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Steam warns users against gambling site after YouTube stars discovered as owners

UPDATE: TmarTn apologies to anyone who felt matter was not "clear enough".

UPDATE 7/7/16 10.00pm: Exposed YouTube star TmarTn has issued a brief apology video as part of an unsuccessful attempt to calm the furore.

Here are the latest developments on the YouTube gambling controversy, including that apology video.

UPDATE 4/7/16 10.00pm: One of the YouTubers at the centre of this week's gambling site furore has issued a brief apology video in an attempt to calm the controversy.

Trevor "TmarTn" Martin's piece to camera, embedded below, is short. It fails to address many of the concerns levied at him and fellow CS:GO Lotto owner Tom "Syndicate" Cassell - that they knowingly mislead viewers by promoting a gambling site they in fact owned, and encouraged others to spend money on it after showcasing themselves apparently winning thousands of dollars worth of items in minutes.

MarTn's defence of himself is that his ownership of CS:GO Lotto was a matter of public record since day one (a fact he at one point himself disputed, claiming he only came on board later). TmarTn appears to be suggesting his fans should have researched the company details of a website he himself told viewers he had just stumbled upon, so they could have then discovered he was registered as its president.

"Now, my connection to CS:GO LOtto has been a matter of public record since the company was first organised back in December 2015," TmarTn states. "However, I do feel like I owe you guys an apology. I'm sorry to each and every one of you who feels like this was not made clear enough to you."

It's worth remembering at this point how TmarTn introduced the site to his viewers: "[A friend] has been hitting me up and we found this new site named CS:GO Lotto. I've put a link down in the description, check it out. Anyway, we were betting on it today and I won $69 or something, so it was a pretty small pot but it was the coolest feeling ever! I ended up following them on Twitter and they're now talking to me about potentially doing a skin sponsorship!"

The idea that any viewer could assume TmarTn's ownership from that - or then go researching the company to find out - is unlikely to convince anyone.

TmarTn's apology video continues with a reassurance he is "committed to making sure that my YouTube channel, as well as all of my other businesses, are in compliance with the law", that users under the age of 18 are not supposed to gamble on the site, and that he believes every game played on the site has been "legitimate".

The statement does not address why TmarTn and others promoted the site without disclosing their ownership of and financial ties to the company.

It does not address or apologise for TmarTn pretending to stumble upon the site - rather, it suggests that TmarTn's own viewers could and should have known by themselves.

It does not address video which shows TmarTn logged in under a bot account.

It does not address how his many viewers under the age of 18 are able to log in and gamble by simply ticking a box to say they're 18.

It does not address why TmarTn pulled many of his videos promoting CS:GO Lotto and why they remain offline.

The only thing it does say, really, is that TmarTn's fans should not feel like he was trying to deceive them, and that he is now looking forward to getting back to "regularly scheduled content".

Eurogamer reached out to TmarTn earlier in the week for answers to all of the above.

I've since spoken with PsiSyndicate, another YouTuber involved in promoting gambling sites without proper disclosure. He has revealed how easy it is for gambling sites to rig results so YouTubers can be seen winning easily - and how they are paid handsomely at the same time.

TmarTn's video statement lies below:

Watch on YouTube

UPDATE 4/7/16 10.00pm: Valve has removed its message warning users away from CS:GO Lotto, the gambling site at the centre of today's controversy.

The block was placed by a team of volunteer moderators brought in by another mod, KillahInstinct, to help with vetting the recent influx of CS:GO gambling sites. KillahInstinct has now reversed their decision.

"The URL blacklist is generally only used for malicious links and blocks links throughout Steam everywhere and therefore used with extreme caution," KillahInstinct wrote on the CS:GO subreddit. "Malicious links", he then clarified, were those deemed to be "malware, phishing, scam sites".

"For the record: I am not commenting if the site is bad, morally wrong etc - I am just saying that I haven't seen evidence of that it's malicious in the way that it should be before we add something to a global filter."

