Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS:GO, is a multiplayer first-person shooter game developed by Valve. It’s the latest release in a franchise of Counter-Strike games that originated as a Half-Life mod back in 1999. The original mod was so successful that Valve bought the intellectual property rights to it and released it as their own game. This was a smart business move considering how explosively successful it would become as a franchise over the next decade and a half.
CS:GO has been around since 2012. Much like the other Counter-Strike games, you get to join one of two teams: Terrorists, or Counter-Terrorists. You basically just shoot at each other. If everyone on your team dies, you lose; if everyone on your opponents team dies, you win. A big part of the game involves cosmetic items. These items, such as weapon finishes and skins, are acquired by opening virtual crates with keys that are purchased through micro-transactions in the trading system in the Steam Workshop. A lot of game developers make their money through the revenue generated from these micro-transactions, especially on free-to-play online games. Valve has mastered the use of micro-transactions as a business model because of its use in several of their biggest games (CS:GO, along with Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2).
Since the release of the Arms Deal update, many skins have been introduced into the game. These cosmetic items include weapons such as guns and knives. Their monetary value varies based on how rare the skin is. As stated above, you acquire these items by unlocking virtual crates. The keys are purchased with actual money. This update is actually what caused CS:GO to explode in popularity. Prior to the update, it was actually less popular than the original Counter-Strike! Clearly, these skins are popular, and there’s lots of money to be made from trading them.
So much money, in fact, that websites dedicated to betting on them have popped up all over the internet. The Steam Workshop controls the amount of money you are allowed to spend on these keys. The keys to the rarest items—some sick ass knives—are worth $400. If that seems an excessive price to pay for some virtual loot, you should see what some of these websites outside of Steam will charge you. People have bet thousands of dollars on skins on some of these websites.
A Bloomberg article by Joshua Brustein and Eben Novy-Williams entitled, “Virtual Weapons are turning Teen Gamers into Serious Gamblers,” covers this troubling phenomenon in depth. There is a reason for the rise in these kinds of gambling websites surrounding gaming: in the last decade, professional video gaming, or esports, has exploded in popularity. Like other professional sports, pro gaming has a shady subculture based around betting on the results of games. CS:GO is one of the most popular games played in E-Sports tournaments, and so there is a ton of money to made in betting on these games. Since Valve introduced skins in CS:GO, an entire underground economy built on gambling has sprung up. People buy the skins for cash and then use the skins to place online bets in professional CS:GO matches. Last year, $2.3 billion worth of skins were wagered on the outcome of e-sports matches. The gambling sites that earn this revenue run on software built by Valve, so they benefit financially from this market. They collect 15 percent of the money whenever CS:GO skins are sold.
This gambling market is so large that much of it is unregulated. This is a problem, especially if Valve is profiting from it. There have already been incidents of fraud and match fixing at several e-sports tournaments. The most Valve does about this is occasionally ban people who cheat and shut down websites that have been rigged. They don’t discourage people from participating in gambling, and why would they? They take fifteen percent of the revenue made from this underground empire. Last year this empire generated $2.3 billion. Fifteen percent of that is $345 million for Valve. With that kind of money on the line, you’d be surprised at how many people will simply throw morality out the window.
These third-party gambling sites that are all over the internet? Valve allows players to transfer the skins they won in game. There’s almost no oversight on a lot of these websites. The biggest of these websites is CSGO Lounge. This website provides little information about the owners of the website, whether or not it complies with state and local gambling laws, or whether it has any consumer protections in place. Sports betting is illegal in 46 states in America, but this website does little more than remind players to adhere to the laws. It has been recognized by Valve, so many players feel like it can be trusted. 38 million people visited this website back in March. There are a series of e-sports matches every day; the average match draws $134,000 in skins wagers. Matches between the most popular e-sports teams can draw over a million in skins betting.
The most troubling aspect of this underground gambling economy is how young many of the participants are. Many of them are teenagers. This isn’t too surprising, considering that this economy runs around CS:GO, which is a hugely popular game among teenage boys. It is still appalling, nonetheless. Underage gambling is illegal, but it is very common on these websites. There’s very little safeguards on any CS:GO gambling website to prevent people under the age of 18 from using them. One website, CSGO Lotto, explicitly allowed kids as young as 13 to make bets.
