UK Warns Against Skin Betting in Video Games

An annual survey released by the UK Gambling Commission found that about 500,000 children are playing online betting websites, often with virtual money that can be converted to real cash. The commission also issued a warning that “skins” betting in video games—where online items are traded for cash—is becoming a serious problem among youth with 11 percent saying they have made skin bets.

The UK gambling Commission has issued a warning about the problem of skins betting connected to video games while releasing survey results that estimate that about 500,000 British youth are gambling online.

The survey identified about 25,000 of those youth—aged 11 to 16—as problem gamblers. The report warned that children were gambling in a “consequence-free environment,” including through skins betting on video games. The survey found that about 11 percent of British youth are participating in skins betting, but up to 45 percent were aware of the practice.

Skins betting involves virtual items used in video games—such as special weapons or abilities—that are being bet and traded for real cash. Skins betting is seen as one of the fastest growing forms of unregulated betting with some estimates that trading is reaching into billions of dollars.

The Commission said it will prioritize taking action on the websites that supply skins. Trading and betting of these skins usually occurs at third-party websites, the commission noted, with players alleged to be as young as 11 years old gambling their skins on casino or slot machine games and then turning the prizes into cash.

“Because of these unlicensed skin betting sites, the safeguards that exist are not being applied and we’re seeing examples of really young people, 11 and 12-year-olds, who are getting involved in skin betting, not realizing that it’s gambling,” said Sarah Harrison, CEO of the commission. “At one level they are running up bills, perhaps on their parents’ PayPal account or credit card, but the wider effect is the introduction and normalization of this kind of gambling among children and young people.”

The survey also showed that 12 percent of youth 11- to 16-years-old—or about 370,000 youth—said they had gambled in the past week, compared with 16 percent in 2016. They spent an average of £10 in a week.

Though skins betting is rising, online slots and the national lottery were the leading ways children are introduced to gambling, the survey found. The rise in eSports and social media are also leading ways for children to be introduced to gambling.

TV advertising was named as the principal method of becoming aware of gambling by 80 percent of respondents, but 70 percent also said they had been exposed to gambling on social media. The most common form of gambling was slot machines at four percent, with private bets and National Lottery scratch cards at three percent each.