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Abstract

The rising popularity of competitive video gaming (''esports'') has attracted the involvement of the gambling industry, with esports cash betting available from the majority of wagering operators. In addition, an unregulated gambling subculture around esports has arisen, with virtual game items known as ''skins'' being used as currency to place bets on esports and third-party sites that host games of chance. Little is presently known about these novel forms of gambling, although there are growing concerns that these products may place some vulnerable consumers (e.g., youth) at risk of gambling-related harm. The current paper provides a historical overview of esports betting and skin gambling globally, drawing on the limited research literature available, including academic journals, government publications, conference presentations, and media reports. Topics briefly covered in the review include esports, skins, history of the gambling products, gambling exposure and accessibility, research findings (e.g., prevalence, awareness, demographic characteristics , gambling behaviour, problem gambling), illegal activities, changes to skins and the skin gambling market, and industry and government responses to concerns arising from these new gambling products (e.g., underage gambling). The intention of this paper is to provide the general public, academics, governments, and other key stakeholders with an understanding of the evolving landscape around esports betting and skin gambling, the type of bettors that these forms of gambling attract, and the potential adverse consequences of these activities.
review
Esports Betting and Skin Gambling: A Brief History
Nancy Greer,
1
Matthew Rockloff,
2
Matthew Browne,
2
Nerilee Hing,
2
&
Daniel L. King
3
1
School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, CQ University Australia,
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
2
School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, CQ University Australia,
Bundaberg, QLD, Australia
3
College of Education, Psychology, & Social Work, Flinders University, Adelaide,
SA, Australia
Abstract
The rising popularity of competitive video gaming (‘‘ esports’’ ) has attracted the
involvement of the gambling industry, with esports cash betting available from the
majority of wagering operators. In addition, an unregulated gambling subculture
around esports has arisen, with virtual game items known as ‘‘ skins’’ being used as
currency to place bets on esports and third-party sites that host games of chance.
Little is presently known about these novel forms of gambling, although there are
growing concerns that these products may place some vulnerable consumers (e.g.,
youth) at risk of gambling-related harm. The current paper provides a historical
overview of esports betting and skin gambling globally, drawing on the limited
research literature available, including academic journals, government publications,
conference presentations, and media reports. Topics briey covered in the review
include esports, skins, history of the gambling products, gambling exposure and
accessibility, research ndings (e.g., prevalence, awareness, demographic character-
istics, gambling behaviour, problem gambling), illegal activities, changes to skins and
the skin gambling market, and industry and government responses to concerns
arising from these new gambling products (e.g., underage gambling). The intention
of this paper is to provide the general public, academics, governments, and other key
stakeholders with an understanding of the evolving landscape around esports betting
and skin gambling, the type of bettors that these forms of gambling attract, and the
potential adverse consequences of these activities.
Keywords: Esports betting, skin gambling, loot boxes, video games, virtual items,
esports
xx
Journal of Gambling Issues
Volume 43, Month 2019 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/xxx-xxxx-xx
http://igi.camh.net/doi/pdf/xxxx
Résumé
La popularité croissante du jeu vidéo de compétition ()e-sport *) a attiré la
participation du secteur du jeu qui y voit une occasion de pari dargent )e-sport *
auprès de la majorité des exploitants de jeux dargent. De plus, une sous-culture du jeu
non réglementée autour des e-sports est apparue, des objets virtuels appelés )skins *
étant utilisés comme monnaie pour placer des paris sur des sites sportifs et de tiers
hébergeant des jeux de hasard. Cependant, on en sait actuellement peu sur ces
nouvelles formes de jeu et on craint de plus en plus que ces produits ne mettent certains
consommateurs vulnérables (par exemple, les jeunes) en situation de risque de
préjudice lié au jeu. Le présent document fournit un aperc¸u historique des paris
sportifs et des paris dobjets virtuels (skin gambling) à léchelle mondiale, en
sappuyant sur le peu de littérature de recherche qui existe, notamment des revues
spécialisées, des publications gouvernementales, des présentations à des conférences et
des reportages dans les médias. Les sujets brièvement abordés dans la revue incluent :
les sports, les )objets virtuels *,lhistorique des produits de jeu, lexposi-
tion et laccessibilité au jeu, les résultats de recherche (cest-à-dire, la prévalence, la
sensibilisation, les caractéristiques démographiques, le comportement de jeu, le jeu
compulsif), les activités illégales, lévolution du marché du jeu de hasard et des jeux
dobjets virtuels et les réponses de lindustrie et du gouvernement aux préoccupations
découlant de ces nouveaux produits de jeu (par exemple, le jeu chez les mineurs).
Lobjectif de ce document est de fournir au grand public, aux universitaires, aux
gouvernements et aux autres parties prenantes une compréhension de lévolution des
paris sportifs et des jeux de hasard, du type de parieurs quils attirent et des
conséquences néfastes potentielles de ces activités.
Introduction
Esports are organized video game competitions between highly skilled video game
players or teams that audiences view either online or in-venue (Jenny, Manning,
Keiper, & Olrich, 2016; Seo & Jung, 2014). These sports cover a wide range of games,
but generally fall into game types in which players, or teams of players, compete
against each other, such as action shooting (usually rst-person shooter games;
e.g., Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [CSGO], Call of Duty), real-time strategy
(e.g., StarCraft), multiplayer online battle arena (e.g., League of Legends, Defense of
the Ancients [DOTA]), ghting (e.g., Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Super Smash
Bros.), sports (e.g., FIFA, Madden NFL, Rocket League), survival (e.g., Player-
Unknowns Battlegrounds [PUBG], Fortnite Battle Royale), and other games (e.g.,
collectible card game Hearthstone; Holden, Edelman, & Baker, 2019; MEC, 2016).
