Another Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Gambling Upset

[Update: Okay! So, gambling site CSGOLotto was blocked by an overzealous volunteer moderator rather than by high order from Valve, another community mod has explained, and the warning is now removed. However! Since this all kicked off, a YouTuber with almost half a million subscribers has admitted he was paid in valuable skins for undisclosed promotional videos faking big wins in a different weapon skin lottery. Ooh there’s a lot of shady business going on all right.]

Let’s skip to the takeaway message then we can fill in the details: never gamble with your imaginary guns if you’re not prepared to lose everything or be made to look like a mug. Okay, so! Valve do not endorse the sites which use Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [official site] weapon skins as a currency for gambling but they do at least mostly tolerate them. This week, however, they have taken the rare step of warning against one particular skin lottery after it was discovered that famous YouTubers who made videos praising it were the site’s owners.

Time to briefly explain the confusing Counter-Strike economy again! Global Offensive has skins which can make weapons look nice or ghastly (see above for ghastly). The wonders of the Steam Community Market stuff means folks can also do swapsies or sell them for Steam store credit. Some mighty trusting folks sell skins outside Steam for real money. They’re also used as chips for gambling by sites tapping into Steam accounts through legitimate channels opened by Valve. The famous CSGO Lounge, for example, lets folks bet skins on the results of competitive matches to win more skins.

Which brings us to CSGOLotto. It runs a lottery where players contribute skins to a pool then one entrant wins the lot (minus a cut for the house). And, as our pals Eurogamer explain in great details, the site has turned out to be partially owned by famous YouTubers ‘TmarTn’ and ‘Syndicate’ (how famous? over 13 million subscribers between them) who’ve made videos promoting CSGOLotto without clear disclosure statements. These include videos with not-at-all-suspicious titles like “WINNING BIG $$$$!! (CS:GO Betting)” and “HOW TO WIN $13,000 IN 5 MINUTES (CS:GO Betting)”.

I won’t get into how people discovered all that and the denials, admittances, and deletions – go read Eurogamer’s report – but, in short, Steam now warns people about CSGOLotto. Trying to log into the site, which goes through legitimate Steam channels to access your items, now shows this warning:

You can ignore that warning and continue if you want but, y’know, I’d think twice. The warning does suggest it could’ve been community moderators who did this, mind, rather than Valve directly – but if so Valve haven’t removed it.

CS:GO gambling has always been a prickly issue, reviled by some folks, enjoyed by others, and even leading to permanent bans for match-fixing. It seems to be getting more negative attention than usual lately, though. One player recently filed a lawsuit against Valve, claiming that because they sell ‘keys’ to unlock weapons and take a cut of Community Market sales, they’re profiting from illegal gambling.

Say, reader dear, how about you – have you gambled with your CS gun skins at all?

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  1. Ham Solo says:

    Back when I used to play Counter-Strike we were happy enough to just shoot eachother. No need for hats or painted guns or gambling.

  2. Alfius says:

    So I hear that Counterstrike: Source, masterpiece and definitive remake of the well loved, but flawed, Counterstrikes 1.0-1.6 recently had some sort of sequel…

    I’ll show myself out.

  3. Eamo says:

    Why are Valve getting let off so easy on this?

    Not only is crate opening basically a very expensive slot machine for kids, the fact that they turn a blind eye to a bunch of sites that are set up to encourage kids to gamble is unethical.

    The entire business model both of the in game crates and the skins gambling sites is to get people, many of whom are kids to gamble money they may not truly comprehend the value of. This is a system, designed to be addicting, that is encouraging kids to gamble.

    Doesn’t it sap the integrity of the entire games industry to turn a blind eye to this? Just when the entire spectre of the games causing violence myths are finally being put behind us, next up will be games causing gambling addiction.

    Except this time there can be no doubt that the addiction was the clear goal. There can be no doubt that the harm is real. There can be no doubt that children were deliberately targeted and there is no “oh, it’s just a few bad apples ruining the barrel” excuse here, it is the biggest PC games company in existence encouraging kids to play slot machines then acting all surprised when the same kids actually turn to real gambling on sites they facilitate.

    • aepervius says:

      I agree on loot crate being a plague , but I disagree on a fundamental point : they are not especially targeted at kids. In fact CS:GO is *M* for mature. So “think of the children” is NOT an argument it is an emotional blackmail.

      • Eamo says:

        In steam CS:GO has no rating listed and doesn’t even do the ask your date of birth thing when you go to the store page.

        Look at a Resident Evil game and you’ll see an 18s rating and have to enter your dob. No such info is shown for CS:GO.

        • nearly says:

          That actually goes for all Valve games. Turns out they don’t want any barriers to entry for a possible sale.

          Still, whether or not CS:GO is specifically targeting kids as the audience, I think there are probably a healthy amount of younger players. None of that really changes whether or not the systems are predatory: there’s a reason why people call lotteries a tax on those who are bad at math (and/or the poor). I find mystery boxes / keys incredibly manipulative/predatory and, as far as I know, it’s mostly based on packs of trading cards which very much were targeted at kids. I also think that argument is probably how they avoid running afoul of gambling violations.

