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I. Nelson Rose

I. Nelson Rose
Professor I Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. He is a consultant and expert witness for federal, state and tribal governments and industry. He is the author of Internet Gaming Law (1st & 2nd editions), Blackjack and the Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials.

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Pete Rose wishes he had a translator

22 Apr 2024

By I. Nelson Rose
Just because you have made yourself into a national embarrassment does not mean you cannot sink any lower.

No, I’m not talking about that other guy, the wannabe dictator with the superpower of having absolutely no sense of shame.

This is the star athlete who gambled his way into the rarified baseball hall of shame, next to Shoeless Joe Jackson. The “Black Sox” scandal was also linked to gambling: Jackson and seven other members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of being bribed to lose the 1919 World Series, with small boys pleading to their idol, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

The only athletic memorability I own is a baseball signed “I’m sorry I bet on baseball. Pete Rose.”

Incidentally, that Rose (no relation) was never charged with any gambling crimes. He was convicted of tax evasion, for not reporting the money he made from selling his signature on collectors’ cards and probably baseballs. (I bought mine from a store, in the Rio in Las Vegas, I think).

The current scandal revolves around Shohei Ohtani, the highest paid baseball player in the world. Millions of dollars from his bank account had been wired to an illegal bookie. Federal prosecutors have indicted Ohtani’s translator for stealing the money.

When asked about the scandal, Pete Rose really did say, “Well, back in the 70s and 80s I wish I’d had an interpreter. I’d be scott-free.”

The cynicism of that remark is, well, remarkable. Pete Rose is saying that the translator is taking the fall for bets made by Ohtani himself.

We don’t have all the facts, yet. But federal prosecutors have a solid case that it really was the translator who made the bets and impersonated Ohtani to gain access to his bank account to pay off the bookie.

Pete Rose’s comments resonate because it did look like it was the super-rich baseball superstar making the bets. The first reports were that $4.5 million in money wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank were found in the bookie’s records. What bookie is going to give a translator, making less than $500,000 a year, $4.5 million in credit?

Plus, we know that professional athletes use their friends to make bets. These men, and there have been almost no women, spend their entire lives immersed in sports. They naturally begin to think that they know more than anyone else about which teams are going to win and lose. But they also know that if they are caught betting on sports their reputations will be destroyed.

The leagues have various rules against athletes betting. It may be worse to bet on your own sport. But any sports bet will bring scandal and ruin.

So, why bet with an illegal bookie? The leagues keep track of big bets with licensed sportsbooks. And legal bookmakers cap the size of bets and are reluctant to give millions of dollars in credit to a single bettor.

There is also the sheer volume: 19,000 bets in three years.

There are flights every hour from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. But if the translator were seen commuting a few times a day from Dodger Stadium to Caesars Sport Book, someone might have noticed. And you can’t legally make even one bet by phone from California, let alone 25 or more a day.

The most recent information released by the feds also resonates with what we know about compulsive gamblers. It wasn’t $4.5 million but $16 million missing from Ohtani’s bank accounts. And the bets show a gambler out of control: $142 million won and $182 million lost.

Why would the bookie extend this amount of credit to a mere translator? Because the translator was making the payments, $500,000 at a time. And chasing his losses, repeatedly begging for bumps to his credit limit.

There is no indication that Ohtani knew anything about the translator’s gambling, let alone his thefts and impersonations. Prosecutors have looked at thousands of texts and emails between Ohtani and the translator and have found no mention of sports betting.

Still, it is possible that it was Ohtani making the bets and perhaps asked the translator into taking the rap. But how could Ohtani and the translator have created such a mountain of phony evidence. And why do it?

If Ohtani alone had arranged for the translator to make his bets, there is little chance of anyone, other than the bookie, going to jail. When caught, Ohtani would do what all celebrities do in situations like this: He would admit he has an addiction to gambling and go into rehab. He might even be allowed to restart his career after a year or two, minus the $70 million a year he would have earned.

But if it were Ohtani making the bets, you have to ask why the translator would admit to taking the money from Ohtani’s bank account. This is no longer misdemeanor illegal gambling. It’s felony bank fraud, with a potential sentence of 30 years in prison. Even though the bank itself was not the victim, so much money was stolen that I would expect a plea bargain in the range of 10 years.

If this is all a coverup, how much would the translator demand to take the rap for Ohtani? Would you go to prison for 10 years even for a close friend?

What if the friend promised you $100 million?

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