The elements of esports have all the hallmarks of traditional professional sports:
competition, skilled players, large audiences and fan bases, institutionalization via
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
leagues and governing bodies, tournaments at various levels, corporate sponsorships,
advertising, media coverage, merchandising, player scholarships, prizes, and cele-
brity status for its athletes (Grove, 2016a, 2016b; Holden et al., 2019; Jenny et al.,
2016; MEC, 2016; Seo & Jung, 2014). Although esports have existed since the 1980s
(MEC, 2016), market demand began to grow rapidly only from 2011 with the launch
of Twitch, a live-streaming platform for esports (Hilvert-Bruce, Neill, Sjöblom, &
Hamari, 2018; SuperData, 2015). Esports competitions are now easily accessible via
online streaming television (e.g., Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Fetch TV) and,
increasingly, via in-venue events. The estimated global esports audience and revenue
for 2019 is 454 million viewers and $1.1 billion, respectively, excluding revenue from
gambling on esports (Newzoo, 2019). Esports viewership is common among younger
and male demographics. An Australian study found that 34.5% of 18- to 24-year-
olds and 30.9% of 25- to 34-year-olds have watched esports, but only 13.6% of adults
have done so (YouGov, 2018). A separate Australian study with esports fans aged
1340 years shows that 17% of them are 1317 years old, 66% are 1834 years old,
and 74% are male (Nielsen, 2018).
The rising popularity of esports has attracted the provision of esports gambling
services offered by established sports wagering operators across the globe, as well
as newer esports-exclusive betting operators (Esports Insider, 2018; Macey &
Hamari, 2018a; Newzoo, 2019). Furthermore, a gambling subculture exists, with
unregulated online websites allowing the use of virtual items, known as ‘‘ skins,’’ to
be used to place bets on esports and simplied games of chance such as roulette
(Grove, 2016b). Skins are virtual in-game items that ‘‘ provide cosmetic alterations
to a players weapons, avatar or equipment used within the game’’ (Gambling
Commission, 2017, p. 17), but otherwise give no advantage to game play.
The attraction of skins is that they are a collectible within a tiered system in which
the rarer skins are harder to obtain and the most coveted. The majority of video
games have skins that can be purchased directly, rewarded (i.e., for game play),
or won in loot box purchases and for the most part have no real-world value
outside of the game (Macey & Hamari, 2018b). The exception is the handful of
video games whose skins (i.e., CSGO, DOTA2, PUBG) can be transferred to third-
party websites for skin gambling, and then traded for money on skin exchanges,
some skins being worth thousands of dollars and creating a skin marketplace
worth billions (Gambling Commission, 2017). The transfer of skins outside the
video game is facilitated via video game developersonline stores whose application
programming interface is open to interact with outside servers. The main con-
cern with these newer forms of gambling, voiced by both academics and
governments, is that they blur the lines between gambling and gaming, potentially
placing underage consumers at risk of harm (Gambling Commission, 2018a;
Johnson & Brock, 2019; King, 2018). Yet very little literature exists about these
products to provide a basic understanding in order to enable key stakeholders to take
appropriate action.
The current paper aims to provide a historical overview of esports betting and skin
gambling. It also includes an informational summary on the products, ongoing
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
developments, and current knowledge, as well as the key issues being researched and
debated surrounding esports betting and skin gambling.
Method and Results
A search of existing published knowledge of ‘‘ esports betting’’ and ‘‘ skin gambling’’
was undertaken, involving a three-stage approach: (1) a systematic search of journal
articles, (2) a targeted search of the grey literature, and (3) manual additions from
a targeted search of online media and other sources (e.g., news articles, esports
industry reports, esports and video game social media). The initial, and main,
searches were conducted in February 2018, which focused on the period from 2000
onwards and attempted to include articles in press. A second literature review search
was conducted in March 2019 for new journal articles, grey literature, and other
relevant sources published between 2018 and 2019. The aim of this approach was to
source all information related to esports betting and skin gambling in order to review
and summarize current knowledge of these products. An initial systematic literature
review of published journal articles yielded little relevant literature, which is not
surprising considering that esports betting and skin gambling are newly emerging
gambling products (last 5 years). The search was therefore extended to target
government publications and other online sources. Although we consider this
approach to be comprehensive, some sources of knowledge may have either not been
found or not been accessible.
The systematic literature search targeted journal articles on esports betting and
skin gambling. Electronic databases searched included the following: ACM Digital
Library, Directory of Open Access Journals, EBSCOhost, Gale Cengage Academic
OneFile, PsycINFO, PubMed Central, SAGE Journals Online, ScienceDirect
(Elsevier), Springer journals, and Wiley Online Library. Specic journals not
catalogued in the electronic databases were manually searched, and included the
following: Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research
(2001 onwards); International Gambling Studies (2001 onwards); Eludamos. Journal
for Computer Game Culture (20072014); Journal of Gambling Issues (2008 onwards);
Journal of Gambling Studies (2000 onwards); Loadingy(2007 onwards); The
International Journal of Interactive Worlds (2010 onwards); Transactions of the
Digital Games Research Association (2013 onwards), Gaming Law Review (2010
onwards), and Social Science Research Network (1994 onwards). The following
search terms and logic were used: (bet*OR wager*OR gambl*OR gaming*) AND
(esports*OR e-sports*OR electronic sports*OR cybersport*OR virtual sport*OR
competitive computer gam*OR skin*OR skin bet*OR skin gam*OR virtual
good*OR virtual item*OR in-game item*OR virtual currenc*OR cryptocurrenc*
OR digital currenc*OR video-game*OR video game*OR videogame*OR
electronic game*OR computer game*OR internet game*OR online game*OR
CSGO*OR Valve*OR Steam*OR social casino game*OR social gam*). Search
results were ltered to journal articles and reports, abstract/title/keywords
(depending on database and journal), full text availability, English language,
publications from 2000 to current (including articles in press), relevant subjects, and
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
references available. Endnote X8.2 was used to store and manage the search results.
