A pair of popular YouTube video makers are caught up in a scandal for creating a website to gamble on the popular game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, then allegedly creating faked videos showing them winning money on the sites, without disclosing that they’re the owners.
As Game Informer reports, YouTube stars Tom “Syndicate” Cassell and Trevor “TmarTn” Martin are both owners of CS:GO Lotto, a website that allows users to bet cosmetic weapon “skins” from CS:GO and potentially win heaps of them from other players. The skins are basically nothing—digital goods that let you change the appearance of guns when you play CS:GO—but they’ve turned into a virtual currency that can be gambled online and sold for real cash. Valve is even the defendant in a class-action lawsuit over its part in aiding and abetting Counter-Strike betting websites, which the suit claims are use loopholes to skirt gambling laws.
Apart from the issue with illegal gambling (CS:GO Lotto even allows minors over the age of 13 to participate) is one of disclosure. Martin and Cassell are president and vice president of CS:GO Lotto, respectively, and yet both stars have created videos in which they claim someone suggested the site to them, and that they wound up winning big through gambling there. Both have huge followings: Syndicate’s YouTube channel subscribers number more than 9 million, and TmarTn clocks in with more than 3 million.
It’s a violation of Federal Trade Commission rules for “influencers” such as YouTube stars to promote products and services in which they have a financial stake without disclosing that conflict of interest, but Cassell and Martin have broken those rules more than once. Cassell was embroiled in a scandal two years ago when Machinima, a company that sponsors a number of YouTube and streaming personalities, cut an advertising deal with Microsoft. Various Machinima personalities promoted the Xbox One without disclosing that they were receiving money from Microsoft for doing so. Cassell also failed to disclose another Microsoft deal, as Game Informer reports, in which he was paid $30,000 to promote the Xbox One.
Both Martin and Cassell have made videos discussing their stake in CS:GO Lotto, claiming they never meant to mislead anyone and have always been upfront about their relationship with the site, but another YouTube channel, H3H3 Productions, released a video presenting evidence to dispute their claims.
And as it turns out, Martin and Cassell aren’t the only YouTubers whose promotions of CS:GO gambling sites might border on (or fully fall into the realm of) scammy. Polygon reports that another YouTuber, Lewis “PsiSyndicate” Stewart, has admitted to creating videos faking gambling wins for another Counter-Strike site, Steamloto.
PsiSyndicate isn’t an owner of the site, but made an advertising deal with Steamloto that he failed to disclose. In the video he made for the site, he acts as if he has won more than $3,000 in CS:GO skins, when really the company gave it to him as part of the promotion.
“Fishy” doesn’t begin to describe the current world of YouTube “influencers,” who, not unlike the traditional press or other paid sponsors, have legal and ethical duties to disclose when they’re being paid. The difference is many influencers and other “new media” personalities routinely ignore those rules. The world of online videos is still a wild west of mostly random young people sitting in front of cameras in their bedrooms, but as scandals like these prove, they have the attention (and potentially, access to the wallets) of millions—many of whom are kids themselves.