Xenophon Calls for Gambling Act Update
As the Sydney Morning Herald and other papers reported recently, Nick Xenophon, independent senator for South Australia, has called for an update to the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act. This would see first-person shooter games redefined as gambling activities in a legal sense, just as legal, licensed online casino play is, and subject to the same rules and regulations.
Xenophon’s concern stems from the fact that there is a growing trend to use weapons found in online shooter games as online casino chips. Trading them for real money is usually done among gamers that are too young to play in a casino, and is regarded by experts as a gateway to gambling.
This is a burgeoning market that is predicted to keep growing, but one of the most prominent examples at the moment is Counter-Strike; Global Offence. Since this online shooting game launched its Arms Deal concept in 2013, its popularity has soared. Here virtual weapons, known as Skins, can be bought and sold for real-world money.
Skins are valued according to their rarity, and then traded on the official marketplace of Valve Corporation (Counter-Strike’s developer) or on third-party sites. They can be used in the shooting game, or as chips in online casinos. Research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimates that the gambling turnover of skins could be as much as 974 billion dollars.
Young gamers are inspired by top players who post videos of big wins and news of successful trades to YouTube and Twitch, the dedicated video-streaming platform. However, this risky behaviour often results in massive losses, and it has academics and game developers concerned. Erik Johnson, Chief Operational Officer of Valve Corporation, says that they have no business deals with any casino sites and have ordered several to stop using its programming instructions to facilitate gambling with skins.
Many, however, continue to function as normal, and Xenophon wants to stop what he describes as an insidious process by updating a Gambling Act that he describes as out-dated. He intends to seek cross-party support for his bill to do this next month, when the federal parliament resumes sitting. If this bill is passed it would be a world first, and among other things could see the setting of a minimum age of paying to play and clearly displayed warnings of gambling control on the games.
While experts agree that this would be helpful, some feel that it is not the place to start. Sally Gainsbury, senior lecturer at Southern Cross University’s Centre for Gambling Education and Research, for example, has commented that offshore gambling activities are a more pressing concern. The existing sanctions against them should be properly applied as a first step.