CSGO Lotto will be the main focus of this article, because recently it has been enveloped in a major scandal involving two popular YouTube personalities, Tom Syndicate and Trevor Martin. These two guys are well-known Call of Duty gamers with millions of subscribers on YouTube. The scandal started with a news story on the YouTube channel CSGONews. This story was about two members of the popular e-sports team FaZe Clan, Rain and Adapt, faking reactions while making videos of themselves gambling on a CSGO gambling site called CSGO Wild. While this story didn’t blow up, it was noticed by a YouTuber going by the name of HonorTheCall. This guy knew that Tom Syndicate and Trevor Martin were doing similar videos and claiming to make lots of money on gambling sites, so he decided to do some research on them.
HonorTheCall uncovered a lot of truly reprehensible and scummy shit that Syndicate and Martin were doing. If all of his research checks out, those two guys have committed serious felonies and deserve to spend time in prison. Trevor Martin made several videos—which he’s made private since the scandal broke, of course—where he claims to win large amounts of money in a short amount of time gambling on CSGO Lotto. He also promotes the website in his videos.
There are two big problems here. The first of which is that his man has a LOT of kids in his fanbase. Like, I’m talking Middle School age kids. Most gaming YouTube channels have a young demographic. And he’s promoting a gambling website and encouraging them to play on it. This alone is fucked up, and makes Martin look very irresponsible at best. But what if I told you that it gets worse? Much worse? Because it does. You see, Martin and Syndicate not only promoted irresponsible behavior in their videos, they also lied to their fans about their involvement with CSGO Lotto. They claimed to have merely found the website, and that after playing a few times and winning big, that they were “considering a sponsorship deal.” In actuality, they own the website.
As it turns out, CSGO Lotto is registered as business in Orlando, where Trevor Martin lives. He is the director of the website. This can be confirmed by looking on a website called Statelog.com. It has a list of all the business registrations in Florida, and CSGO Lotto shows up listing Martin as the owner. Tom Syndicate is the Vice President. Looking at corporation wiki provides more confirmation that Martin and Syndicate are the President and VP of CSGO Lotto, respectively. CSGO Lotto also shows up in the files on Intercreditreport.com. It has been registered as a for-profit organization. What this means is that these two were gambling on their own website and claiming to win big. Since they own the website, they can potentially control the outcome.
When HonorTheCall made his first video exposing Martin and Syndicate, they went into damage control mode. They decided to cover up their lies and deception with more lies and deception. Martin made a video where he confirmed that he and Syndicate own CSGO Lotto. He claimed that this was “never a secret.” Basic research reveals this as a complete lie. In the first video Martin ever made about CSGO Lotto, he claimed that it was a “new site” that he “just found.”
In Martin’s damage control video, he explains his relationship with CSGO Lotto as thus: “CSGO Lotto is a company. Tmartin Enterprises is a company. CSGO Lotto pays Tmartin Enterprises for promotion. Tmartin Enterprises promotes CSGO Lotto. That’s just how it works.” Tmartin Enterprises is a business that Martin owns. Basically, he is claiming that one of his businesses is paying the other to promote it. He is paying himself to promote himself.
This gets worse. Martin claims that there is not a problem because he discloses the fact that owns CSGO Lotto in the video descriptions of all of his CSGO Lotto videos. Except this is bullshit, because he didn’t add those disclaimers until after HonorTheCall made his first video exposing him and Syndicate on June 27. A simple look on the Internet Wayback Machine will prove this.
As the owner of CSGO Lotto, Martin has immense power over it. Someone with background knowledge of how CSGO Gambling sites work contacted HonorTheCall. He claims that the owner of these sites have access to the database which has a percentage saved. He has the ability to use that percentage to win every game. In other words, there is absolutely nothing preventing him from fixing the games. Most gambling sites don’t allow their owners to play because of this conflict of interest. This is actually unprecedented. Owners of CSGO Gambling sites have never been caught winning money on their own sites before now.
