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Shohei Ohtani scandal could focus more attention on the ‘Wild West’ of sports betting, lawmakers say

Two lawmakers who are pushing bills aimed at reining in the sports betting industry say there is a silver lining to the scandal that has ensnared the Japanese interpreter of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball phenom Shohei Ohtani: It will shine a spotlight on the plague of gambling addiction.

“This situation clearly demonstrates the impact and harm that gambling addiction can inflict,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y, who this month introduced the SAFE Bet Act to deal with what he has called a “public health crisis.”

Both Tonko and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced their bills before the news broke that Ippei Mizuhara had allegedly stole $4.5 million from Ohtani to pay off bookies in Southern California who were being investigated by the U.S. government.

“The widespread legalization and promotion of sports gambling will only make this type of incident more common moving forward,” Tonko said in an emailed response to a question from NBC News. “We have an obligation to address the predatory practices of this industry and protect consumers, which precisely what my SAFE Bet Act aims to do.”

The act would require states to meet certain rules related to sports betting, including on advertising, money deposits and the use of artificial intelligence.

The American Gaming Association, which advocates on behalf of the industry, said that the Ohtani case involved illegal gambling and that should be the focus of lawmakers.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the pervasive illegal market persists and continues to prey on Americans,” AGA spokesperson Cait DeBaun said in a statement. “This only reinforces the need for federal action on illegal gambling operations that target vulnerable Americans, steal tax dollars from communities, and undermine the regulated marketplace. We commend Congress for calling on the Department of Justice to investigate and enforce the law.”

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