Shohei Ohtani [US, Mexico & Canada customers only] March 20, 2024; Seoul, SOUTH KOREA; Los Angeles Dodgers player Shohei Ohtani reacts after playing against the San Diego Padres during a MLB regular season Seoul Series game at Gocheok Sky Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters via USA TODAY Sports

We all must adopt a cognitive dissonance when discussing the Shohei Ohtani story. The biggest star in MLB, and maybe the most unique talent in all of sports, is at the center of a major gambling payment scandal.

For most of our lifetimes, Ohtani’s story would’ve been shocking. Gambling was the third rail in sports, and especially baseball, which banned Pete Rose from the Hall of Fame for betting on games, and revoked a championship from the 1919 Chicago White Sox for the same reason.

But now, with FanDuel as its official betting partner, MLB embraces legalized sports betting–just like all of its media partners. Gambling ad dollars are viewed as a lifeboat for ailing media companies, and all of the major betting platforms–DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM–are pumping millions into their own content. Jared Carrabis, one of the most popular MLB social media cheerleaders, just signed with Underdog Fantasy following stints at DraftKings and gambling-obsessed Barstool.

Carrabis, along with many of his peers, is synonymous with sports betting. The rise of Barstool and legalized sports gambling is inextricably linked.

Dave Portnoy, a self-described “degenerate gambler,” boasts about $1 million bets and has encouraged his fans to wager their “house, kids, family” on a single game.

A fading casino titan, PENN Entertainment, acquired a stake in Barstool for $163 million in February 2020 and bought the whole company for $388 million in February 2023. PENN ran Barstool-branded sports betting in 12 states.

After reacquiring Barstool for $1, Portnoy struck a lucrative sports betting partnership with DraftKings. Around the same time, BetMGM signed an exclusive sports betting partnership with X; and earlier this year, Caesars Entertainment reached an unprecedented content sharing agreement with Turner Sports.

Not to be outdone, ESPN launched its own online sports book last November, which is operated by… PENN. The Walt Disney Corporation is in business with Vegas, baby!

These foreboding events lead us back to Carrabis, who tweeted Wednesday the Ohtani story “reeks of f*ckery.” He’s right!

But probably not for the reasons he imagines.

Pro-gambling propaganda is now a ubiquitous part of the sports watching experience. A study published earlier this year found gambling messages fill up 21 percent of each game broadcast. Reporters at CBC and researchers at the University of Bristol watched five NHL games and two NBA games over a four-day span last October to come up with their findings.

While the NFL capped gambling ads at six per game (and three for the Super Bowl), the league expected to generate a whopping $270 million in revenue from sports betting and gambling deals last season.

With widespread legalization and non-stop promotion, it isn’t surprising that sports betting is exploding in popularity. Americans wagered a record $119.84 billion on sports betting in 2023, up 27.5 percent from 2022, according to the American Gaming Association.

In other words, sports gambling is everywhere. And the previously outlawed practice is most prevalent among young men. A recent Siena College poll found that 39 percent of young men (ages 18-34) have an online sports betting account (compared to 20% of young women).

Those extraordinary numbers lead us back to Ohtani, and however $4.5 million of his money found its way into the bank account of an illegal bookie under federal investigation. Despite unsubstantiated claims of theft, it’s hard to believe how Ohtani’s longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, could’ve wired the money without Ohtani’s knowledge.

The two sides’ rapidly changing accounts only make the story more suspicious. One moment, they were joking around in the dugout.

The next moment, Mizuhara confessed to stealing the $4.5 million without Ohtani’s knowledge. The Dodgers fired him immediately.

With Ohtani’s representatives reportedly contacting law enforcement, we may eventually find out the truth in this case. But the lessons learned go far beyond Ohtani’s involvement in shady wire transfers.

The face of MLB is only ensnared in this saga because his money was sent to an illegal sports bookie operating out of Orange County, California. Sports gambling remains illegal in the Golden State, meaning perspective bettors must take their money to the black market.

If Ohtani’s $4.5 million went into the coffers of FanDuel opposed to bookmaker Mathew Bowyer, he would be operating within MLB’s rules. His interpreter claims he never bet on MLB games, and the league doesn’t want to find out. Apparently, Ohtani isn’t facing an investigation at this time.

That’s right: baseball players are allowed to bet on non-MLB games with legal sports books. Other major pro sports leagues have similar rules.

Talk about a dangerous path. The NFL suspended star wide receiver Calvin Ridley an entire season for betting on NFL games, and 10 players in total over the last two years.

Earlier this offseason, ex-Patriots wideout Kayshon Boutte was arrested for his involvement in a federal gambling scheme. Apparently, he issued thousands of dollars in bets as a minor at LSU.

His account name, by the way, was “kayshonboutte7.” He wasn’t even trying to hide!

That’s because sports betting is normalized now. Nearly every segment on sports shows seems to be sponsored by a gambling company, with networks racking in that casino cash.

It’s worth noting that ESPN Dodgers reporter Tisha Thompson broke the Ohtani story, and Jeff Passan is reporting on the matter, too.

But they’re not delving into the bigger picture. Ohtani is being treated as an outlier, but he’s probably just the starting point.

Fortunately for him, MLB and its media partners don’t appear interested in digging further into the nearly $120 billion sports betting industry. Uncovering the secrets doesn’t serve anybody’s interest.