CS:GO Lotto's YouTube star owners Trevor "TmarTn" Martin and Tom "Syndicate" Cassell have been hit by accusations they mislead their viewers after promoting the gambling site without disclosing the business as their own.

And while the pair may have escaped Valve's blacklist, their operation exists in a "legal grey area", Eurogamer was told by one lawyer. Both risk punishment over their actions - or inactions, rather, at not disclosing their business ties.

"Paid/sponsored content and disclosures by YouTubers/streamers is still a legal grey area, but actually there are evolving rules and the regulators are increasingly likely to respond to potential abuses of those rules," Jas Purewal, digital entertainment lawyer at Purewal told me.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority and the US' Federal Trade Commission have lead the way in this area so far, although Purewal admits the rules still aren't clear.

"Despite this, the overall spirit of these evolving rules is very much one of transparency to consumers," he continued, "so the more that influencers can follow that spirit the more likely they are to comply with the rules."

As for the specific issue of gambling for in-game skins on sites such as CS:GO Lotto, the rules are again ambiguous.

"There is no single answer here, since gambling laws vary from country to country (or even among states/regions)," Purewal concluded. "There have been suggestions that some gambling regulators may see it as qualifying as regulated gambling and some may not, but nothing official.

"What we can say is that in general terms online gambling is heavily regulated in most countries, and in some is outright illegal, so any online service that is held to be online gambling would have quite substantial legal requirements on them - which could vary from the requirement to obtain a gambling licence (in the UK) to being prohibited and even treated potentially as a criminal matter (in the US and some parts of mainland Europe)."

Eurogamer has already reached out to the UK's Gambling Commission for its take on the legal status here.

Separately, CS:GO Lotto president Trevor "TmarTn" Martin has told Eurogamer he will issue a statement on everything which has happened tomorrow.

ORIGINAL STORY 4/7/16 3.00pm: Steam has begun warning users not to use a high-profile Counter-Strike: GO gambling website after its ownership turned out to be two YouTube stars - who were also using YouTube to promote the site.

Trevor "TmarTn" Martin and Tom "Syndicate" Cassell are listed in newly-uncovered business records as the president and vice-president, respectively, of online gambling site CS:GO Lotto.

The news of CS:GO Lotto's ownership came as a surprise to viewers who have watched the pair promote the site on their channels, where both YouTube stars can be seen gambling - and winning big money - while using it.

Neither had publicly disclosed their full roles in the site. TmarTn had not even disclosed his videos as being promotional tools.

Attempt to log in to CS:GO Lotto now and you are greeted with the following warning message: "The URL you are attempting to log in to has been blocked by our moderators and staff. This site may be engaged in phishing, scamming, spamming, or delivering malware."

It is still possible to click through to the site, but only after disregarding Steam's warning.

Unsurprisingly, news of CS:GO Lotto's true ownership caused anger among many of TmarTn and Syndicate's combined 10m fans who feel misled, or even that the stars cheated.

The issue was brought to light in this video from h3h3Productions which undertook a lot of the legwork in finding the legal documentation, and which follows on from an earlier video by HonorTheCall last week which originally exposed CS:GO Lotto's ownership.

Watch on YouTube

CS:GO Lotto allows users to put down real world money for a shot at winning virtual Counter-Strike: GO skins. The skins themselves - earned by paying $2.50 for an unlock key to a random item - can be sold for huge sums, depending on their rarity. Some go for thousands of dollars.

As you'd expect, these gambling sites work by letting players pay real-world money for a chance at a virtual item. Pay up and you can watch a spinner tick round, roulette style, until a winner is chosen. The winner receives the item but it's the gambling site that wins in the long run, as it makes money off of every pot won.

Syndicate has recorded videos with titles such as "WINNING BIG $$$$!! (CS:GO Betting)" where he takes a $50 bet and ends up winning hundreds of dollars.