        • deadyorick says:

          Yeah the game is rated M by the ESRB. If someone under 18 plays it, it’s not Valve’s responsibility. It’s the parents.

          I don’t think Valve should get into the habit of policing the internet and playing parent for kids who shouldn’t be playing these games anyway.

          • Eamo says:

            I don’t think they can both hide the information a parent needs to make an informed choice when buying the game and simultaneously claim it is the consumers job to be informed.

            I’m sure they are doing nothing illegal but when the inevitable law to ban games for promoting gambling arrives and people point to the biggest PC games vendor hiding the the adult rating of their games it’s going to be hard to argue that the industry should be allowed to regulate itself.

    • The Algerian says:

      Not Valve’s job to give a sh*t what your children do.

      Especially since kids can’t just pay for stuff on the internet without their parents blessing or negligence.

      • satan says:

        Bit naive to think a young problem gambler couldn’t get a hold of their parents’ credit card(s).

        link to

        • The Algerian says:

          As I said, “blessing OR negligence”.

          In that case it would be a bit of both.

          Wouldn’t blame Valve for my own inability to teach my kids not to steal my money.

      • Eamo says:

        Nonsense. It’s everyone’s job to look after children.

        I don’t have any kids but it’s my job to make sure my house is safe place if anyone visits and brings their kids. Similarly valve have a responsibility to ensure that the community they have created is one where children are safe or one where children are excluded. Once they allow them in they are responsible for their well being.

        • The Algerian says:

          Quite a stretch comparing your house and Steam, though.

          Your kids buying stuff on Steam are still in hour own house, they’re not visiting Valve in their headquarters.

          Is it the driver’s job to drive safe and not hit my kid when he’s crossing the street? Yes.
          Should that stop me from teaching him not to suddenly rush through the street without looking if a vehicle’s coming?

          • Eamo says:

            If a car runs over a kid, the driver is still the one that gets charged. If you operate something dangerous you don’t get to blame the parents when you screw up and hurt someone.

            And we are not talking about an accident like a car crash here. We are talking about gambling. A casino can’t allow a 12 year old to gamble because his parents said it is ok. It’s still illegal. Can you imagine a casino with a no kids allowed sign on the door trying to argue it was ok to have rows of kids on the slot machines because they had a sign out front? They’d be laughed out of court.

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      basilisk says:

      You are 100% correct; I just wish you hadn’t mentioned “kids”, as that (as we’ve seen) immediately leads the discussion in a completely misleading direction. It’s not like adults can’t have a gambling addiction. In fact, most of the hardcore addicts Valve is courting are probably adults.

      But yes, the entire model is deeply unethical, and I am honestly appalled that Valve chose to make it one of the pillars of their business. And yes, the widespread acceptance of these models in this industry is very troubling; this is going to explode in our collective faces sooner rather than later. Gambling can be unbelievably destructive.

      And of course all of this even shadier secondary business will spring up around it. It’s Valve’s own fault for building a system that directly encourages this kind of behaviour, and for turning a blind eye to so much unhealthy activity over the years because they get a cut from every single market transaction. As if the company didn’t already have money pouring out of every orifice; they also need all that sweet, dirty gambling money that they can get. It’s shameful.

  4. TheRealHankHill says:

    I don’t give valve money for skins because I’m not a sucker. Go look at how much they make per second and ask yourself why they can’t give us better servers.

  5. PseudoKnight says:

    The gambling sites are atrocious. The illegal promotion without disclosure is gross. I don’t have much to add on that.

    The crate mechanism itself is gambling. After playing CS regularly for over 12 years, CS:GO made me quit. There’s still much of what I loved under all that bullshit, but I just can’t stand it anymore and crates were a significant part of that. I think Valve has let this community marketplace model get away from themselves. (though I think it’s unfair to single out Valve when it comes to microtransactions and gambling) This type of stuff is eating away at gaming. It’s getting more and more insidious, and it’s too easy and profitable to avoid. There needs to be a heavier emphasis on the quality of business models in reviews. Most of the time it’s fairly forgiving because “developers have to eat”, so as long as it’s not “pay to win” it’s okay. I get it. I want to be a developer too, but this stuff is making it increasingly difficult for other business models and games to compete, and it’s even corrupting existing games. I had to stop playing TF2 too. We’re creating a future of digital goods stores masquerading as video games, where mechanisms are automatically tuned using live statistics and heuristics for optimal click-thru. These are ads.

    • subedii says:

      Eh, I have an issue with cosmetics in as much as it sullies the art style and makes things look out of place. But honestly, CS:GO is probably less affected by that than something like TF2, which was basically the original prototype and went WAY into the hatpocalypse and made things too much of a mish-mash.

      Other than that, as you say, it doesn’t affect the gameplay itself so I don’t really care. It pays for updates (which in fairness to Valve, they did hundreds of for years, for free), and it pays for a competitive scene as well.

      I’m under no illusions that it might be altruistic (it’s not). However in terms of maintaining a community, I find the model of cosmetics far less onerous than the other modern obsession with “progression” based gaming, where arbitrary gameplay elements, items and tools are locked away until you’ve played 40+ hours to “earn” them. If I play something like CS:GO or Dota 2, I have access to all the same gameplay elements as everyone else, and I’m not gated until I’ve spent all my free time on the title.

