Casinos Dragged into Ohtani Sports Betting Scandal

written by I. Nelson Rose

By the time you read this, Scott Sibella will probably have been sentenced in federal court.  

Sibella had been president and chief operating officer of the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas.  The sentencing hearing, set for May 8th, is the result of a plea agreement, in which Sibella admits to a nine-page-long Statement of Facts describing his relationship with Wayne Nix, who he knew was an illegal bookmaker, while Sibella ran the MGM Grand.  This included allowing Nix to gamble at his casino and pay off a casino debt with $120,000 in unreported cash.

So, what does this have to do with baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani, probably the highest paid athlete in the world, and the millions of dollars from his bank account that had been wired to a different illegal bookie, Matthew Boyer?

Scandals always grow.  The first day a scandal breaks is always: (1) partly incorrect, and (2) guaranteed to get worse, in the days or weeks that follow.

In the current scandal, it was first reported that Ohtani voluntarily paid $4.5 million to Boyer, to pay off his translator’s gambling debts.  There were also libelous rumors on social media that Ohtani had purposely under-performed in baseball games in Korea, to win bets that he himself had made.

It now appears that Ohtani was truly an innocent victim.  He knew nothing about his translator’s gambling nor about his unauthorized access to his bank accounts.  And, although $4.5 million sounds bad, the theft was actually $16 million.  

Even that number seems certain to grow.  The translator admits he is addicted to gambling.  The feds allege he made 19,000 bets between December 2021 and January 2024.  He was also a rotten sports bettor: He won $142 million, but he lost $182 million.

Where did a translator making less than $500,000 a year, come up with the rest of the $40 million he lost?

A scandal of this size hurts the gaming industry, especially because it comes so soon after legal sports betting exploded across the country.  It was only in May 2018 that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the federal law preventing states from legalizing betting on sports.

Already, there are commentaries in the press, and even on entertainment shows, against sports betting.

The only thing that could make things worse would be the involvement of other parts of the gaming industry.

The latest news is that the translator apparently used casinos in Las Vegas and California to get the money he stole from Ohtani to Boyer, $500,000 at a time.

ESPN’s Tisha Thompson reported that the translator sent the money from Ohtani’s banks to marker accounts at the casinos, where it was converted into chips that were then used by Boyer and his associate to gamble.  If they won, they cashed out.

Boyer was a very successful bookie, but not so hot at the tables.  Between June 2022 and October 2023, Boyer lost $7.9 million at Resorts World Las Vegas.

On April 30, 2024, ESPN’s Thompson reported:

Multiple sources told ESPN that Resorts World is at the center of what federal authorities described in an affidavit as an investigation into “illegal sports bookmaking organizations operating in Southern California, and the laundering of the proceeds of these operations through casinos in Las Vegas.” 

A dozen individuals have been criminally charged, and a couple of casinos have paid fines.

Thompson noted that neither Boyer, nor his associate, have been named in any publicly available indictment.  

Thompson does point out one interesting coincidence:

Resorts World Las Vegas opened in 2021.  Its president?  Scott Sibella, who left MGM in 2019.  

It was also in 2021 that the translator started making, and losing, tens of millions of dollars in bets with Boyer, and allegedly sending money from Ohtani’s bank account to Resorts World.

According to the Nevada Current, Resorts World received a federal grand jury subpoena in August.

In September, Resorts World fired Sibella for “violating company policies.”

It could all be a coincidence.  As of this date, there has been no public statement linking Sibella with Boyer or the Ohtani scandal.

And the coincidence looks like it will have no impact on Sibella’s sentencing.  He could get five years.  But the consensus is that he is cooperating with federal prosecutors and will not spend any time behind bars.

On the other hand, a week before being sentenced for a federal felony, Nevada state regulators finally filed a complaint to take his gaming license.  

So maybe he won’t be able to become president of another Las Vegas casino.

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I. Nelson Rose

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