Inside the gambling ring linked to Ohtani — as told by two bettors themselves

Illustration of Shohei Ohtani and his interpreter obscured by $100 dollar bills
(Rob Dobi / For The Times)

For all its complexities, all its twists and turns, the gambling scandal that has engulfed Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani raises a simple question.

In this era of DraftKings and FanDuel, when so many people across the nation can place wagers with a few taps on the phone, why would anyone use an illegal bookie?

Two Southern California men who told The Times they bet regularly with the alleged bookmaking ring linked to Ohtani and his former interpreter offer an answer.

Like many gamblers, they saw no alternative in California, one of only a dozen states that prohibit sports betting. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of state laws, they contradict the stereotype of a bookie standing on the corner, scribbling numbers on a notepad and keeping a wad of cash in his pocket. The operation they describe was efficient and businesslike.


Customers were given a password to access an offshore website where they could scan odds and enter bets, they said. One bettor said he received his winnings and paid for losses through third-party Venmo accounts. The other recalled exchanging cash in face-to-face meetings with an “agent” who allegedly reported back to the ring.

“The guy seemed to run a good shop,” one said of the bookmaker, adding that he has used “dozens of different bookies and this is easily the best I’ve ever worked with.”

Shohei Ohtani and his team allege that ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stole from the Dodgers star’s bank account to cover millions in gambling debt. Unanswered is how the interpreter could have pulled it off without anyone noticing.

March 27, 2024

The Times linked one of the bettors to the alleged ring through online payment records; the other’s connection could not be independently verified. Their descriptions matched closely with what experts have seen of betting rings nationwide.

It was late last year when federal authorities raided the San Juan Capistrano home of Mathew Bowyer and allegedly discovered evidence connecting him to a sports betting ring that had received millions of dollars in bank transfers from Ohtani’s account, sources told The Times.

As federal authorities and Major League Baseball continue to investigate, Bowyer has not been charged with a crime, said his attorney, who declined to comment for this article.

The former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, initially told ESPN that he had amassed huge gambling debts and that Ohtani, his boss and friend, paid them off as a favor. But as The Times first reported, Mizuhara quickly recanted that story and Ohtani now claims the whole thing was a case of “theft and fraud” on Mizuhara’s part.


During a recent news conference, at which he read from notes but did not answer questions, Ohtani said: “I myself have never bet on a sporting event or asked someone to bet for me. And I’ve never asked anyone to send money to a bookmaker from my bank account.”

Based on details provided by the local bettors, the alleged ring operated by a “pay per head” arrangement that experts say is common in illicit bookmaking. It works like this:

The bookie contracts with an offshore gambling website that posts odds and records bets. These sites generally charge the bookie a flat fee for each customer that signs in, but don’t handle any of the money wagered.

The sites provide bookies a private page listing their customers’ activity. Bookies pay out winnings and collect losses. Agents might receive 10% to 20% of the losses accumulated by clients they handle.

The two local bettors — neither of whom claimed to know about alleged connections between Ohtani, Mizuhara and gambling — said they were introduced to the local ring by acquaintances. One said he was given Bowyer’s cellphone number and set up an account through text messages.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” he said. “To me, it was just a normal business.”

Now that Ippei Mizuhara is under a microscope following allegations he stole millions of dollars from Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani to cover gambling debts, key aspects of his biography have proved difficult to confirm or turned out to be false.

March 28, 2024

The other said he worked exclusively through an agent who mentioned no names. That didn’t seem strange to the bettor, who had grown accustomed to dealing with operations whose bosses preferred to remain anonymous.


In the early stages of a bettor’s relationship with his bookie, both tend to tread cautiously. Bookies are sizing up their customers and making sure losses will be paid; bettors are similarly wary, worrying that the bookmaker won’t make good on winnings or “slow pay” a little at a time.

“With a new [bookie], I’m not betting a lot of money,” the man said. “You establish a rapport over several months.”

The bettors said they were directed to offshore sites that required specific login information. Wins and losses were settled at regular intervals.