The systematic searches yielded 1,390 results. Articles were considered eligible if the
content was about esports betting, skin gambling, or relevant content to provide
historical context for these gambling activities. A total of 96 duplicates were
removed. Of the 1,294 remaining results, 10 journal articles were included in this
review.
The targeted literature search was designed to capture government publications
and conference presentations that would not necessarily have been found in the
systematic literature search, such as government reports and inquiries. We searched
the following government, academic, and organizational websites pertaining to
gambling, as well as other related topics: Australian Communications and Media
Authority, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Alberta Gambling Research
Institute, Gambling Research Australia, Gambling Research Exchange Ontario,
Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, and the United Kingdom Gambling
Commission. Each of these sources was searched by using the same search terms as
in the systematic literature review with Boolean logic applied (where possible),
screened to full-text available articles from 2000 to current year and articles in press,
and limited to English language publications. Ten reports were included in the review
from this search.
In addition, the primary author sourced relevant articles manually via the reference
lists of sourced literature from the systematic and targeted literature searches, online
searches (e.g., news articles, esports industry reports), social media posts, and
recommendations from other academics. Much of the literature cited herein was
sourced via manual additions by the primary author: 16 news articles, 15 journal
articles, nine reports, three press releases, and one conference presentation.
The information from the literature covered various topics to provide a rich
background to esports betting and skin gambling, including product descriptions,
value of the esports market, value of related gambling markets, gambling exposure
and accessibility, research data (e.g., prevalence, awareness, demographic character-
istics, gambling behaviour, problem gambling), changes to the skin market and the
impacts on skin gambling, underage gambling, illegal activity, consumer protection,
industry and government responses and actions (e.g., video gaming developers,
regulators), and skin gambling in the context of other ‘‘ gambling-like’’ video game
activities (e.g., loot boxes). The ndings of the literature review are organized by the
targeted gambling products: esports betting and skin gambling.
Esports Betting
Many regulated sports wagering operators across the globe now offer esports cash
betting (Esports Insider, 2018; Macey & Hamari, 2018a; Newzoo, 2019). Esports
betting is also increasingly available via online operators who offer esports betting
exclusively (e.g., Unikrn, EGB.com, Arcane Bet, LOOT.BET, GG.BET; Macey &
Hamari, 2018a). Besides the traditional payment methods for gambling (cash, credit),
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
some operators allow esports betting with cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or
Ethereum, which allow gamblers greater anonymity (Macey & Hamari, 2018a).
In addition, esports betting can also occur informally between friends and esports
players, or via player-versus-player betting, where players can bet on their own perfor-
mance when playing a video game (Grove, 2016b). Lastly, there is a large market for
esports skin betting, in which unregulated online websites offer virtual in-game items
(skins) to be wagered on esports matches. The estimated global combined esports cash
and skin betting revenue was $56 billion in 2016 (Grove, 2016a). However, these
estimates appear to have subsequently decreased following game developer actions
that affected the unregulated skin marketplace, with 85% of the 2016 estimated
revenue (cash and skins) attributable to skin betting ($4.9 billion) dropping to around
10% for 2019 ($670 million; Grove, 2016a). Esports viewers are being exposed to
esports cash betting, with gambling operators promoting esports betting via esports
broadcasts, social media, and websites (King, 2018). For example, esports teams
and events are increasingly being sponsored by gambling operators (e.g., Betway,
GG.BET, Unikrn), and advertisements appear as product placements on player
uniforms and on websites (Gambling Insider, 2017; Holden et al., 2019; Luongo,
2018). Esports revenue is increasingly being driven by advertising and sponsorships,
estimated as approximately 58.7% of the total 2019 esports global revenue (Newzoo,
2019). However, the share of gambling operator investors is unknown.
Reliable data on the prevalence, characteristics, and gambling behaviours of esports
bettors are hard to obtain, considering that relatively few studies have been
conducted (Gainsbury, Abarbanel, & Blaszczynski, 2017a, 2017b; Gambling Com-
mission, 2017) and that a large sector of the esports betting market is either jurisdic-
tionally offshore, illegal, or unregulated. An Australian study (Gainsbury et al.,
2017a) sampled regular sports bettors and subsampled two groups: those who also
bet on esports (esports bettors) and those who were engaged in sports betting only
(sports bettors). Both esports bettors and sports bettors were predominantly male,
but esports bettors were more likely to be younger, better educated, in full-time
employment, earning a higher income, and more ethnically diverse than other
compatriots. They also had a preference for offshore versus domestic gambling
operators, which provides access to a larger esports betting market. Esports bettors
and sports bettors were also compared for gambling intensity and problem gambling.
The ndings revealed that compared with sports bettors, esports bettors gambled
more often, gambled on more activities, and had higher problem gambling severity
scores (Gainsbury, Abarbanel, and Blaszczynski, 2017b). The main limitation of
Gainsbury and colleagues(2017a, 2017b) research was the exclusion of an esports-
only bettors sample for comparison to sports-only bettors. As no other research
exists on esports bettors, the prole of esports-only bettors remains unknown.
The main gap in these two Australian analyses, based on the same data set (Gainsbury
et al., 2017a; 2017b), is the focus on ‘‘ esports cash betting,’’ excluding the unregulated
‘‘ esports skin betting’’ market. The importance of skins in esports betting is evident in
UK research, with similar proportions of adults betting on esports with money (7%)
versus skins (6%) in the previous 12 months (Gambling Commission, 2018b).