      I mean I think out of all these shenanigans I’ve maybe bought two items for Dota 2. One was the original ‘book’ thing for The International, the other the Defense Grid audio pack because I’m a tremendous DG nerd and really loved the narrator. And yes, the game clearly “advertises” such things, but I don’t mind. I bought it because I really liked it (still do, from what I’ve heard I think it’s still one of the best VA packs ever done for Dota 2). If I was interested in a cool skin (and eh, I’m not), I might enjoy that too.

      Outside of that, it basically means that I haven’t been restricted by gameplay because of either my money or my time “spent”, so I’m generally OK with it.

  6. int says:

    My god that first picture is exactly how I pictured a movie I’m making in my head with the title: The Man with the Gaudy Gun.

  7. Banks says:

    I hope Valve loses the lawsuit, they can’t keep getting away with this shady business model. If you want to sell useless skins at 10$ each that is fine, but this is a scam and should not be legal. If you want to set up a casino, follow the laws of a casino.

    • Azmoham says:

      ‘Valve do not endorse the sites which use Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [official site] weapon skins as a currency for gambling…’
      Valve does not officially support the sites, so it makes no sense to sue them. That’s like if I sold a gun to person A, he used that gun to shoot person B and then person B tried to sue me for it. If you wanted to really sue, sue the owners of the site.

      • Eamo says:

        Imagine you were running a community centre with 100 tables where people can come in, sit down, chat, play games, whatever you want. You charge an entry fee. You have a sign on the door saying “Gambling is Illegal. No Gambling Allowed” and usually there are five or six tables in use.

        Now once every few weeks you do a cursory check and if you notice a poker game and kick them out. But your enforcement is pretty lax. Soon enough the majority of the tables have poker games.

        You’re doing great all the tables are full, you are making a lot of money from entry fees, the sign is up, your stated policy is that gambling isn’t allowed and once in a while you make a show of kicking a few people out for playing poker. The point remains however that a hell of a lot of the activity in your hall is illegal gambling and you are making a lot of money by turning a blind eye to it.

        Is what you’re doing criminal? I honestly have no idea. I’m sure you can see however, that you, running your hall, if you got sued by some gamblers who lost everything in there, could very well be found responsible in a civil court for having created and benefited from the situation in which the harm happened.

        To stretch the analogy a little further, imagine you had a little stall in your hall where you were selling tiddlywinks counters. Now you know damn well that since people are buying them from you 50 or 100 at a time that they can’t really be using them for tiddlywinks but hey, business is good, you have your sign up and you tell anyone who asks that gambling isn’t allowed. You’re good right?

      • Banks says:

        Two things:

        1 – Valve’s own loot unboxing system is an slot machine in which you can get very rare skins that you can sell for up to 400$. Of course, 99.99% of the time you get fuck all but those shiny legendary skins are the carrot on a stick. You pay 2.5$ for a key, you can get back 0.03$ or 400$. That is gambling.

        2 – Valve directly profits from these external gambling sites big time. They get the trading flowing, they sell more crate keys and generate more interest in the top tier skins. Valve has made no attempt whatsoever to shut down, prosecute or even warn against these sites for years. In fact, when these guys go to prison, someone else will keep doing it. Why? Because there is a massive money hole there that they’ve allowed to happen for years and seem to be very happy about it.

        Fuck Valve.

        • wishforanuclearwinter says:

          Yeah, the way Valve profits from the gambling sites is through the community market. It’s ridiculously difficult to place a bet using a pile of common, cheap skins. So what you do is sell them all on the community market (Valve gets a cut) and use that store credit to purchase a single, more valuable weapon (Valve gets a cut), then use that weapon as your wager.

          And the gambling sites then use all the skins they’ve taken as their rake, sell them on the community market, and use the store credit to buy skins that people are willing to pay real money for.

  8. kondor999 says:

    This has to be the dumbest fucking shit I’ve heard all week. And I’m an American. I *know* Dumb.

  9. TechnicalBen says:

    Just wait 40 years and all these Youtubers will be doing the “You get a free pen when you sign up” ads mid run/play/match to the highest bidding retirement home/mortgage/pension company. :P

  10. Core says:

    UPDATE 10.00pm: Valve has removed its message warning users away from CS:GO Lotto, the gambling site at the centre of today’s controversy.

    From eurogamer article.

  11. Jetsetlemming says:

    This whole system is disgusting, and Valve is terrible for supporting it. Yes, they don’t *say* they support it, they *say* these things break Steam’s TOS, but they deliberately don’t enforce that, allow these sites to log-in through Steam’s systems to access inventory, and make BILLIONS off of this sleazy bullshit. That’s basically all Valve does anymore-suck in more and more money through sleazy bullshit. It’s made them fat and lazy, the corporate version of hedonistic. And they definitely need to face serious consequences for it.
    Just because we like Half-life doesn’t mean we have to support predatory capitalism.

  12. finc says:

    bet t all