Things would get worse for Martin and Syndicate on July 3, when h3h3productions made a video about their scam. With a big YouTube channel exposing them, the story quickly spread across the internet and began making headlines on gaming news sites such as Kotaku, Eurogamer, and Polygon. Martin has made the incriminating videos private, but several copies have been re-uploaded. YouTube news channel Scarce contacted Martin and asked him about his activities. Naturally, Martin responded by telling more lies. He claimed that he “owns the site now, but didn’t back then.” Apparently, his first CSGO Lotto video was a “feeler video.” He was supposedly testing to see if his audience would enjoy this type of content. That explains why he states that he just “found” this gambling site, right? It also explains why he didn’t disclose the fact that he owned the site until after he was exposed, right? Of course not!
Three people on twitter found Trevor Martin’s Steam Account. It shows that he has been trading skins with several bot accounts. They also posted a screenshot from one of Martin’s now private videos. It shows that he logged into CSGO Wild as a bot account named CSGO Lotto Bot #05. You can get items from these bot accounts if you win the jackpot. Twitter user Cro76, in a DM to HonorTheCall, stated that he’s never seen a gambling site owner logged in as a bot before. He explains that this is shady because he bet on a jackpot on his regular account, and then log in as the bot in order to accept the offer. If has access to the items, he can send them back to himself and still be in the jackpot until it rolls the winner. If he wins he gets other people’s items; if he loses, he still has the items he deposited. Essentially, it’s another way of fixing the game. It is also noteworthy (this was discovered by someone on the h3h3productions subreddit) that if you pause the video at 6:52, you’ll see that two other sites are linked to CSGO Lotto at the bottom of the page (csgo.steamanalyst.com and opskins.com). You’ll also notice that CSGO Lotto Bot #05 has had past trades with three OPSKINS Bots (#152, #312, and #241).
Short version of this whole thing: Trevor Martin is in a positon where he can’t lose. He has full access to the database of his website, and he can log in as bots in order to send skins to himself. He, along with Tom Syndicate, have been running a massive scam.
They have also broken the law. FTC Guidelines state that you must disclose that you are sponsored by a website if you are sponsored. After it was revealed that Martin and Syndicate owned this website, some of their dumber fans defended them, saying that they weren’t breaking FTC guidelines. The reasoning is that they aren’t being sponsored by the website if they own it. Going back to the videos made by HonorTheCall, it’s clear that they were getting sponsored by this website. As Trevor Martin said, “CSGO Lotto pays TmarTn Enterprises for promotion. TmarTn Enterprises promotes CSGO Lotto.” As Philip DeFranco says, “It goes in a circle.” I’m pretty sure that if you own a gambling website and claim that you don’t in order to gamble on that website, you’ve committed a felony. It is clear that they have broken FTC guidelines around effective disclosures in digital advertising. Disclosures are required to be clear and conspicuous. Suffice to say, that is not the case here.
Philip DeFranco explains in his video about the scandal that websites like CSGO Lotto make their money by taking 8% of the whole pot. As I’ve written earlier, these websites pull in an average of $134,000 per match, and there are tens of thousands of matches per month. 8% of $134,000 is $10,720. CSGO Lotto is undoubtedly generated tons of money even if the games aren’t rigged, and there’s evidence to suggest that the games are being rigged and that the site is a scam.
A YouTuber name Cole Warner uploaded a video a few months ago (before the scandal broke out) about how he sent an offer for a bayonet tiger tooth into the pot but it never went in. He sent the offer off the website. His items were held by Bot #115. After Warner sent a complaint to the sites admin, he was given an automated response asking for his Steam ID, his trade URL, and his missing items. Warner provided the information. He was treated with another automated response asking for his confirmation number. The problem is that Warner was never provided with one. The message in the trade just said, “Automated Trade from CSGO Lotto: Happy Trading.” He explained this in a post and was treated to another automated message stating that they can’t help him unless he provides the confirmation number. Warner created a new support ticket and was given a warning not to create duplicate tickets or he would get banned, as well as more “please provide your confirmation number” shit.
