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What is gambling addiction and how widespread is it in the US?

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The firing of Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend after allegations of illegal gambling and theft from the Japanese baseball player is shining renewed attention on compulsive gambling.

The team fired interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, who has been Ohtani's constant companion since the star came to the U.S in 2017, on Wednesday after reports about his alleged ties to an illegal bookmaker and debts well over $1 million.

The law firm representing Ohtani said in a statement that he had been the victim of “massive theft.”

Mizuhara told ESPN this week that Ohtani knew nothing of his illegal wagers on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football. Mizuhara said Ohtani was an innocent victim of his friend’s gambling addiction.

WHAT IS PROBLEM GAMBLING?

The National Council on Problem Gambling defines gambling addiction as “gambling behavior that is damaging to a person or their family, often disrupting their daily life and career.”

Gambling addiction is a recognized mental health diagnosis, and the group says anyone who gambles can be at risk for developing a problem.

Its symptoms include thinking about gambling all the time; feeling the need to bet more money more often; going back to try to win money back, known as “chasing losses;" feeling out of control; and continuing to gamble despite negative consequences.

HOW WIDESPREAD IS IT?

The council says about 2.5 million adults in the U.S. meet the criteria of having a severe gambling problem. Another 5 million to 8 million people are considered to have mild or moderate gambling problems.

The 800-GAMBLER hotline can offer help and referrals, and Gamblers Anonymous also has resources and support for those with a gambling problem.

WHERE IS SPORTS BETTING LEGAL?

Sports betting is legal in 38 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to legal wagering in a case brought by New Jersey. More than 80% of sports betting is done online, using phones or laptops.

On Thursday, at the start of the NCAA college basketball tournament, the American Gaming Association estimated that Americans would wager $2.72 billion with legal outlets this year on the tournament.

WHAT ARE SPORTS LEAGUES DOING ABOUT GAMBLING?

Major professional sports leagues prohibit their players from gambling, and many impose penalties including fines, suspensions and lifetime bans for violations.

The most famous of these involves baseball star Pete Rose, the sport's all-time hits leader, who was banned for betting on games in which his team was involved.

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement includes an annual spring training education program for players on safety and security, including issues relating to sports betting and gambling.

This comes at the same time that the leagues — who bitterly fought against legalizing sports betting beyond the four states that allowed in before 2018 — have become business partners with the biggest gambling outlets. Many teams and league have official sports betting partners and allow gambling company advertising on their premises. A few have even opened sports books at their stadiums.

IS BETTING LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA OR JAPAN?

Sports betting is not legal in California, despite several attempts to have voters legalize it. In Japan, most forms of gambling are prohibited, although it is allowed on horse racing, motor sports and public races involving bicycles, power boats and motorcycles.