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Sports betting under scrutiny in wake of scandals

Jimmy Myers
Sports betting under scrutiny in wake of scandals
Jontay Perter has been banned for life from the NBA for betting on games in which he was a player. PHOTO: Courtesy of NBA

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When legal gambling on sports began to explode in the U.S., some critics said it was just a matter of time before athletes themselves were caught up in the billion-dollar business of wagering on contests.

Those predictions came true with headlines about baseball star Shohei Ohtani and NBA player Jontay Porter, both linked, albeit under radically different circumstances, to betting on games.

Ohtani, the Japanese mega-star pitcher/outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, claims his interpreter ripped him off for millions of dollars to cover bets on major league games. The interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, allegedly used money stolen from the two-time American League MVP to pay gambling debts.

Many people feel that a man as intelligent as Ohtani should have known what his interpreter was doing. There is also speculation that the interpreter was taking the fall for the former Angels star, with Ohtani using Mizuhara to place bets for him.

Ippei Mizuhara, interpreter for Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers, allegedly stole money from Ohtani to pay gambling debts. PHOTO: Courtesy Major league Baseball

While Major League Baseball claims to be conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter, many people close to the scene believe that MLB is looking the other way because it does not want to have to level penalties against Ohtani, the biggest draw in the game.

The Jontay Porter story involves less money but more serious infractions – betting on games in which he was a player and allegedly shaping his performance to produce the wagered outcome.

Porter was banned for life from the National Basketball Association last week following an investigation that produced evidence of his gambling on games his team, the Toronto Raptors, competed in. There are also reports that Porter bet against his team in some games, pretended to be hurt for betting purposes, and gave confidential information to gamblers.

His despicable behavior resulted in millions of dollars changing hands. But he is not alone in this drama. There is clear evidence that other NBA players are gambling, and the league is trying to get a grip on the situation.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver knows his league is in the midst of a potential firestorm that could have devastating effects. He and his fellow commissioners from the pro football, hockey and baseball leagues are holding their collective breaths as this gambling monster grows bigger and bigger with every passing day. Each of these professional sports has rules against gambling by their players. But it seems that the players are not adhering to those rules.

A few weeks back, the Banner reported on several National Football League players receiving disciplinary sanctions for gambling. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claims that the situation in his league is being closely monitored. Suppose we could only believe that fantasy. The National Hockey League has also suspended players for gambling.

The truth is that sports leagues and gambling companies are married together until death do them part.

As more gambling stories come to light, people who wager on sporting events will question every outcome with a hint of a dubious conclusion. It is difficult to watch any sporting event today without wondering: Is this event on the up and up, or is the fix in?

Sports betting in Las Vegas. PHOTO: Javier Carcamo

In 2007, NBA Referee Tim Donaghy resigned from the NBA because he gambled on the games he was working on; essentially, the referee was wagering millions of dollars while technically “fixing” the games he was officiating. He wrote a book claiming that he was not alone in his actions and that several of his working colleagues were doing the same thing. The late NBA Commissioner David Stern claimed that Donaghy was an isolated incident and that his league was clean.

Several NBA referees faced termination for other “‘infractions” but Stern categorically denied that those referees were involved in gambling. Stern went to his grave holding on to that belief.

Spin the clock forward to the  present day, and you find out that current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is attempting to ‘hold the gambling tiger by the tail’ while stuffing the opposite end of its anatomy — its mouth — with the fruits of gambling proceeds his league benefits from.

Sports gambling is legal in 38 of the 50 U.S. states. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that has spread its tentacles throughout our daily lives. As long as there is legalized sports betting, there are going to be people who are going to commit illegal acts to make money. The more money people have, the more they are going to bet.

Professional athletes have large sums of money to wager. Some will even take the low road and risk their careers to fix games to make money — a sad but true fact.

Their wagering leads to the question: What will be a big-enough sports gambling scandal to bring us to our senses, thus calling for the strictest regulations to get this out-of-control industry into some sense of reality?

In the meantime, I am holding my breath for the next scandal of sports gambling and its deleterious effects on the legitimacy and integrity of the sporting events that fans flock to.