The Nevada Independent

Your state. Your news. Your voice.

The Nevada Independent

OPINION: Gaming industry must follow the rules now that it has legalized sports betting

John L. Smith
John L. Smith

For months, as I’ve researched the illegal bookmaking scandal roiling around the casino industry, I’ve heard a common refrain.

Everyone knows the casinos have plenty of illegal bookmakers in the house from the poker room to the parking lot. Bookmakers historically are an integral part of the American gambling story, and outside of Nevada most of them were considered outlaws. But as long as they gambled and didn’t try to get behind the counters of the legal sports books, a generation of casino executives would probably admit privately, who really cared how they earned a living?

The view of the world officially ended with changes in federal law that gave casinos the status of other financial institutions. Rules applied. From filing Suspicious Activity Reports to making an effort to “knowing your customer,” the times had changed. At least officially.

Even bookmaking, the last of the pariah elements of the casino industry, joined the party in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) unconstitutional. Since then, legalized sports betting has proliferated across the nation with at least 40 states and jurisdictions signing on. Professional and amateur leagues and television networks have dived into the shallow end of the deep pool in an effort to cash in.

The nation’s first gold rush made some folks millionaires, and the same is true for legal bookmaking’s boomers. But there’s also an enormous downside for scores of players. Now we’re seeing sports betting scandals cut very close to professional sports locker rooms and landing in the middle of the action in Las Vegas, the depths of that downside are only beginning to be understood.

One thing that has become clear is the fact agents with California-based IRS Criminal Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations are pressing on in their hunt not only for illegal bookmakers and the sloppy casino executives who catered to them, but into the athletes themselves.

The recent reports of the multimillion-dollar debts the translator for Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani apparently incurred while betting — we’re told — on international soccer, and occasionally basketball and football, but never on baseball. Frankly, that’s hard to believe. If, as is being reported, now-former translator Ippei Mizuhara stole money from Ohtani, then what should make anyone believe he wouldn’t try to take advantage of his insider baseball knowledge to gamble on ballgames?

Ohtani has denied any involvement, giving a statement that his interpreter stole money and “told lies.” Ohtani said he was the victim of a “massive theft.”

“I am very saddened and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this,” Ohtani said Monday.

Just imagine how Mizuhara feels. He’s gone from perhaps the world’s best-known translator, a job that paid him upward of $500,000 a year to hang out at the ballpark and go to nice restaurants, into an outcast who might face a theft charge.

But how shocking will it be if it turns out that illegal bookmaker and former Las Vegas high-roller Matt Bowyer is found to have not only booked Mizuhara’s action, but also took bets from him on baseball?

Bowyer has already denied such speculation to the feds, and he faces the high likelihood of jail time. Wire transfers totaling $4.5 million were wired from Ohtani’s account to a Southern California bookmaking operation currently under federal investigation.

Does that mean Mizuhara had access to Ohtani’s account? That would be putting a lot of trust in a translator, but maybe that speaks to their former friendship.

Here’s how Ohtani’s legal counsel at Berk Brettler LLP put it in a recent 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.”

In addition to a new interpreter, it sounds like Mr. Ohtani needs a new accountant.

Major League Baseball, meanwhile, has announced it is investigating the matter. Normally that might sound reassuring. The problem now is, it is partnered with the legal sports book industry and major casino corporations. The lines are thoroughly blurred. The MLB that banned hit-king Pete Rose for betting is now tasked with investigating a major scandal surrounding its biggest star. Color me skeptical. 

For our purposes today, I’ll end with this: Reporters might not be talking about this outside the sports pages if Bowyer, Wayne Nix and other illegal bookmakers hadn’t been big cash customers at Strip casinos, including the MGM Grand, The Cosmopolitan and Resorts World Las Vegas. MGM Grand and The Cosmopolitan have paid $7.45 million in fines and signed off on non-prosecution agreements that sent them back to casino compliance school.

I guess it’s a good thing the casinos weren’t prosecuted, or they might have had to ban themselves from playing at their own casinos.

For its part, sources confirm MGM Grand chased at least five good customers off the property after the Nix scandal broke locally. At least three of them had court records or reputations as current or former illegal bookmakers.

Time will tell whether it turns out to be an overreaction from a casino embarrassed for its compliance lapses, or the preview to coming attractions in a federal investigation. It’s easy to rush to judgment — it’s practically a spectator sport on social media these days — but it’s also important to remember that being 86’d from a casino isn’t necessarily the same thing as violating the law.

Bowyer and Nix weren’t alone, and it would be naïve to think so. The rules apply in Las Vegas even if some people refuse to believe it.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.


Featured Videos

7455 Arroyo Crossing Pkwy Suite 220 Las Vegas, NV 89113
Privacy PolicyRSSContactNewslettersSupport our Work
The Nevada Independent is a project of: Nevada News Bureau, Inc. | Federal Tax ID 27-3192716