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
Compared with the overall adult sample, a greater proportion of the youngest
demographic of 18- to 24-year-olds had bet on esports with skins (12%) than they had
with money (10%; Gambling Commission, 2018b). In this UK sample, rates of esports
betting were highest among 18- to 24-year-olds (14%) and 25- to 34-year-olds (16%)
and were more common among males (9%) than among females (6%).
Unregulated online websites that offer esports skin betting often also offer skin
betting on other games of chance. These two types of gambling have been collectively
termed ‘‘ skin gambling’’ or ‘‘ skin betting’’ (Grove, 2016b).
Skin Gambling
Skins are video game items (e.g., weapon, avatar, equipment) that offer purely
cosmetic differences to the base models of these items (Gambling Commission, 2017;
Grove, 2016b). Thus, they have no direct inuence on game play, but may be valued
for their rarity, or their ability to signal status to other players. Skins have monetary
value in that they are not only won in-game, but they are also purchased with in-game
currency or cash, or they are traded, and they can in some instances be exchanged for
cryptocurrency (e.g., Bitcoin) or cash on a skin exchange (Gambling Commission,
2017; Grove, 2016a). Another avenue to obtain skins involves an element of chance
whereby a consumable virtual video game item known as a loot box is opened (King &
Delfabbro, 2018a, 2018b). As with skins, loot boxes can be purchased with money or
in-game currency, or they are rewarded via game play or special events; they are
becoming almost ubiquitous with video games as they generate billions of dollars in
revenue for the video game industry (King & Delfabbro, 2018a, 2018b).
Some rare skins can be worth thousands of dollars (Gambling Commission, 2017).
Hence, skins have a market value, and skin gambling can be a means of making
nancial returns or accumulating an inventory of skins as nancial assets. Once
acquired, some skins (but not all) can be used on third-party websites to engage in
skin gambling on esports or other games of chance (e.g., roulette, coin ip, slots,
cards). The most common skins used for skin gambling on esports or other games of
chance include those from the following video games: CSGO, PUBG, Team Fortress
2, DOTA2, and H1Z1. A 2016 survey of over 100 skin gambling websites revealed
that approximately 45% offered betting on esports, 45% on games of chance
(jackpots, roulette, coin ip), and 10% on ‘‘ other’’ products such as cases containing
skins (Grove, 2016b).
Skins used as virtual currency for gambling have similarities and differences to social
casino games, which are free-to-play gambling-themed games available on social
media or mobile apps (Gainsbury, King, Abarbanel, Delfabbro, & Hing, 2015).
Similar to skin gambling, social casino games have their own virtual in-game
currency (e.g., credits, coins, dice), which can be earned (e.g., via game play,
watching advertisements, doing surveys, downloading apps, referring friends) or
sometimes purchased with cash (Gainsbury et al., 2015). In-app purchases of virtual
items in social casino games in order to continue game play is functionally similar to
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
purchasing skins for skin gambling. The major difference is that some skins are often
nancially redeemable, whereas the virtual goods in social casino games have
currency only within the game. In this respect, gambling with skins offers a nancial
incentive that is analogous to traditional online gambling activities.
The skin gambling market has evolved subject to decisions made by gambling
developers, skin betting websites, skin exchanges, litigation, market demand, and
government responses. Skins rst became available in 2013 when video game
developer Valve released skins for the video game CSGO via their online Steam
marketplace, where skins could be purchased, sold, or traded (Haskell, 2017).
The demand for skins led to the emergence of a skin marketplace within Steam
(Yamamoto & McArthur, 2015), shortly followed by third-party websites offering a
secondary marketplace for Steam skins (e.g., OPSkins, Bitskins) and skin gambling.
Although not Valves probable intention, Steams application programming
interface enabled app developers to insert bots, or automated programs, allowing
the transfer of skins between a Steam account and third-party websites offering
betting on esports and chance-based games (Assael, 2017). Skin gambling with
CSGO skins boomed between 2014 and 2016, with $2.3 billion in CSGO skins being
used for esports betting in 2015, and the esports betting website CSGOLounge
dominating the market (Haskell, 2017). Globally in 2016, the skin gambling market
was estimated at $4.8 billion, 7 times higher than cash betting on esports ($649
million; Grove, 2016a).
A major concern arising from skin gambling is underage gambling, as websites often
require a login only via playersSteam accounts with no age or ID verication
checks (King, 2018). Steam membership only requires the consumer to be 13 years or
over, to register a valid card or gift card for purchases, and to have a valid email
address. Online streaming (e.g., YouTube) promoting skin gambling to young
audiences is ubiquitous. A potentially problematic phenomenon is the existence of
‘‘ social inuencers’’ (often in their early twenties, sometimes achieving celebrity
status) who show themselves winning large amounts of money, thereby encouraging
their audience (i.e., children and adolescent esports viewers, video gamers) to gamble
on these websites (Hermant & Doman, 2016; King, 2018; Parent Zone, 2018; Sood,
2016). Unregulated websites offering skin gambling are reported to sponsor online
streamers to promote their service, and several websites (e.g., CSGOShufe, CSGO
Lotto, CSGODiamonds, CSGOWild) have been caught manipulating winning
outcomes for streamers to give the misperception that consumers have a greater
chance of winning than they actually do (Caneld, 2017; Holden & Ehrlich, 2017;
King, 2018; Lewis, 2016; Sood, 2016). Valves complicity in skin gambling has also
been criticized as being motivated by nancial gain, as they receive up to a 15%
commission from skin transactions (Luongo, 2018).
