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How a Popular Video Game Spawned an Unregulated, Multi-Billion Dollar Virtual Casino Industry

In a previous blog post, we discussed how “skin gambling” and “loot boxes” have taken the virtual gaming world by storm, introducing many teenagers and young children to a newly-developed world of unregulated online gambling. This article dives further into the subject, highlighting the story of Elijah Ballard, a boy who started displaying symptoms of disordered gambling when he was only 13 years old1. It all started with an update to the popular video game “Counter-Strike.”

How “Counter-Strike” Helped Create a Teenage Gambler

During the summer of 2013, sixth grader Elijah Ballard learned of a new update for the video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive — it was called the “The Arms Deal Update.” This is how the “skins” from skin gambling were born. Now, “skins” were available in other games before Counter-Strike’s controversial “Arms Deal Update,” but Counter-Strike’s update offered new and exciting ways to win highly sought-after skins.

Throughout the game, Counter-Strike players can collect locked cases, commonly referred to as “loot boxes,” that contain up to 24 skins — some worth mere pennies, others worth thousands of dollars. However, in order to unlock these tantalizing cases, you have to purchase a key for $2.49 from Steam, a popular online gaming platform. When the cases are unlocked, gamers get to watch it “spin” and randomly select which skin they get to keep — just like gambling. But that was only the beginning for Elijah, and many others. While loot boxes are fairly similar to slot machines, the skins gamers win as prizes can actually be gambled in online casinos!

Learn more about skin-gambling casinos in the following infographic:

Infographic outlining the five steps of skin gambling

Unregulated Virtual Casinos Allow Gamers to Bet Their Skins

In 2014, Elijah learned about a site called “CSGO Lounge,” which allowed gamers to transfer their skins from Steam and wager them on professional Counter-Strike matches, which were streamed live on Twitch. Sounds kind of like sports betting, right? Unfortunately, Elijah became immersed in his newfound skin gambling hobby, and eventually discovered casino-style websites with names like “CSGO Double” and “CSGO Jackpot,” which offered a broad range of classic casino games.

However, in order to fund his gambling, Elijah had to manipulate his parents and steal money from their wallets when they weren’t looking — he even took photos of their credit cards to use when they weren’t around. The situation had escalated so far by the time Elijah turned 16 that he called a gambling hotline for help dealing with suicidal thoughts: “I was 16 years old and I… lost all this money and I wanted to end my life,” he said in an interview with ESPN. “It was just really bad.”

Help Is Always Just a Phone Call Away

Whether someone is young and struggling with a skin gambling problem like Elijah before he got help, or they are mature adults with gambling and alcohol disorders (sometimes called “addictions”) in Camden, help is only a phone call away. You can call or text 800-GAMBLER anytime 24 hours a day to reach our confidential helpline for support, treatment, and hope — whether you just want somebody to talk to after a sudden relapse or you are seeking more information about gambler’s anonymous meetings in AC or elsewhere in NJ. Call today to learn more.