If you look at Mr. Warner’s screenshot of the support center, you’ll see that he opened no less than five tickets explaining his problems. He offered plenty of screenshots and evidence that he wasn’t getting what he bet on. The site’s support offered no help and all of the tickets were closed without anything being resolved. In one of the tickets, he explained that he went to Bot #115’s inventory to find his item and that the bot never gave him his confirmation number. He also mentions that the skin was $400 and that he doesn’t know if he won or lost the match because he wasn’t able to put it into the pot. The ticket was closed without any response from the support team. Another one of his tickets, in which he asks why they need a confirmation code since the bot never gave him one, was closed only four minutes after it was created.
Warner showed his user history page on CSGO Lotto where it lists the matches he’s won and the matches he’s lost. He can confirm that his $400 bet never made it into the pot. Warner also claims that a similar thing happened to his friend. This alone isn’t proof that the site is a scam, but it certainly shows that something shady is definitely going on. He is not alone with stories like this. If you go on the Steam Community group for this website, you’ll find multiple threads from people claiming similar things. That the bots never gave them confirmation codes. That they never got their skins sent back to them when they couldn’t get into the pot. That they never received their winnings.
Is this enough evidence to prove that Martin and Syndicate were rigging the games? I can’t say for certain. But it seems very likely. I’ve already explained that they’ve clearly broken the law by promoting a for-profit gambling website and not disclosing the fact that they own it. I want to talk about what’s even more despicable about all of this: the fact that these two have manipulated and exploited their young, impressionable fan base for financial gain.
The lies and manipulation didn’t end when their scam was exposed; they continued to do so while attempting damage control. Tom Syndicate took to twitter to spew vapid platitudes about being “humbled” by this experience and promising, “transparency from here on out.” Uh-huh. Trevor Martin uploaded a truly pathetic and disingenuous “apology” video on July 6. It starts with a clip of him hugging his dog and bemoaning that he has no idea how to record the video. Right afterwards, he starts by telling the audience that he loves them and that they mean the world to him. Classic emotional manipulation. He then explains that his connection to CSGO Lotto has been a matter of public record since December 2015 and that owes an apology to audience for feeling that it wasn’t made clear enough. That’s not apologizing for your actions, that’s pleading with your audience that “it’s not what it looks like!”
Martin finishes the apology video by claiming that he “believes” that every game offered on CSGO Lotto was legit followed by more showering his fans with praise and buttering them up in order to drum up sympathy. His assurances that the games were legit ring hollow given the fact there is documented evidence of him logging in as a bot, giving him to ability to trade skins to himself. The video received over 60,000 dislikes and numerous negative comments. Martin continuously deleted the negative comments for several hours before deleting the video entirely, likely realizing that his attempt at damage control backfired. There are several re uploads on YouTube, however.
HonorTheCall made a response video to Trevor Martin, splicing footage from the apology with a clip from a previous video from Martin where he explains that YouTube isn’t where he gets the majority of his income anymore. That’s the first true thing that Martin has said, as it turns out that CSGO Lotto generates between $100k and $250k per month, depending on how active the site is. HonorTheCall also debunks Martin’s claim that people trying to create an account on CSGO Lotto must agree to be 18 or older. He shows a screenshot of a page that states that CSGO Lotto is not affiliated with Steam, but it will allow you to use your Steam account to play on it. If you don’t have one, the page offers a link to create a Steam account. This takes the user to Valve’s website, where you have to click a box confirming that you agree to the terms of service and that you are 13 years of age or older. There’s nothing stopping kids under age 13 from lying about their age to create Steam accounts either. If they can lie about their age on the Steam account confirmation they can lie about it when they return to the CSGO confirmation page.