Concerns over protecting underage consumers from skin gambling came to the
forefront in late 2016, when CSGO game developer Valve issued cease-and-desist
notices to skin gambling websites. News coverage revealed the apparent scale of
underage skin gambling, with numerous stories of underage participants developing
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
gambling problems and suffering large monetary losses (Assael, 2017; Brustein &
Novy-Williams, 2016; Campbell, 2016; Kollar, 2016; Toomey, 2019). This was
followed by two class-action lawsuits brought against Valve in the United States for
being complicit in allowing third-party gambling operators to conduct illegal
gambling with their skins, who facilitated ‘‘ unfair contests, corruption, and received
substantial benet from minors’’ (Holden, Rodenberg, & Kaburakis, 2016, p. 6).
In both legal cases, it was ruled that skin gambling was normalizing esports gambling,
but the courts did not recognize skins as items of monetary value (Caneld, 2017).
Gambling on esports matches has also led to condemnation, corruption, and scandals
in esports from players betting on their own performance, match xing, and being
sponsored by and/or having a nancial stake in skin gambling websites (Abarbanel &
Johnson, 2019; Holden & Ehrlich, 2017; Holden et al., 2016; Martinelli, 2019;
Toomey, 2019). Professionals with a stake in the esports market (e.g., consultants,
esports teams/leagues, sports teams/leagues, game developers, sponsors/ad agencies,
investors) have expressed concerns that match xing, illegal gambling, and lack of
protections for youth players are the main risks to the legitimacy and growth of esports
(Foley & Lardner LLP & The Esports Observer, 2018). These concerns have given rise
to the establishment of esports organizations, such as the World Esports Association,
which provide rules and regulations for esports teams and players, including banning
match xing and betting on matches that they are participating in (Martinelli, 2019;
World Esports Association, 2017). Academics have also voiced concerns that
gambling with virtual items could be a pathway to traditional gambling (Gainsbury
et al., 2017a; Gambling Commission, 2016, 2017, 2017c; Grifths, 2017; King, 2018;
Macey & Hamari, 2018a, 2018b).
The UK Gambling Commission has been a strong advocate for regulating skin
gambling, both domestically and globally. Their policy aims to ‘‘ disrupt the provi-
sion of illegal gambling facilities’’ (Gambling Commission, 2017, p. 7) to protect
consumers, and it prioritizes the disruption of those products made available to
children. The Gambling Commission considers in-game items, or virtual currencies,
to be money or worth money if they ‘‘ can be won, traded, or sold [and] can be con-
verted into cash or exchanged for items of value’’ (2017, p. 1). Operators providing
services offering virtual item gambling to consumers in Britain, where the items can
be converted to real money, require a gambling license provided by the Gambling
Commission (Gambling Commission, 2016). In a move that was viewed as sup-
porting skin gambling, the Isle of Man in 2017 enacted gambling licensing for online
gambling operators offering the deposit, betting, or withdrawal of virtual items
(skins) gambling (e.g., eSportsPools by ESP.bet; Slotegrator, 2017). In the same year,
following a court case, the government of Denmark blocked access to six major skin
betting websites that operated by using skins traded with the Steam platform (Danish
Gaming Authority, 2018); access to another 15 websites was blocked in 2019 (Danish
Gaming Authority, 2019). The strongest stance was taken by Norways Gaming
Authority in 2017, classifying skin betting as gambling and issuing a statement that
skin gambling websites operating in their country are subject to sanctions (Mitchell,
2017). The estimated market for skin gambling on esports dramatically dropped from
$4.8 billion in 2016 to $830 million in 2017 following Valves crackdown on 23 skin
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
gambling websites, the most prominent website ceasing operations being the esports
skin betting website CSGO Lounge (Grove, 2016a). However, hundreds of skin
gambling websites continued to operate and were still easily accessible to underage
consumers. In March 2018, Valve announced a 7-day trade ban on CSGO skins that
aimed to ‘‘ reduce some negative unintended uses of trading in CSGO (such as fraud or
scams)’’ (Valve Corporation, 2018). The response of many skin gambling websites was
to shut down. In a relatively short time frame, some websites re-emerged and still
offered skin deposits for betting on esports and/or games of chance, alongside other
monetary deposit options. The option to withdraw skins was still made available with
the new 7-day waiting period applied. However, alternative withdrawal options (e.g.,
online cash wallet, Bitcoin, gift cards) to replace the delayed skin trading were made
available to facilitate the instant cash-out of winnings.
Capitalizing on the 7-day skin trade ban in June 2018, skin exchange operator
OPSkins launched ExpressTrade to allow skins to be traded outside of Steam, with a
few major skin gambling websites adding this as a deposit/withdrawal option. Within
a week, Valve notied OPSkins that they would disable OPSkins Steam accounts
associated with trade on Steam (OPSkins, 2018a). Later in June 2018, OPSkins
announced that VGO skins, digital items generated by using blockchain technology
designed to be collected and traded (Abarbanel & Macey, 2018), were integrated into
their marketplace via WAX ExpressTrade (OPSkins, 2018b). The blockchain
technology that VGO skins uses is similar to other crypto non-currency items such as
those used in the CryptoKitties game that are known as ‘‘ non-fungible tokens’’
(Abarbanel & Macey, 2018). Unlike cryptocurrencies (e.g., Bitcoin) that can be
directly exchanged between parties with a set monetary value (fungible), non-
fungible tokens are virtual items whose ‘‘ value is determined by a range of subjective
qualities, one of which is scarcity’’ and are akin to baseball cards that can be
exchanged for currency (Abarbanel & Macey, 2018, p. 2). Skin gambling websites
appear to have adapted to this development by including VGO skins as a deposit/
withdrawal method for betting on esports (e.g., CSGOFast, Thunderpick) and on
games of chance (e.g., VGOArena, CSGORoll, SkinBet.gg, Gamdom; Abarbanel &
Macey, 2018). This development creates a new marketplace that uses VGO skins as
currency distinctly outside of video games and therefore not controlled by game
developers (Abarbanel & Macey, 2018). While the loss of OPSkins as a skin exchange
had an impact, it was relatively small, with a reported $2 million worth of skins lost
from the total $245 million worth of CSGO skins (Luongo, 2018). Furthermore, the
markets for CSGO and other skins are continuing, with numerous skin exchanges still
operational (e.g., Gameip, SkinCoin Trade, BitSkins, SkinsCash, PvPRO).
