Vir­tual Guns

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Politics / Policy -

wa­ger skins that have noth­ing to do with CS:GO con­tests. One web­site runs mul­ti­ple lottery-style con­tests per minute, where a player’s odds of win­ning rise with the value of the skins wa­gered. An­other web­site op­er­ates a sim­i­lar game that looks like roulette, ex­cept that play­ers are paid in skins.

The sites are run in­de­pen­dently but use Valve soft­ware. Valve em­ploy­ees have given CSGO Lounge tech­ni­cal sup­port, says Court­ney Timp­son, a Lounge com­mu­nity ad­min­is­tra­tor and spokesman. The Valve logo is promi­nently dis­played on the gam­bling site, and in one post on its fo­rum, a mod­er­a­tor tells users—es­pe­cially the “younger au­di­ence”—what to do if they think they’ve been scammed: “If some­thing is wrong, don’t post on the fo­rums,” the mod writes. “Con­tact Valve/steam.”

The growth in skins gam­bling tracks the pop­u­lar­ity of e- sports. Mil­lions of peo­ple, es­pe­cially boys and men un­der 25, spend their free time watch­ing other young, head­set-wear­ing play­ers fu­ri­ously type and click their way through on­line bat­tles. Fans of tra­di­tional sports should rec­og­nize the ba­sic struc­ture. There are teams, leagues, spon­sor­ships, me­dia deals, and, in­creas­ingly, money. Turner Broad­cast­ing and its part­ners, which didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, are look­ing to e-sports to at­tract an au­di­ence that typ­i­cally isn’t watch­ing much ba­sic ca­ble. They’ve built their strat­egy around CS:GO.

Skins bet­ting has the po­ten­tial to un­der­mine the in­tegrity of pro gam­ing com­pe­ti­tions. Last Jan­uary tech web­site the Daily Dot broke the news that a CS:GO team named IBUYPOWER threw a match it was heav­ily fa­vored to win. Play­ers were paid in skins, via CSGO Lounge. Valve con­tacted CSGO Lounge to fer­ret out the bad $567 ac­tors, ac­cord­ing to Timp­son. In the end, Valve banned seven play­ers from events it spon­sors and for­bade pro play­ers and staff from gam­bling on matches, as­so­ci­at­ing with high­vol­ume gam­blers, or shar­ing in­side in­for­ma­tion. It didn’t take any pub­lic ac­tion against the gam­bling sites.

In the U. S., sports bet­ting is il­le­gal in 46 states. So far, Valve and the skins sites have avoided le­gal scru­tiny. CSGO Lounge tells play­ers to ad­here to lo­cal gam­bling laws but does noth­ing to en­sure they do so, and more peo­ple visit the site from the U.S. than any other country but Rus­sia. “There’s no doubt that reg­u­la­tors will catch up with them, and

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