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Underage Gambling: The industry within an industry

Gambling has existed for an immense amount of time, and for the most part, has always been considered an adult entertainment.

Underage gambling is illegal almost anywhere in the world you might find yourself, even though the legal age varies from country to country, there almost always is an age limit.

Why is that, you might ask. Well, there are different reasoning behind the laws of different countries, but in general, the arguments gravitate around the dangers of betting, such as losing more money than one can afford to lose or developing an addiction. Studies have shown that underdeveloped brains are more susceptible to harm from prolonged wagering activity which triggers dopamine receptors in our brains, much like various illegal drugs.

So, even though most of the world agrees that underage gambling is dangerous and should be banned till an individual is of legal age, kids and youngsters around the world have never had more access to money wagering than they do now.

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The earlier barrier between games and gambling has been worn down to a thin layer, often only separated by a third-party company. A great example of this is the game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In-game, a player can earn or buy various skins and items which effectively has a real-world value. Some items are valued as high as 1000$ and even above, in rare cases.

And the possibility of betting money anonymously is also widely available in the age of cryptocurrencies, with more than a hundred websites offering complete anonymous gambling without limits and usually without a state-issued license to provide money games to customers. While only a small percentage of the world is actually aware of bitcoin, most users are young minds entering through the world wide web they know from their upbringings acting as a gateway to money games, since the most widely adopted use for Bitcoin is online wagering games. This will likely decrease with user adoption, when more and more regular merchants and shops will accept it as well, clouding the possibility of using it as wagering medium.

This creates a gray area where ethics and responsibility is set aside to offer personal freedom, no matter the age. I personally like the liberal idea of serving those who ask to be served. To rephrase that, if someone goes to a 100% anonymous gambling site, deposits money or bitcoin and starts wagering they have already proved their capability of making a sound decision, and should not be hindered to make this decision.

It is a fact that governments around the world are waking up to cryptocurrencies, with several countries releasing legal drafts on how to handle these new forms of value transfer. In the wake of this, we will most definitely see a tightening grip on the game providers, to follow national and/or international policies. Few know what the future holds in regards to cryptocurrencies, but regulation is a sure-fire thing that will come.

If you are underage and gambling already, there are some sites that might terminate your account if they discover you have been using it while not meeting the legal age. Although this case is rare, and in most instances of online betting sites they won’t care too much.

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With real-world value floating around in a game, in the form of tradeable digital assets, lots of third-party websites has sprung up from the ground offering players of the popular game to wager their in-game items to win even more/bigger items. This is not a problem in itself since a lot of players around the world enjoys it legally. However, in the online and easy-to-use business model of most of these gambling services, it is usually as easy as choosing a fake birth year to get around the age restrictions. That is assuming they have one in place! Some sites allow for completely anonymous wagering of money.

This has been raised as a concern by Valve, and also a few politicians have voiced their concerns. Nick Xenophon, a South Australian Senator, has called for regulation of the gambling aspects that has embedded itself in popular games. He has been quoted saying: “Do you really want the teenagers of today to become the problem gamblers of tomorrow?

The answer to that question is obviously a firm no, but the industry, and more specifically, the part of it tied to popular online games has existed for close to a decade by now. Wouldn’t we have seen this wave of gambling addicts who grew up spending their allowance on in-game items only to lose it on the skin roulette?

The effects of this as with almost anything else is individual. Some people are more prone to develop addictive behavior patterns than others, but since it is impossible to safely determine who can tolerate gambling more than others at a certain age the solution is to just place a fixed age limit and hope it prevents the worst cases there might be.

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However, this age limit has become effectively useless due to the nature of these online betting sites. Most regular casino sites have verification processes, where i.e an uploaded ID is necessary to start playing. This practice is rarely used in services relating to popular esports games, and some critics have argued that the greed of the people behind them makes them not care how old their customers are because it means a lot more profit for them. This combined with the fact that regulatory pressure is very low in the industry has made it a billion dollar industry that seemingly is ever-growing.

In a world where the vast majority of gamers are younger generations, we will almost certainly see some regulatory pressure build up towards the industry.

As for the creators of the popular games, the most common action is inaction at this point. Where most just distance themselves from the practice, not much has been done to effectively strike a blow against the industry that has manifested itself in the respective communities.

In the case of CS:GO skin wagering, there have even been cases of professional players promoting websites allowing everyone above age 13 to wager their items against other users. This is not too unusual, players often promote products to generate revenue however not only did they blatantly advertise underage betting, they also were the owners of the service they promoted.

Steam quickly took action and did as much as they could to help warn users of their path. Anyone clicking a link to the website in the Steam client was met with a warning message stating “The URL you are attempting to log in to has been blocked by our moderators and staff“. From there, users were free to click past the warning and continue to the site anyways.

This case resulted in a massive heat towards the pro players associated with the website. Their combined fans and followers of about 1 million people voiced their concerns and disappointment on youtube channels, subreddits, even Twitter and Facebook.

The players involved later explained that they made an honest mistake, keeping their business separate from their youtube content made for entertainment purpose. Even though these youtube videos often showed them wagering skins through their “business” website.

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Many users claimed they broke several laws relating to advertising under false pretenses. Even though no official legal action has been taken against the involved players, the service soon went into maintenance mode, and later was replaced with an email for previous customers to resolve any issues there might be.

One site down means nothing in this massive industry that seemingly preys on young people. The solution to this problem must be found in the law, but that is only if you believe a solution is needed.

This is a question for great debate all around the globe. Can we allow individual persons or families to figure out when and how much they can gamble or is it necessary to control this behavior through laws and regulation to prevent populations from developing gamble addictions?

No matter what side you are on in that debate, I believe we can all agree that advertising intentionally towards 13 year old kids is below anyone’s dignity and should be prevented.

 

In conclusion, if you are underage in your country but wager real money anyways then please be aware of how much you spend and be open about it with your family and friends. Often times, others will have a less biased view on your habits than yourself.

If you are a gambler of legal age… Well, the exact same counts…

Stay safe, and remember to never wage more than you can lose! No matter your age.

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