For one man, that meant receiving payouts from various mobile accounts he did not recognize. If he lost, he would be told to transfer funds to similarly unfamiliar accounts that, he suspected, belonged to fellow gamblers who were owed winnings.

“It was Venmo,” he said. “You Venmo random people.”

The other bettor met with his agent when his wins or losses exceeded a $1,000 line of credit. They would drink a few beers and exchange a cash-filled envelope.

All of this illustrates how California differs from dozens of states that have legalized sports betting in the wake of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Gamblers here can use apps to play daily fantasy sports for cash prizes (the industry argues that fantasy contests are games of skill, not chance). Betting on games is not allowed, not in apps, online, in card clubs or at tribal casinos.


Even VPNs don’t seem to help with accessing the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel, though some offshore sites reportedly accept wagers from California in cryptocurrency. For those unwilling to drive to Las Vegas, bookies fill the void.

“Illegal bookmaking is happening everywhere,” said John Holden, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University who has written extensively about sports gambling. “You probably wouldn’t have to walk two or three blocks to find someone who would take a bet.”

Access to wagering isn’t all that bookies offer. Unlike casinos and apps, they might not impose strict limits on individual wagers, even with clients who win a lot. They don’t apply taxes. They don’t require immediate payment or money upfront.

Trusted customers might receive credit lines of $25,000 or more. A wealthy bettor — or a bettor with close ties to someone wealthy — might be granted significantly more, said I. Nelson Rose, a gambling-law scholar and emeritus professor at Whittier College.

That could explain how Mizuhara, who told ESPN he is addicted to gambling, allegedly amassed so much debt.

“People who have gambling problems typically chase their losses,” said Koleman Strumpf, a Wake Forest University economist who has studied illicit bookmaking. “If you’re a problem bettor, the hole you can dig [with a bookie] is much bigger.”


Gone are the days when the threat of physical violence was a common worry for delinquent customers, but there are other forms of coercion.

“If you owe a lot, they might contact your wife or your work,” one of the local gamblers said. “They’re going to make your personal life hellish.”

Few in Japan want to believe national hero Shohei Ohtani could be accused of wrongdoing in the sports gambling scandal involving his ex-interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.

April 3, 2024

Law enforcement is also a concern.

In 2022, former minor-league pitcher Wayne Nix pleaded guilty to running a major Southern California sports gambling ring that, according to court documents, operated much like the ring the Southern California gamblers described.

Nix used a Costa Rica-based sportsbook and had agents dealing with customers. The bust ensnared professional athletes, including former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Still, neither bookies nor gamblers seem terribly daunted by the threat of arrest because judges and juries seem to have a “What’s the big deal?” attitude when it comes sports betting, Holden of Oklahoma State said. In the Nix case, a primary defendant was sentenced to six months’ probation and ordered to forfeit $3 million.

“At the end of the day, the [U.S. Department of Justice] looks at having expended these resources where people are just getting time served or probation and asks, ‘Is that really a good use of our resources?’” the associate professor said, adding: “There has been a societal shift in the view of gambling.”


Part of this change might stem from American professional leagues’ openly partnering with legalized gaming. The four biggest leagues — in football, basketball, baseball and hockey — generate estimated billions from deals with the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel. ESPN recently launched an online gambling service of its own.

Given that so many Americans can now wager on sports legally, the local bettors saw nothing wrong with what they were doing. It took them by surprise when their bookie was shut down after the raid on Bowyer’s house.

One saw news accounts of the raid and heard whispers that a high-profile person might be involved. When the Ohtani story broke weeks later, he said, he called his agent and was told his wagers had been routed through Bowyer.

The other man was not aware of the situation until informed by a reporter this week and wondered about winnings left unsettled.

“What would happen if I hit my number?” he asked. “What would happen if I was up?”

Despite the turn of events, both men said they would continue to wager on sports, either through illicit bookmakers or friends outside of California.

“If you’re in a legal state, there is less desire for a bookie,” one said. “But in California, you have no other choice.”