The Research on Skin Gambling
The annual Youth Gambling Survey conducted among 11- to 16-year-olds for the
Gambling Commission in Great Britain shows a downtrend in skin gambling
between 2017 and 2018 (Gambling Commission, 2017c; 2018c). In 2017, 11% of
11- to 16-year-olds reported ever having personally participated in skin gambling in
either esports or other games, and this was markedly more common among boys
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
(20%) than among girls (3%; Gambling Commission, 2017c). In addition, 36% of
betting with skins had occurred within the past 7 days, 23% from a week to a month
ago, and the remaining 41% more than 1 month ago (Gambling Commission,
2017c). In 2018, skin gambling had dropped among 11- to 16-year-olds, with only
3% having ever bet with skins, even though 15% were aware of skin gambling
(Gambling Commission, 2018c). This decrease in skin gambling could be due to two
factors. First, the UK Gambling Commission newly required gambling licences for
any operators who offered virtual items for betting that could later be converted into
money (Gambling Commission, 2016). This licence would establish consumer
protection for underage gambling, requiring operators to provide strict age
verication for account holders, thereby removing the skin gambling market of
gamblers under the age of 18 years, the legal gambling age in the United Kingdom.
Second, the March 2018 changes at Valve caused CSGO skins to be harder to trade
and therefore less attractive as a currency for gambling. Another study conducted in
May to June 2018 (after the CSGO skin 7-day trade ban) in Britain found that 27%
of children aged 1318 years were aware of skin gambling, 10% had engaged in skin
gambling, and 29% viewed skin gambling as a problem (Parent Zone, 2018). Skins
used for gambling were obtained via loot boxes, purchased in Steam, or bought from
other users. Forty-six percent of children claimed to be able to access more than
18 websites for skin gambling if they wanted to and understood that there were few
to no age verication barriers (Parent Zone, 2018). Interviews with Greenlandic
adolescents on their perceptions and experiences with gambling revealed that several
children purchased skins (directly or via loot boxes) for the purpose of selling
valuable skins for a prot (Udesen, Lenskjold, & Niclasen, 2019). A recent secondary
analysis of the 2017 British Youth Gambling Survey by Wardle (2019) found that
39% of the children aged 1116 years who engaged in skin betting in the last month
had gambled on other activities. These skin bettors were at greater risk for gambling
problems (23%) compared with non-skin bettors (8%), and this risk was higher when
they engaged in other forms of gambling (Wardle, 2019). A study by Macey and
Hamari (2018b) found that over two-thirds (68.4%) of loot box purchasers,
comprised of mostly young males, had engaged in skin gambling. Two recent studies
by Macey and Hamari (2018a, 2018b) examined online gambling, video game-
related gambling (esports betting, skin gambling, loot box purchasing, fantasy
esports, and social network gambling games), esports watching, and gambling
problems among video gamers. In the last 12 months, 34.4% of video gamers had
engaged in online gambling and 47.5% in video game-related gambling (Macey &
Hamari, 2018a). Furthermore, this research shows a clear relationship between
esports consumption and ‘‘ video game-related gambling’’ (as dened above by
Macey & Hamari, 2018a, 2018b), with watching esports signicantly positively
related to a greater gambling intensity in video game-related gambling (average
weekly hours, average monthly spend; Macey & Hamari, 2018b).
Discussion
Very little literature and research exists on esports and skins, or on their convergence
with gambling. The current review aimed to source and consolidate all relevant
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
information on esports betting and skin gambling to provide a detailed background
of the history these products. In so doing, this review provides readers with a basic
understanding of esports betting and skin gambling, and highlights a number of
issues that warrant consideration for future inquiry and research. Esports and skins
are intrinsically connected to video games, which attract a younger demographic
who engage in esports consumption (e.g., watching, playing) and skin purchasing
and trading. Early research into esports supports the concerns about youth
gambling, with esports bettors likely to be younger than traditional sports bettors.
Young people are also more likely than older people to be both aware of skin
gambling and to have bet with skins. Video gamers and esports viewers are being
encouraged to engage in these types of gambling through exposure to the marketing
of esports cash betting in esports events and of skin gambling via online streamers.
Over time, increased exposure to esports betting and skin gambling may lead to the
normalization of these gambling activities. The concern is that increased exposure to
these gambling activities, especially at a younger age, may lead to increased
gambling consumption, subsequent experiences of gambling-related harm, and the
development of gambling problems.
Skin gambling on esports and games of chance are easily accessible to underage
persons. Access to gambling is mainly occurring via unregulated websites that use the
video game developer Valves Steam marketplace for skin trading (and gambling).