Martin and Syndicate have lots of kids in their fan base. They know it. Most YouTube Gaming channels have young demographics and these two are no exception. There are several pictures of them going to conventions where fans can meet them, get autographs, et cetera. Some of the fans in those pictures are clearly Middle School age kids. Kids that age are very impressionable and have no idea how the world works. They don’t know how to recognize a scam. And they tend to be very trusting and very loyal to their favorite YouTube stars. As someone’s who has been on YouTube for eight years—and has regularly watched YouTube content for ten years—I can confirm this. You can see it in the comments section of any big YouTube channel, especially the gaming channels. These kids adore and idolize their favorite YouTubers. They want to be like them.
Trevor Martin and Tom Syndicate are well aware of these facts. They know about the impressionable kids that trust them. And they have taken advantage of it; exploited it. They have lied to them, deceived them, and conned them. They have promoted gambling websites to them; sites that they secretly owned and controlled. They’ve used them in order to scam money from them. They fed these kids these videos on how they can “MAKE $13,000 in five minutes!” What kid wouldn’t get excited and try that out for themselves? These kids will end up losing over and over on this site, and they’ll keep coming back because gambling is very addicting. It’s especially bad if kids developing addictive habits like this; it’s much harder for them to kick such habits because their brains have not fully developed yet.
What Martin and Syndicate have done is illegal. Online gambling is against the law in Florida, but sites like CSGO Lotto are allowed to exist due to a loophole. The laws were made before things like micro-transactions and trading skins and virtual goods inside a video game became a thing. The laws haven’t been updated to reflect the rise of this phenomenon, so it technically doesn’t qualify as gambling under the law as currently written. This does not make it right. It’s a disgusting loophole that Martin and Syndicate have abused in order to avoid legal punishment. Fortunately for us, they have broken another law; the one barring you from promoting a for-profit enterprise without disclosing the fact that you own it.
This story has since blown up, making headlines outside of YouTube and on mainstream media websites all over the globe. More information has come out about CSGO Lotto. The latest video by HonorTheCall reveals that CSGO Lotto (and other gambling websites) actually make a minimum of $1 million per month, rather than the previously estimated $100-250k. Trevor Martin, Tom Syndicate, CSGO Lotto, and Valve are also being sued. The lawsuit was brought up by anonymous mother on behalf of her underage son. Any US Citizen can join this lawsuit if they have lost money on any CSGO gambling site. I’m glad to see this happening. People who exploit kids and introduce them to gambling deserve the be punished the full extent of the law. Let’s hope the FTC tears them apart as well. This isn’t the first time Tom Syndicate has been in trouble with them for failing to disclose information.
I’m also glad that this incident has brought much public attention to the issue of these CSGO Gambling sites and their often underage users. Trevor Martin and Tom Syndicate are just the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t the first scandal involving popular YouTubers/Twitch streamers and a CSGO Gambling site.
A month ago, a scandal involving a CSGO streamer named m0e and a gambling site called CSGO Diamonds erupted. M0e asked for predetermined rolls so that he knew what would happen when he went to gamble. A YouTuber named Thooorin broke the scandal down. M0e had $26k on the site that he tried to withdraw but was told the couldn’t. He gave them 24 hours to give him his money or he would “expose” them. M0e accused the site owner of fraud and sending him the rolls before it happened and that the site was shady and would not appear on any of his streams. M0e showed screenshots of his Skype log with the CSGO Diamonds owner on his Twitter.
CSGO Diamonds responded with a TwitLonger post stating that the contacted m0e looking to sponsor him, agreeing to give him twenty percent of all profits made the first month he streamed for them, and ten percent of all profits made in the following months. M0e had told them that he would be streaming for 110-130 hours a month. After six weeks, he began streaming less. M0e claimed that he was dealing with problems in his personal life after CSGO Diamonds asked him why he was spending less time streaming. M0e said that they could renogitate if they felt he hadn’t shaped up by the end of May. His streams continued to get less frequent. When CSGO Diamonds approached him on June 1, telling him that they were going to renegotiate, m0e made threats to expose them for wrongdoing. CSGO Diamonds claimed that m0e was involved in that himself.