TmarTn has done similar, with videos such as "HOW TO WIN $13,000 IN 5 MINUTES (CS:GO Betting)". Despite initially defending his videos, and adding disclaimers to them after the fact, his entire playlist of CS:GO Lotto videos has been pulled offline.

YouTube viewers have pointed out how TmarTn in particular introduced the site - his own site - to his fans. It's now impossible to link to the video in question, but you can see a clip of it in the h3h3Productions embed above.

"I've been starting to bet a little bit more..." TmarTn said. "[A friend] has been hitting me up and we found this new site named CS:GO Lotto."

At this point a large "CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT CS:GO LOTTO" button flashes up on screen.

"I've put a link down in the description, check it out. Anyway, we were betting on it today and I won $69 or something, so it was a pretty small pot but it was the coolest feeling ever!

"I ended up following them on Twitter and they're now talking to me about potentially doing a skin sponsorship!"

It's easy to see why some fans look back at this and consider TmarTn not to have been completely open about his business enterprise.

In a video published last week, which is also no longer available, TmarTn reacted to the news going public.

"Ok so the breaking news now is that myself and a couple other YouTubers including Tom ProSyndicate own CS:GO Lotto," TmarTn said. "This is something that has never been a secret.

"I don't know how I could go to sleep at night knowing I was deceiving you guys. I couldn't live with myself."

TmarTn has said he did not own CS:GO Lotto at the time he published videos showing it - something contradicted by the site's own business records, which are publicly searchable. He also described the video where he introduces CS:GO Lotto to viewers as a "feeler" for his channel, and for him to decide whether to invest in the business.

But TmarTn has not said why his video addressing the situation, or any of his others showcasing his site, have been taken offline. Tweets about the issue at the time are still online, however.

"There's reporting news, then there's just making shit up," he wrote. "It's gonna be really funny when a huge slander law suit pops off and makes an example of some of these guys."

It isn't the first time Syndicate has been in hot water over undisclosed business interests. Last year, Syndicate was found to have been excitedly promoting multiplayer horror game Dead Realm on his channel without stating his financial ties to the game's publisher 3BlackDot, which was founded with the help of Syndicate and other YouTubers a year earlier.

For his part, Syndicate addressed this latest controversy last night via his Twitter, and apologised to fans who felt "mislead":

"I apologise to anyone who feels mislead regarding the ownership of CS:GO Lotto," Syndicate said. "I will always be more transparent from here on out!

"I do however stand very firmly behind the fact that CS:GO Lotto has never and will never scam/steal from players."

Gambling on virtual items in Steam games such as CS:GO has been criticised in the past for allowing easy access to real-money gambling for teenagers and children - who are often also the target audience for YouTube stars which promote such sites, who in turn are often paid to do so.

Back in April, Bloomberg ran a report on how it claimed virtual weapons were turning teenage gamers into serious gamblers, which pegged the video game betting boom at generating $2.3bn last year.

One class action lawsuit has already been launched against Valve for facilitating gambling. At the very least, the suit says, Valve has allowed a grey market to emerge where people can easily be ripped off via bets and trades with scammers. Or, more seriously, Valve is actively encouraging this to happen and should be held responsible for children using the unregulated system.

Despite CS:GO Lotto's ownership now being in the public domain, numerous questions still remain to be answered.

Syndicate has said he has lost more money on CS:GO Lotto than he's won, but it is unclear if this includes money made from his business interests in the company. Not counting the money from other people's bets, any money lost making videos about CS:GO Lotto could simply be recouped as a business expense.

Why weren't the pair more upfront about their ownership until now? Why did TmarTn pretend to stumble upon the site, or say he did not initially own it when business records show he was there from its inception?

And then there are the murkier questions that gambling on your own site naturally invites - that the owners, with access to the site's own back-end, simply weren't playing fairly.

Eurogamer has reached out to TmarTn and Syndicate for comment.

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