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The Impact of Gambling on American Sports: An Editorial Perspective

Hey, Major League Baseball, does the name Pete Rose jog your memory? Recall the moniker “Charlie Hustle” associated with one of the game’s most outstanding players, whom you permanently barred in 1989 due to his involvement in betting on baseball games?

We raise this issue because you are currently confronted with another betting scandal involving Shohei Ohtani, arguably the most gifted baseball player since Babe Ruth. It is also surprising, given these circumstances, to discover your affiliation with an online gambling entity named FanDuel, designated as your “official gaming partner.” Though we feel let down, it’s worth noting that the partnership is exclusive, with a multiyear agreement to promote betting on the sport.

It is worth acknowledging that baseball is not the sole major sports league entangled in the realm of gambling. The National Basketball Association has a \(25 million deal with MGM Resorts, while the National Football League has forged partnerships with sports betting firms reportedly valued at \)1 billion over five years.

This trend is unsurprising, considering that Americans legally wagered nearly $120 billion on sports in 2023, with everyone vying for a share of the pie. Apart from the lucrative marketing contracts, sports leagues aim to leverage gambling to boost fan engagement and attract new followers. Even state governments like Vermont and New Hampshire have a financial interest, despite the concerning addictive nature of smartphone-enabled online gambling, particularly among young men.

This situation, like many others in society today, can be attributed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2018. By overturning a ban that confined sports wagering to Nevada, the court paved the way for states to legalize betting, a move embraced by 38 states and counting. While sports leagues had staunchly opposed this for decades, they eventually succumbed, accepting millions from eager gambling companies.

Money plays a dual role here, with leagues cashing in while professing their commitment to safeguarding their sports from the detrimental effects of gambling. In doing so, they turn a blind eye to the significant threat that gambling poses to the integrity of their games. Bettors can now wager not only on game outcomes but also on individual player performances, heightening the risk of corruption.

Unsurprisingly, the NFL took action against 10 players last season for gambling infractions, including seven who faced full-season suspensions for betting on NFL games. The NBA is currently investigating a player from the Toronto Raptors regarding reported betting irregularities linked to his performance statistics. In college basketball, Temple University is reviewing a game from March 7 due to unusual betting patterns.

This is likely just the beginning of a more extensive issue. Consider the murky circumstances surrounding the Ohtani incident, which came to light as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team with whom he signed a 10-year $700 million contract in the off-season, kicked off the season in Seoul, South Korea.

Confirmed reports indicate that $4.5 million was transferred from Ohtani’s bank account to an alleged California bookmaker under federal scrutiny. (It’s important to note that sports betting remains illegal in California.)

Initially, Ohtani’s longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, informed ESPN that he had accrued the gambling debt, and Ohtani assisted in settling it. According to this initial narrative, the duo accessed Ohtani’s bank account and made $500,000 transfers throughout 2023 to clear the debt.

However, Mizuhara later retracted his statement and was dismissed by the Dodgers. The revised account suggests that Ohtani was unaware of the gambling debt, and Mizuhara misappropriated the funds to cover it. This is despite their close relationship, described as “inseparable” by Ohtani’s former manager at the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani later addressed the media, asserting that he had been deceived by Mizuhara and had never engaged in betting on baseball or any other sport.

While MLB is reportedly investigating the matter, the extent of their inquiry, especially given Ohtani’s status as a prominent star, remains uncertain. Even if he is exonerated, doubts may linger regarding whether Mizuhara took the blame to shield Ohtani. This lingering doubt is precisely what sports leagues had historically strived to prevent.

At a broader level, the enduring allure of sports hinges on the belief that game outcomes are fair and not manipulated by unseen forces. In a time when trust in various aspects of American life is eroding, from elections to science to news, sports offer a welcomed escape. However, involvement with gambling entities jeopardizes this trust, potentially casting sports as yet another untrustworthy domain.

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