Following Valve’s announcement, streaming service Twitch said it will no longer carry streams of people gambling with skins. Clearly, big companies that previously tolerated skin gambling have come to the conclusion that it’s a toxic issue.
With lawsuits against Valve, gambling sites and YouTubers yet to be resolved, there is still the issue of legality. In most countries, it is illegal for minors to gamble. And yet, millions of dollars worth of skins have been bet by people under the age of 18, all over the world.
“No one really knows how many children or teenagers are gambling,” said Grove. “There’s no hard data, but I think it would be disingenuous to think that there are no minors playing these games.”
Xavi from Spain began playing when he was 17. He says he doesn’t have a problem. But until the gambling websites closed, he played often.
“It doesn’t feel like I’m losing real money,” he said. “I realize the skins do have a value. It’s my problem that it doesn’t feel the same. I’m trying to stop.”
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“I think a lot of the people playing are kids just because of the way they talk and their reactions. None of the websites that I play are asking my age.
“If they lose, players can get quite angry. It’s like a drug. They need to gamble. I think it’s damaging the [CS: GO] community.”
In a Dickensian twist, Xavi works part time for a gambling site, moderating chat rooms and bets. He’s paid in skins, which he uses to gamble.
“I started playing CS: GO when I was 14 and started to bet and gamble a year later,” said Mats from Germany. “Most of my friends were around the same age.”
After losing money, he decided to quit. “In retrospective, it was a good experience for me. I now know that I don’t want to have contact with gambling ever again. But there are also a few friends of mine that haven’t learned the same lesson. Some of them are still wasting tons of money. Most of them are teenagers. This stuff is dangerous and access is so easy.”
Morrison said his law firm has received multiple calls from young people who have lost money, often taken from parents. “These kids don’t know anything about the law but they are scared to tell their parents they just lost five grand betting online. I’ve been getting emails saying, ‘I’m 12 and just lost $3,000 on a CS: GO gambling website, what do I do?'”
Legal protections are almost nonexistent, with state-level commissions unable to comprehend or process the problem.
“A lot of these commissioners don’t even know how to open emails,” said Morrison. “If you try to explain skin gambling to a legislator, it’s near impossible. I’ve been trying for a long time. They don’t know what this is.”
Polygon contacted the Washington State Gambling Commission, where Valve is based. A spokesperson said, “I have not heard of anything lately that involved children gambling with skins from the game Counter-Strike.”
A spokesperson for the British Gambling Commission commented, “We are paying close attention to the growing popularity of virtual or in-game items, which can be won, traded, sold or used as virtual currency to gamble. Where such items are money or money’s worth and facilities for gambling with them are being offered, we consider that the activity will need to be licensed.”