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Esports lawyer says Valve's item-trading policy leaves loophole for gambling sites

by Sasha Erfanian Jul 15
Thumbnail image courtesy of Valve

Players and fans are celebrating Valve's decision to take action against gambling sites like CS:GO Diamonds and CS:GOLotto, but an article by esports lawyer Bryce Blum for ESPN on Wednesday says that the language in Valve's statement has been "largely misunderstood," and could leave gambling sites free to continue working with Steam should they make changes to the way they operate.

"It does not appear that Valve is banning third-party sites from using Steam accounts to facilitate skin betting. At least, not yet," Blum writes.

Blum notes that, as described in the statement Valve's Erik Johnson published on Steam Wednesday, the CS:GO publisher's main issue with gambling sites is that they use automated steam accounts that act as humans — not that they allow underage gambling. "If you run a search in the Steam Web API Terms of Use and Steam Subscriber Agreement, the word 'gambling' is nowhere to be found," Blum writes. "In fact, the API Terms of Use haven't been updated since July 2010, before the trading marketplace was even implemented and long before skins were introduced to CS:GO in 2013 through the 'Arms Deal' update."

Although sending shutdown notices to gambling sites for using automated accounts will effectively push them out of the Steam ecosystem, Blum says that if those sites find a way to operate without automated accounts, they will no longer violate Steam's terms of use, and will be free to continue operating unless Valve takes further action. He points out that one such site, Bets.gg, has already pledged to change its operations to better accord with Steam's terms of use.

"While it's not entirely clear how Bets.gg or other gambling sites could alter their behavior in order to comply with the API and other Valve user agreements, the fact is that Valve's current position leaves room for them to do so," Blum writes.

He also notes that if Valve's policy is universally enforced, it could impact sites that don't run gambling operations, but use automated accounts for other reasons.

"There is sufficient ambiguity in Valve's statement that it's impossible to predict how it will act with any level of certainty," Blum said in a Reddit post taking questions about his editorial. "Will Valve enforce the API restrictions against all third parties, or just gambling sites? Will Valve actively monitor the situation and eliminate new sites as they arise, or will it take a more passive approach? Will only certain types of gambling be targeted? We'll learn a lot more about the status of skin betting from Valve's actions moving forward than we did from the statement itself."

Blum is one of the founders of a esports-focused law firm IME Law as well as the Esports Integrity Coalition, a cross-industry effort that was launched earlier this month to encourage self-regulation around esports betting, anti-doping policies and match-fixing. He has written extensively on the topic of gambling in esports.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. Follow him on Twitter, it'll be great for his self-esteem.

Jeff Fraser is a supervising editor for theScore esports.

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