Two prominent YouTubers have become the first people in the UK to be prosecuted for gambling offences related to video games.
Craig Douglas and Dylan Rigby were both charged in a Birmingham magistrates court for promoting a lottery and advertising unlawful gambling.
Douglas, who is better known to his 1.3 million YouTube subscribers as ‘Nepenthez,’ has also been charged with inviting children to gamble. The case has been adjourned until 15 October.
Betting on video games, a practice that is growing rapidly around the world, is estimated to be worth as much as £4 billion a year. The ‘virtual currencies’ of more established games are increasingly easy for players to value against real world currencies, and as such black markets are springing up.
The franchise of FIFA games produced by EA Sports have an in-game market for top players with prices set by users using the game’s ‘coins’ virtual currency. As the FIFA virtual economy has grown and deepened it is becoming less and less virtual. The case against Douglas and Rigby will doubtlessly not be the last of its type.
Another factor that may have tripped up the pair is the lack of enforcement of the Gambling Act 2014 (or its predecessors) among casual gamblers. Running an office sweepstakes for the World Cup or other major sporting events may be very common, but they are not strictly speaking legal without a lottery license from the local council (who would then require the draw to generate revenue for a charity). The Gambling Commission has no real interest in these small gambling activities among friends and family, but the understandably do have an interest when the same sorts of activity are shared with millions of (potentially very young) YouTube viewers.
Like most YouTubers, Douglas and Rigby will have built their followings from zero, slowing growing their viewer numbers over time. It is possible the transition from intimate conversation with friends to massive global following has caused them to lose sight of their obligations as public figures. The pair may be let off with a hand-slap this time, but it will not be long before the Gambling Commission will expect all YouTubers to comply strictly with relevant legislation.