an investigation. The IRS also confirmed it was investigating the translator.

CNN’s Cindy Von Quednow, Eric Levenson and Norma Galeana contributed to this report.