CSGO Diamonds goes on to confirm that they did indeed offer to tell m0e what the rolls were going to be, in order to get him to stream more. They claimed that this was a mistake that they wouldn’t repeat with any other sponsor, and that it happened in both directions. They would offer him information on the rolls, and he would ask them for the information. M0e’s threatening to expose them resulting in them ending their sponsorship deal with him and giving him a severance payment. They claim that after he left, he began spreading false information about them on Twitter. CSGO Diamonds posted a screenshot of their own skype log with m0e, showing their side of the story.
Long story short: m0e agreed to a deal where he gets a revenue share of the profits made by CSGO Diamonds. In exchange, he will stream himself gambling on the site for 110-130 hours per month. He’s promoting the site in exchange for a percentage of the profits. The site thinks that seeing him winning on stream a lot will make them look good, so they offer to give him information on the rolls so that he’d win more often. M0e initially says he doesn’t want to do it that way. Most CSGO gambling sites will automatically refill a sponsored streamer’s account when they get low so they can continue gambling. That’s the way m0e wanted to do it at first, but CSGO Diamonds convinced him to do it their way. M0e then started asking the site for the roll information for him to win easily to fill his account again when he gets low. M0e wasn’t playing against other people during his streams, he was playing against the site itself. Because of his agreement with them, he was able to win easily, and he was presenting it as a regular match on his streams.
The deal was shady on the part of both parties. It also gave m0e’s audience a false perception of what gambling on CSGO Diamonds is like. According to the skype log, m0e was getting over $50k a month from CSGO Diamonds to fake reactions in his streams. He was also getting $150k a month from gambling on another site called CSGODouble. After CSGO paid him his severance package after the sponsorship ended, m0e demanded he get $10k through the site affiliates, despite that never being part of the deal. He basically threatened to blackmail the site because they wouldn’t give him what he wanted after he didn’t hold up his end of the deal. They gave him a $75k severance package so that he wouldn’t blackmail them, but he blackmailed them anyway.
This is not the first time m0e has done something shady. M0e was banned from e-sports team ESEA for cheating back in 2014. He had used trigger bots to give him an edge in several professional CS:GO matches. It’s unsurprising that someone like this would turn to shady gambling deals. These sites all seem to be attracting some really scummy guys.
Back to the scandal with Trevor Martin and Tom Syndicate, this is not the first time the FTC has punished YouTubers for accepting paid advertisements without disclosing their sponsors. The multi-channel network Machinima paid several YouTubers—Syndicate was among them—up to $30,000 to say positive things about the X-Box One back in 2013. This was done as a part of a secret agreement with Microsoft—the creators of the X-Box. There is also evidence that Trevor Martin was paid by Activision to promote Call of Duty. A YouTuber named Eight Thoughts made several videos on the subject. Martin has been uploading the trailers to Call of Duty games for years, and the videos each have hundreds of thousands of views. Since these trailers are the intellectual property of Activision, someone who just uploaded them onto their own YouTube channel would receive copyright strikes almost immediately. There’s no way Martin could get away with this if he wasn’t in some kind of financial partnership with Activision.
What Syndicate and Martin have done recently makes that ethical lapse seem tame. It’s not just the fact that they promoted a for-profit website and failed to disclose the fact that they owned it. It’s not just that they scammed their underage fans out of their money. Even if they hadn’t been lying, they’d still be scummy simply for promoting an addicting—and illegal—habit like online gambling to kids.
They aren’t the only popular e-sports YouTubers to do so. Two members of the mega-popular FaZe Clan, Nordan “Rain” Shat and Ricky Banks, were accused of owning a CSGO gambling site called CSGO Wild as the CSGO Lotto drama was unfolding. There isn’t enough evidence at the moment for me to outright accuse them of doing the same scam that Martin and Syndicate did with CSGO Lotto. Scarce did some research and while he couldn’t find evidence that Rain and Banks owned CSGO Wild, he did find out that Rain was sponsored by the website. Rain has made several videos about how he won tons of money on CSGO Wild, very similar to the ones that Martin and Syndicate made about CSGO Lotto. The video descriptions do say that the video was sponsored by CSGO Wild. He wins $30,000 from 10 games in a row in one of his videos, which is an extremely suspicious stroke of good luck.
