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There's an obvious gambling problem in sports that should cause sports fans to question the legitimacy of every contest
Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images

There's an obvious gambling problem in sports that should cause sports fans to question the legitimacy of every contest

On Tuesday, news broke that San Diego Padres utility player Tucupita Marcano was facing a lifetime ban for having allegedly bet on baseball, including placing bets on the outcomes of Pittsburgh Pirates games when he played for the team last year. The investigation is ongoing, and representatives for Marcano, the MLBPA, and MLB are for the moment staying tight-lipped in public, but the widespread expectation seems to be that Marcano will be lucky to escape with any eligibility to return to professional baseball at all.

Marcano, however, is just the latest in an alarming string of athletes who have been implicated in professional gambling scandals. Nor is the problem limited to baseball. In April, the NBA announced a lifetime ban for Toronto Raptors reserve player Jontay Porter, who not only was alleged to have bet on games, but also allegedly provided illegal inside information to gamblers in exchange for money and on at least one occasion allegedly faked an illness to limit his own participation in a game in order to ensure that a particular proposition bet paid off.

And of course, most embarrassingly, the most exciting player in recent baseball memory, Shohei Ohtani, was caught up in a gambling scandal when his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, was allegedly busted by the feds for stealing millions of dollars from Ohtani to pay off debts he incurred by wagering on sports with an illegal bookie. Although that investigation also remains ongoing, the likelihood that a person in Mizuhara's situation may have provided inside information to gamblers that he was privy to only because of his position as Ohtani's interpreter seems quite high.

The biggest threat to the future of professional sports is not woke politics or the specter of people who were born biologically male dominating female athletes. It's gambling and the insidious effect that the industry plainly has on the integrity of sports competition.

Sports, at its core, is watchable solely because the audience believes that the athletes involved in the competition are playing an honest game that involves both sides’ best efforts to win. If fans don’t believe that games are on the level, sports cannot survive.

Gambling, at its core, is enjoyable to gamblers because it combines the adrenaline of vicarious fan participation in sport with the allure of a potentially large payday without doing work.

It should be obvious to all that the incentives created by gambling inherently threaten the basis for sport itself.

There is a reason that, in 2018, all four major sports in America petitioned the Supreme Court to keep the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which effectively banned gambling on single sporting events outside Las Vegas. The leagues knew that sports gambling is a nightmare to police, and from the leagues’ perspective, the more they could outsource that job to the feds, the better.

However, when the Supreme Court struck down PASPA in 2018 on fairly narrow technical grounds, Congress had no appetite to pass a law that fixed the flaws that invalidated PASPA. There was not even a serious discussion to bring a bill to that effect to the floor.

And with shocking speed, the sports leagues and the sports-consuming public embraced the reality of a world in which sports betting could be done anywhere, on anything. Las Vegas, which had long been shunned by the leagues due to the danger of having a team so close to the seat of organized gambling, suddenly got an NFL team to keep its NHL team company. DraftKings and other companies became some of the most prominent sports advertisers. ESPN opened a vertical called ESPN BET that not only covered gambling but allowed people to gamble online in its portal.

And somehow, when news broke that millions of dollars had been siphoned from the bank account of the most famous baseball player since at least Barry Bonds to cover gambling debts, we were all surprised.

It is comforting to believe that the leagues have the situation under control and that Marcano, Porter, and Mizuhara were isolated cases. The leagues have even pointed to their cases as evidence that their control mechanisms are working.

But the Mizuhara case in particular puts the lie to that contention. Here was an individual who was, effectively, the mouthpiece of the most prominent player in baseball. According to investigators, he placed an astonishing number of bets — estimated to be over 19,000 — over a period that lasted three years.

As the story goes, he began siphoning money in the form of public wire transfers that were for huge dollar amounts in September 2023. A total of at least nine of these transactions were authorized and executed over the intervening months. None of this was discovered until January 2024, and even then it was not discovered by the league, it was discovered by the feds. If the feds had not raided the home of Mizuhara’s alleged bookie, who knows how long it would have taken baseball to catch on to what was happening?

The problem does not admit of easy answers. There is little or no appetite for a legislative solution because, perversely, the public at large enjoys betting on sports, as evidenced by the massive growth in the sports betting industry that has occurred since 2018. Additionally, the industry is greasing the wheels of both the media that covers sports and the teams themselves with copious amounts of advertising money. Sports fans and media may well be unwittingly sowing the seeds of destruction for sports with their own desires.

But even if all this were not true, a legislative fix would likely still not be the answer. Trusting the federal government to deal with the problem by making it illegal is a lazy approach that was ineffective while it lasted. Gambling was largely illegal when Tim Donaghy bet on games for two years as an NBA referee before he got caught. Gambling was largely illegal when Pete Rose reportedly bet on baseball in 1987 — something he was not caught doing until 1989.

This problem is not one that the feds could or should solve. But it’s one that the leagues themselves need to wrestle with, and quickly. The steady stream of stories about people who have been caught does and should cause sports fans to question how many more compromised athletes are out there who have not been caught, or at least not caught yet. And it’s only a matter of time before those questions turn to cynicism about the legitimacy of sports' on-field product.

And when that happens, sports as we know them will be over.

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Leon Wolf

Leon Wolf

Managing Editor, News

Leon Wolf is the managing news editor for Blaze News.
@LeonHWolf →