Concern Mounts over Counter-Strike Teen Gambling

Posted on: April 23, 2016, 09:46h. 

Last updated on: April 22, 2016, 09:58h.

Counter-Strike skins virtual gambling market
Virtual arms market: The Counter-Strike “skins” that can be bought, sold and gambled with in a huge global underground market. (Image: steamcommunity.com)

Unregulated e-sports gambling was under the spotlight this week. A Bloomberg article published Wednesday sheds light on the unregulated and often underage gambling market that has grown up around the trading of “skins” in the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

For those over 30, this may need further explanation. Counter-Strike is a series of first-person shooter video games developed by the Valve Corporation, which also owns the Steam online games distribution platform. The games allow players to play in teams either as terrorists or counter-terrorists.

CS: GO, the fourth iteration of the series, released in 2012, was initially slow to take off, until someone at Valve had the brainwave to introduce collectable “designer” weapons, known as skins, into the game, which could be purchased in-game and traded for real money.

No Longer About the Game

Thus, Valve created a virtual arms market, and the popularity of the game exploded as a result. There are now, according to Bloomberg, around 380,000 around the world people playing the game at any given time.

And because skins have a real-world cash value, they can be used as a virtual currency, and for gambling. A sizable market in skins gambling has sprung up around the game and its vast community of players.

Valve permits the transfer of skins to third-party sites, which in turn facilitates the creation of independent skin-wagering websites that operate lottery and roulette-style games. By far the greatest amount of bets are placed, though, on teams competing in professional video gaming, or e-sports, at is has become known.

It’s estimated that over 3 million players bet $2.3 billion worth of skins on the outcome of e-sports matches in 2015.

“Nothing about Counter-Strike is about the game anymore,” Moritz Maurer, head of e-sports integrity at gambling watchdog SportIM, told Bloomberg. “It’s all about betting and winning.”

Underage Losses

The e-sports betting industry is a relatively new phenomenon, but a regulated and licensed market exists, and licensed operators are concerned by the unregulated competition, which they accuse of facilitating underage gambling.

And since the skin gambling sites incorporate software built by Valve, and Valve collects 15 percent of every skin that’s bought or sold, many believe the company should be held legally accountable.

Ryan Morrison, a lawyer specializing in legal issues surrounding video gaming, told Bloomberg he has been contacted by numerous people over the past four months looking to sue Valve after losing their money gambling with skins. Many are underage, he said, and the biggest losses run into thousands.

“Valve acts as if they’re a 10-person indie company,” he said. “I am shocked that they let this go on.”