Even if they don’t own the site, I’m still going to condemn them for what they’re doing. And that thing is, promoting a gambling website to their underage audience and making online gambling seem like it’s cool. It is illegal in 46 states and uncool in all 50 of them. Like Martin and Syndicate, Rain and Banks have a lot of young kids—twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old; middle school aged—in their fan base. These kids look up to them and idolize them. And in my eyes, that means they have a responsibility to set good examples to them. They shouldn’t be encouraging gambling. But because they and a lot of big gaming YouTubers are, underage gambling is becoming a problem because of the multitude of skins betting sites out there.
Most of these betting sites are unregulated…it’s a virtual wild west. There is a website called SkinXChange where gamers can sell and buy CS:GO skins—and skins from any game running on Valve software—for real money. The owner of that site has bluntly stated that the underage gambling problem is huge. He’s called many parents whose children have used their credit cards to buy the skins on his site and then bet them on other sites. It’s not uncommon for them to rack up thousands of dollars only to lose it all on another gambling site.
Rahul Sood, CEO of a e-sports betting site called Unikrn, warned against streamers advertising for gambling sites back in April. He mentioned hearing his 13-year-old son talk with his friends about skin trading—and since this man has a properly functioning moral compass, he believes that this is wrong. Sood actually argues for the legalization of sports betting so that it can be regulated properly, because at the moment he believes that it’s an environment where sites can prey upon young people. It seems he predicted the CSGO Lotto Scandal three months in advance.
The growth of skins gambling online has been insane in just the last year alone. Chris Grove, consultant at Eilers and Krejcik Gaming, has estimated that the market for skin betting will be $5 billion this year—more than double last year’s $2.3 billion. The number of people betting on e-sports is also growing at a crazy rate. Last year, it was estimated that 2.3 million people bet on e-sports games, according to n Eilers Research Report. That firm projects the number growing to at least 17.4 million by 2020 by a conservative estimate. The firm also projects that $12.7 billion will be wagered on video games by that year.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. An underground gambling market based around video games and skins trading is a recent phenomena, less than a decade old. That it’s growing so fast is insane. That it’s almost completely unregulated is alarming. The industry is so young that the gambling laws have yet to be updated to reflect its rapid rise. But the size and scope of this shady industry—and the amount of money to be made from it—would make even the old Las Vegas mob jealous.
All of these gambling sites are usable with Steam accounts and use software developed by Valve. Since the CSGO Lotto Scandal blew up, the issue of underage gambling on skins websites has been brought up by mainstream media sources, such as the BBC. And while the biggest villains of this story are the slimeballs who took advantage of their young, naïve fan base for easy money, Valve is not innocent in all of this. They didn’t just create Counter Strike: Global Offensive; they created the means to which the shady skins gambling underworld was possible.
(Much of the information in the next few paragraphs comes from an excellent op-ed in Polygon by Philip Kollar)
Valve made it very easy for you to connect your Steam account to various third-party websites. Player can bet on professional CS:GO matches—much like people will bet on NFL games. Remember the FIFA scandal from last year? It’s a lot like that. Some sites will simplify the skin betting into coin flips or slot machines against other players—much like a typical online gambling site. People put real money into getting skins, bet with them, and then sell them on the Steam market place. CS:GO gambling sites can work around the law by claiming that people aren’t betting real money, they’re betting skins, ignoring how people acquire those skins. When you’re resorting to technicalities and legal loopholes, it’s safe to say that your website is shady as fuck.
A month ago, a player filed a lawsuit against Valve, claiming that he lost money to CS:GO gambling as a minor. Last year, Reddit’s CS:GO community did a poll in which 42% of respondents said that they were under the age of 18, and 63% said they were under 21. CS:GO isn’t exactly geared towards kids (it’s Rated M for Mature), but when has that ever stopped kids from playing it? I played the original Half-Life when I was ten and that game is also Rated M. CS:GO, as well as the various Call of Duty games are hugely popular among the 12-18 year old male demographic. Log into pretty much any game and listen to a few voices—a lot of them are not adult voices.
