Whoops, I Sold My Kidney: What’s Wrong with Valve and Gambling?

Disclaimer: This is a guest post and does not represent the views of Game With Your Brain, it's writers, or staff.


We, humans, have been doing all sorts of things we shouldn’t be doing from the very beginning of our existence here. It seems to be entrenched in our very nature – crave things that are dangerous, harmful or plainly useless. As the humanity progresses through time and comes up with new inventions, these destructive activities don’t seem to go away, on the contrary, they take new shapes and forms. It looks like we are designed to battle and surrender to temptations. And one of such temptations is gambling.

With computer technologies at hand betting your money has never been easier. All you need to do is choose the field you want to put your money in, create an account on a related website and try your luck. However, people are becoming more and more worried because of the accessibility of such activities to young groups. Regarding the fact that teenagers and young adults are usually more skilled in computer technologies and hiding traits of their online presence, the problem is becoming more and more rampant.

How Did It All Begin?

It appears to me that every exclusive community if operating long enough creates its unique economic system. The same thing had happened in the gaming community. Accumulating a substantial amount of people interested in buying and selling in-game items resulted in the creation of topic-related forums, where gamers started trading their items for real money. You know, the whole demand and supply thing. Of course, the whole procedure was riddled with risks and people getting scammed here and there.

Then some gamers with programming skills have had enough of giving their hard-earned in-game assets as a charity to not-so-honest purchasers and decided to create a third-party market to impose at least some regulations on the process. The community grew, resulting in numerous markets appearing rapidly. With the growth of the market, websites like CSGOReview appear as a natural consequence to help gamers navigate the constantly expanding realm of trading services.

The fact that you can’t buy a skin you fancy direct from the Steam served as the second main reason for the creation of such markets. You either need to purchase dozens of crates and hope that the Great Random will bestow their mercy upon you, or pay 11.5% extra at Valve Store.

What Happened After?

The main concern about the issue is that Valve states that skins don’t have any real value – that’s why trading your skins isn’t technically gambling. Though parents of the teenagers who have lost substantial amounts of money would disagree with that. This resulted in a lawsuit against Valve for allegedly allowing and facilitating the operation of such third-party websites where minors can gamble their in-game items. The suit gained quite a resonance, but the lawsuit was punted from the court and from now on will be resolved in arbitration.

I’m not a lawyer, and it took me a while to figure the difference between the generic court procedure and arbitration, but it appears to me that arbitration is a more amicable way of sorting things out. It’s faster and is conducted in private between the conflicting parties as compared to public court hearings.

The Scandal Around YouTubers

But the lawsuit was only the beginning. Soon after people found out about two famous YouTubers involvement with a skins gambling site CS: GO Lotto. In fact, they were the website owners. Though I have little trouble with the fact those two were aggressively promoting a gambling site – I usually skip those parts as any ads and guess people do the same thing in my articles, which is totally fine. I mean, we all have to make money, and partnership is an inevitable fate for vloggers, writers and other creators of a kind.

The shady thing about the predicament that repelled me from watching ProSyndicate and TmarTn is not the fact they promoted a gambling site, but the fact they didn’t disclose to anyone that they were the OWNERS of the website. To me, there’s a big difference between playing like mere mortals with fair chances of winning, and having the advantage to sli-ightly fix the results and make $1,000 out of initial $50 bet for the utter shock of the audience. As dedicated researchers found out, the said YouTubers have never really stated that they owned the website, just casually mentioned it in the description to the video, which appears to be rather deceiving to me.

It’s important to note that now official CS: GO Lotto website is off, though they have created a double that do have a warning sign about the legal age of the player. YouTube accounts of ProSyndicate and TmarTn have also lost in subscribers – the predicament with the suit obviously didn’t go well for their reputation, but soon after they restored their audience and even got more admirers. The figures went up to 2.4 million for TmarTn and 10 million for ProSyndicate, and I checked only one of their accounts. I guess nothing gets you as famous as a good scandal.

Why Is It Illegal?

There are two main problems with online gambling of in-game items. First, it’s the fact that too many (let’s face it finally) underage people are involved. I remember how I was all over gaming, Quake and then CS when I was a teenager. And I can understand the dangers of an overly-excited teenager desiring to show off in front of their buddies getting access to a website where you can bet either your real money or in-game items. To my mind, it's a problem of decision-making and self-awareness for the people playing, but let’s talk facts here.

There have been numerous instants of teenagers manipulating their parents or actively stealing money from them to buy skins, and that’s the part that triggered the lawsuit. People are not supposed to become compulsive gamblers at the age 13, because, well, they are not expected to be subjected to gambling at that age. Unlike with real-life casinos, the situation is different though with the online casinos and something even more vague, such as eSports gambling. Unless we all have biometric ID, which will happen sooner or later, you can’t tell the age of the person on the other side of the screen. And this is where the concept of personal responsibility for one’s life choices steps in.

What Can We Do About It?

Well, first of all, I believe we should inform teenagers and pretty everybody else about the possible dangers of gambling. Then, we should improve overall mental health, so people won’t binge into self-destructing escapist behaviors to make up for something their real life lacks. Closing websites that provide such an opportunity is an option, but I believe this will just open doors for underground markets and more deceit, fraud, and crime.

I prefer the “Control” route (sorry for the bad-pun ME reference, I just couldn’t hold it). I believe that when websites like CSGORoute and similar become legally approved, people who like to bet will continue betting, and those who bet only for the sake of danger and feeling the rush of adrenaline for doing something illegal will drive away. Moreover, the state will receive taxes from the vendors, and they will be able to control them. What is more important, consumers will finally be able to influence the quality of service in a larger proportion, than now.

All in all, as every difficult topic, tackling the issue of CS:GO skins gambling needs a ton of common sense, honesty and critical view of the world, not some “let’s just punish them for doing so!” shortcuts, and I believe the critical mass of the common sense required has almost accumulated.