This summer, as third-party gambling sites are being traded Counterattack: GO skins began to attract public attention, Valve became the subject of two civil lawsuits in which the company was accused of complicity in illegal gambling programs. Now, Valve has been made aware of a potential criminal complaint from the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) for “facilitating” gambling activity through Steam.
In a letter sent to Valve earlier this month, the WSGC argued that third-party sites that allow players to gamble with their in-game skins “are facilitated within Valve Corporation’s Steam Platform” and that the sites “have Steam accounts and use the Steam platform to carry out their gambling transactions.” The committee said it “expects Valve to take all actions necessary to prevent third-party websites from using ‘skins’ for gambling through its Steam Platform system” and said that Valve risked “additional civil or criminal action” if it did not. would comply.
Earlier this week, in a response obtained by TechRaptor, Valve strongly pushed back against the Commission’s allegations, arguing that simply offering a system for trading skins through Steam doesn’t violate any specific law. As it has done in the past, Valve pointed out that it does not directly profit from this kind of skin trading, does not promote such third party sites, and does not let users “cash out” their skins for real money.
The commission’s letter publicly threatens Valve with criminal charges for gambling on third-party sites. “We don’t understand the legal or factual reasoning that supports this point of view…if there is a specific criminal law statute or regulation that you believe Valve is violating, please cite the source.”
Valve’s letter seems to implicitly acknowledge that it could cut off third-party gambling altogether if it were willing to disable Steam’s skin-trading capabilities and OpenID authentication system altogether. But the company says it sees no reason to shut down the legitimate use of those services, just to block the illegal actions of outside actors.
The Commission’s main argument seemed to be, ‘Valve could stop this, so it should,’ the company writes. game makers. We do not believe it is the Commission’s intent, nor within the Commission’s remit, to disable legitimate commercial and communications services that are not aimed at gambling in Washington.”
Valve also points to its continued efforts to directly shut down skin gambling sites, including sending termination letters and disabling Steam accounts associated with 40 such sites. While Valve acknowledges it can’t always identify the “cleverly designed bots” that enable this type of gambling, it says it’s “glad to work with the Commission if it is able to develop more gambling discovery sites.” identify.”
Valve is in a difficult position here. Steam may not directly promote or profit from skin gambling, but it does make money in “transaction fees” when users buy skins in the first place. And while many users engage in skin trading for legitimate purposes, the feature easily allows illegal use by outside actors (almost like a Xerox device that way). Legal or not, it’s unlikely this will be the last complaint Valve faces for “facilitating” skin betting.