The National Council on Problem Gambling reported that 5% of youth aged 12-17 having a gambling addiction, while another 10-14 percent at risk of developing one. With CS:GO—and more importantly, the YouTubers and Twitch Streamers who play it—being so popular among that demographic, and with the huge gambling subculture surrounding the game, there’s plenty of reasons to be concerned.
Where is Valve itself at fault? You know the saying that all it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing? That’s Valve. They’ve known about all of this for years—there’s no way they possibly couldn’t have—and they’ve chosen to look the other way. These sites all use Valve software, so Valve profits from this gambling empire as well. Valve hasn’t done much more than make some security changes to Steam to prevent scamming through gambling sites.
CS:GO isn’t the only Valve game with a gambling problem. Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 have similar loot systems and gambling sites of their own. Those games are both Rate T for Teen, so there’s no shortage of underage players.
Jasper Ward, an attorney representing the young man who filed a lawsuit against Valve last month, has accused Valve of deliberately allowing this skins trading market to flourish. They are accused of profiting from this unregulated online gambling economy. “Parents don’t know that this is going on and can’t talk to their kids about it because the gambling chips are called ‘Skins’ and it seems like just another in-game purchase.”
Ward contacted Valve for a chance to tell their side of the story, but they did not respond to the lawsuit. The Polygon journalist also tried to contact Valve, and he got no response as well. It wasn’t until the Trevor Martin and Tom Syndicate scandal blew up that Valve decided to take action. (Possibly because those two gave the lawsuit against Valve a ton of new ammo.)
Valve has started cracking down on these gambling sites in the wake of the scandal, and this is good. They’ve been sending out cease and desist notices. Unfortunately, the fact they waited until a massive scandal threatened their bottom line reflects poorly on their character. If they actually cared about the fact that their underage customers were being scammed and exploited by scummy people, they would’ve shut down these third-party gambling sites a long time ago. But they didn’t.
Twitch is also banning gambling broadcasts. Again, a good start, but long overdue. This kind of shit should never have been allowed in the first place.
Fixing this problem goes beyond just shutting down these sites and prohibiting gaming YouTubers and streamers from promoting them. What we need to do is convince the Twitch community, the gaming community, the YouTube community—remind them that they all have a young, impressionable fan base. Much like famous sports stars from previous generations, the current generation of kids looks up to these online celebrities. When so many kids look up to you, you need to be on your best behavior and set the best example for them.
I’m not saying you have to make videos feeding the homeless or promoting research into curing cancer. What you should do is just remind your audience to do basic acts of human decency—be a good sport when gaming online, don’t call each other faggots or say that you fucked someone else’s mom. Don’t promote things like online gambling or skins trading websites.
Remember that your fans are people, not bags of money with legs. If I had the kind of fan base that these gaming stars have and they were out gambling on websites because of a video I made, I’d be devastated.
The most disgusting thing about what Trevor Martin and Tom Syndicate did is how little remorse they had over it. Trevor Martin made that pathetic apology video, deleted it after getting bombarded with hate, and then went back to his regular videos after a few days with no comment. Tom Syndicate just tweeted that the experience was humbling, and then went back to uploading his regular videos. No apology at all from him. Syndicate even joked about the scandal in a video where he played Slither.io, saying that it’s not a sponsored video and that he doesn’t own Slither.io.
These two have no idea how lucky they are to be in their position. They get lots of money to stream video games and have tons of adoring young fans. They’re my age—actually, they’re a few years younger than me—and they don’t have to grind out several service industry jobs to pay their rent. They have nicer houses than even the most affluent members of my family. Many people would kill to have their jobs.
Instead, they decided that it’s not enough. No, they need MOAR MONIE$! So they set a up a gambling site and scam their fans. It’s good that they’re in a ton of legal shit right now because of this, and it’s disgusting that YouTube hasn’t shut down their channels. But they’re big, popular channels and they make YouTube and Google a lot of money. And we all know that money is what really matters in the world.
Fuck these people.