While Valve intervened by ceasing operations of a handful of skin gambling websites
(e.g., CSGO Lounge) and a major skin exchange (OPSkins), these skin markets
continue to adapt and globally they remain largely unregulated. For example, skin
gambling websites now offer betting with VGO items, which are similar to video-game
skins in their cosmetics and which have a monetary marketplace for purchasing,
selling, and trading (e.g., via online exchanges). Unlike video-game skins, VGO items
cannot be used in any current video games. However, given the adaptability of the
market, it might be expected that video games will be developed for VGO items. As
with CSGO skins, demand from video gamers to obtain in-game items (e.g., for their
collectability, rarity, to show off in game) may drive the marketplace for VGO items
upward and, alongside it, gambling websites. Key stakeholders should endeavour to
keep themselves informed about the changes to these unregulated gambling products;
if otherwise left unchecked by gambling regulators and video-game conglomerates,
skin and VGO item gambling websites will remain accessible to underage gamblers.
Increasing accessibility to and availability of gambling plays a signicant role in the
pathway to increased gambling consumption and problematic or harmful gambling
(Abbott et al., 2018; Blaszczynski, 2013; Delfabbro, King, & Derevensky, 2016;
Gainsbury et al., 2013; Productivity Commission, 2010). This review highlights the
fact that despite the concerns of skin gambling expressed by governments worldwide,
only a small handful have taken regulatory or legal action against websites offering
skin betting on esports and/or games of chance (Danish Gaming Authority, 2018,
2019; Gambling Commission, 2016).
Early evidence has shown that esports bettors may be at risk for greater gambling
involvement (i.e., extending to traditional forms of gambling), greater gambling
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ESPORTS BETTING AND SKIN GAMBLING
intensity, and the development of gambling problems. No known research to date
has explored the impacts of skin gambling, but it is hypothesized that it may lead to a
migration to real money gambling on esports or similar games of chance (e.g., casino
table games, electronic gaming machines). Migration to monetary gambling could be
precipitated by the gambler becoming of legal gambling age, or the decline in
availability of skin gambling websites. Esports cash bettors could also increase their
participation in other forms of gambling, since gambling operators providing esports
betting often have offerings on traditional sports, casino games, fantasy sports, and
other types of activities.
Lastly, more research is needed on esports betting and skin gambling (i.e.,
prevalence, impacts) to address the concerns surrounding youth exposure, easy
access, lack of regulation of virtual items for gambling, migration to traditional
gambling, gambling-related harms, and development of gambling problems. Future
research should also inform policy and regulation, potential harm minimization
interventions (e.g., consumer, parental, and video-game industry education), and
support services that treat clients who are using these new forms of gambling.
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*******
Submitted November 19, 2019; accepted November 21, 2019. This article was peer
reviewed. All URLs were available at the time of submission.
For correspondence: Nancy Greer, School of Health, Medical and Applied
Sciences, CQ University Australia, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. E-mail:
n.greer@cqu.edu.au
Competing interests: None declared (all authors).
Ethics approval: Not required.
Acknowledgements: This research was supported by an Australian Government
Research Training Program Scholarship.
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... Esports events are professionally organised video game competitions between players or teams who compete in first-person shooter, sports, action, strategy, or collectible card games [1,2]. Esports competitions transform recreational video gaming into professional gameplay, as players compete to win prize money and/or a championship title [3,4]. ...
... Esports betting can involve placing bets using cash, or alternative currencies including monetised 'skins.' Esports cash betting is offered by established wagering operators and newer esports betting-exclusive operators [1]. These operators may or may not be licensed to provide gambling services but are nevertheless easily accessed online. ...
... Nonetheless, gambling problems are at least as prevalent, if not more so, amongst adolescents than adults [12]. Video games are, likewise, immensely popular in this demographic and evidence has shown that that video games may provide a 'gateway' to gambling [1,[13][14][15][16]. Several researchers have expressed concerns about underage betting on esports [1,[17][18][19][20] but there is little empirical research on this topic. ...
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Bu çalışmada, Dijital oyunlardaki şans paketleri (loot box ) kavramına yönelik Y ve Z Kuşağındaki oyuncuların değerlendirmelerini öğrenmek amaçlanmıştır. Bu amaçla, FIFA Ultimate Team oyun modunu en az 3 yıldır düzenli olarak FIFA serisi oyunlarını oynayan ve haftada en az 1 saat bu oyun moduna zaman harcayan Y kuşağından 6, Z kuşağından 6 oyuncu olmak üzere 12 katılımcıların şans paketlerine ilişkin değerlendirmeleri tespit edilmeye çalışılmıştır. Araştırmada, nitel araştırma yöntemi kapsamında yarı yapılandırılmış görüşme tekniği kullanılmıştır. Çalışma sonucunda, Oyuncuların kuşak ayrımı gözetilmeksizin şans paketlerini kumar olarak nitelendirdikleri, paket içeriklerini satın alan kullanıcıların paketlerden istedikleri öğeyi elde etme ihtimallerinin çok az olduğunun farkında olduğu, paket satın almayan oyuncuların ise paket satın alan oyunculara kıyasla oyun içinde daha fazla zaman harcamak durumunda kaldığı sonucuna ulaşılmıştır. Ayrıca, Y kuşağından oyuncuların, dijital oyunlardaki şans paketlerini satın almak istemedikleri anlaşılırken Z kuşağındaki oyuncular için şans paketlerini satın almanın normal karşılandığı ancak paket içeriklerinin beklenen faydayı sağlamadığı sonucuna ulaşılmıştır.
... 797). Nevertheless, recent research on this topic continues to suggest that financial motives and risks need to be considered when discussing the potential harms associated with gaming disorders [33][34][35][36][37] and video game purchase options, such as loot boxes, that rely on gambling mechanics [38][39][40][41][42]. ...
... The short answer: yes. Consistent with previous research on the monetary aspects of modern video games [33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43], our results demonstrated that not only are financial motivations involved in today's video games, but many popular video games pose a significant financial risk to some gamers. Using two demographically different U.S. samples, we observed that out of the gamers who bought in-game purchases, 9.3-12.8% ...
