Last year, Valve issued 23 stern cease and desist letters to sites that ran Counter-Strike: Global Offensive gambling sites. A year later, not only are a handful of sites still taking bets for CS:GO skin roulettes, but the market has spread into the great, wide world of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds skins. Since the beginning of this year, at least 10 Battlegrounds skin gambling sites have cropped up.
The model for gambling Battlegrounds skins looks the same as it has been for CS:GO gambling businesses. Players will deposit Battlegrounds skins from their Steam accounts into an online pool for roulette, coin flipping, jackpot, blackjack or a raffle. Once a winner is chosen, they receive all the skins in the pool or another skin, ideally higher-end, or coins. One Battlegrounds skin gambling site, DaPUBG.com, took in about 10 skins every minute for bets, I observed.
Picking up a few new skins to glamourise your Battlegrounds game isn't always the end-goal of gambling on the 10 or so Battlegrounds skin gambling sites out there; the skins can be a stand-in for cash. Third-party sites let players sell their skins for money or wager them on esports matches. Battlegrounds' cosmetic items, such as this red bandana, go for as much as $US1000 ($1310) in the Steam marketplace, but around $US780 ($1022) on third-party sites that extract a smaller commission fee. Although that's the high end of things, dozens more items go for a more reasonable $US4 ($5) or $US5 ($7) - tracksuit pants, bloody sneakers, a red checkered shirt.
Many dozen CS:GO skins go for well over $US200 ($262), well over what more than a few Battlegrounds skins are worth. So while the CS:GO skins market moved $US2.3 billion ($3 billion) in esports bets in 2016, Battlegrounds has a long way to go to make that big of a splash in the online gambling scene. A player who gambles $3 worth of skins could earn a skin worth $4 - observable earnings seem relatively low (in a sponsored YouTube video, one user earns $US1000 [$1310] in one bet). One site boasts $US5000 ($6593) total earnings for the day, and on another site, 648 users were on online at the time of this article's writing.
As of now, the Battlegrounds gambling scene isn't fuelled by the same YouTube influencer hype as CS:GO's - only a few medium-sized YouTubers are posting videos hyping their earnings. That said, video titles such as "PUBG- Gambling EP3 - I Won $1000 In One Click (PUBGBETS.net)" and "Playerunkown's Battlegrounds Skins Gambling! (INSANE PROFIT!?)" have earned a few thousand views.
It looks like Battlegrounds skin-gambling sites exist in the same grey-area legal territory as their CS:GO counterparts. Although a lot of these sites ask anyone who logs on if they're over 18, that rule isn't often strictly enforced. Kids can gamble on virtual CS:GO skins, and they have. At the very least, a few of them could violate Steam's terms of service by using bots to distribute winnings. Neither Valve nor Battlegrounds' team returned requests for comment.