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Past research indicates strong monetary motives for gambling often elevate an individual’s risk of experiencing symptoms of gambling disorder, with personal relative deprivation (PRD) and upward mobility (UM) identified as key factors in this relationship. Nevertheless, few studies have examined how financial motives, PRD, and UM might interact for people playing modern video games—many of which offer financial incentives to encourage participation. Due to the overlap between gambling and (video) gaming, evidence suggests disordered gambling and disordered gaming might also share similarities. Therefore, the present study explored whether PRD influences associations between playing video games for financial motives, symptoms of Internet gaming disorder (IGD), and UM in two samples: 797 college students (Study 1) and 179 adult gamers over 25 years old (Study 2). Results from Study 1 revealed more PRD predicted more IGD symptoms, with higher financial gaming motives mediating the relationship. In Study 2, PRD also predicted IGD severity, but only coping motives appeared to mediate the positive association between PRD and IGD severity. In both samples, perceived UM inversely moderated the effect of PRD on one’s financial or coping gaming motives. These findings suggest financial motives for video games might lead to more problematic forms of participation for younger adults and negative perceptions of PRD and UM might interact, similar to gambling, to elevate a gamer’s vulnerability for IGD.
... New gambling forms have emerged, including betting on daily fantasy sports, esports and an increased array of novelty events, although their uptake has been relatively modest [4,27,28]. Skins and cryptocurrency provide expanded payment options and enable anonymous expenditure [29,30]. ...
... This advertising is extensive in social media, online channels, and direct messaging via emails, texts and push notifications [43][44][45]. Gambling operators have continued to increase their social media presence, use of social influencers (e.g., affiliate marketers), and advertisements on streaming platforms and gaming apps [30,46]. Television advertising remains extensive, particularly during sports and racing events [43,[47][48][49]. ...
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Background Over the last decade, the provision of online gambling has intensified with increased access, enhanced betting markets, a broader product range, and prolific marketing. However, little research has explored how this intensification is influencing contemporary gambling experiences. This study focused on two research questions: 1) What changes in online gambling have online gamblers observed over the past decade? 2) How have these changes influenced the online gambling experiences and behaviours reported by treatment-seeking and non-treatment-seeking gamblers? Methods Two samples of Australian adults were interviewed: 1) 19 people who had been gambling online for at least a decade and with no history of treatment-seeking for online gambling, and 2) 10 people who had recently sought professional help for an online gambling problem. Telephone interviews were semi-structured, with questions that encouraged participants to consider how their online gambling, including any harmful gambling, had been influenced by changes in operator practices and online gambling environments. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Results Both treatment- and non-treatment-seekers noted the increased speed and ease of online gambling, which now enables instant access from anywhere at any time and increased their gambling opportunities. Both groups highlighted the continued proliferation of advertising and inducements for online gambling, particularly during televised sports and racing events, in social media, and through targeted push marketing. Many treatment- and non-treatment-seekers were aware of the vast range of recently introduced bet types, particularly multi-bets. Treatment-seekers disproportionately reported negative effects from these changes, and described how and why they fostered their increased gambling, impulsive gambling, persistence and loss-chasing. They reported limited uptake and effectiveness of current harm minimisation tools. Conclusions Counter to stated policy and practice objectives to minimise gambling harm, industry changes that have made online gambling easier, faster, and more heavily incentivised, and increased the array of complex bets with poorer odds, unduly affect addicted and harmed individuals – who are also the most profitable customers. Further consideration is needed to ensure gambling policy, industry practices and public health measures more effectively reduce gambling harm in contemporary settings. Inducements and the poor pricing of complex bets such as multi-bets, and their outsized attraction to players with problems, should be a key focus.
... Involvement in online gambling has been associated with a higher risk of problem gambling, possibly due to the increase availability and accessibility of such gambling opportunities (Huic et al., 2017;McBride & Derevensky, 2012;Turner et al., 2018;Wardle, Petrovskaya, & Zendle, 2020;Wong, 2010). The most recent emerging form of online gambling is esports betting, whereby individuals have opportunities to gamble on outcomes of video gaming competitions (Greer, Rockloff, Browne, Hing, & King, 2019). Recently, data have suggested that involvement in esports betting is associated with an increased risk of problem gambling and problem video gaming among adolescents (Marchica et al., 2021). ...
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... Although many loot boxes sell for less than $3 USD individually, they generate billions of dollars in aggregated post-sale revenue for the gaming industry 6,7,10,19 . Items won from some loot boxes can be on-sold in online marketplaces, and sale prices can far exceed the cost of purchase, indicating the value some rewards have for gamers 20 . ...
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This article examines consumer perspectives on match-fixing in esports – professionalized competitive video game play – and the implications of these perspectives for understanding game and gambling integrity. The relationship between match-fixing, game integrity and gambling is a close one, as gambling markets are reliant on strong game integrity, but has not yet been studied in detail in the context of esports. Drawing on extensive qualitative data collected from esports fans around the world, this article examines perceptions of gambling awareness, integrity and esports gambling to assess esports consumers’ awareness of and attitudes towards gambling-related match-fixing. Results indicate that esports viewers are not deeply concerned by match-fixing. In addition, spectators typically view gambling as a cause of corruption among competitors, but also understand and accept some elements of the practice. Further, spectators tend to rely on rules to determine their assessment of what is ‘wrong’, rather than assessments based on ethics, and are often willing to forgive infractions through a range of reasons and justifications. We propose a need for education among esports spectators, extending existing anti-cheating programmes beyond just athletes to include the broader esports community.
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