The rising popularity of competitive video gaming competitions (esports, short for electronic sports) has attracted the interest of the gaming industry. Esports cash betting is available from most wagering operators, and an unregulated gambling subculture exists around virtual in-game items known as ‘skins’.
Skins are virtual in-game items that offer cosmetic changes to a player’s avatar, weapons or equipment, which are utilised to place bets on esports and games of chance. Little research to-date has been done to examine esports betting and skin gambling in Australia, and to address whether video gamers and esports viewers are being exposed to gambling opportunities, and resultant harms.
This study addressed five research questions:
What are the demographic characteristics and gambling behaviours of esports bettors and skin gamblers?
These people were generally in their early 30s, male, university educated, employed, and more likely to be married than single.
In the last 12 months, esports bettors and skin gamblers bet most often on esports with money (65.9 per cent) followed by esports with skins (57.5 per cent) and skin gambling on games of chance (41.1 per cent). Participation in these three activities overlapped considerably.
The most common game genres for esports bettors were sports, first- or third-person shooter games, and multiplayer online battle arena games. The top games for skin gambling on games of chance more closely resembled traditional forms of gambling, including casino table games, jackpot draws and electronic gaming machines.
Are esports bettors and skin gamblers uniquely engaged in these types of gambling, or are they involved in other traditional forms of gambling?
Esports bettors and skin gamblers were found to be highly engaged in other forms of gambling, with 97.8 per cent having gambled on at least one traditional gambling activity in the last 12 months.
On average these people gambled on 2.9 traditional gambling activities in the past year.
Are esports bettors and skin gamblers more likely to engage in traditional forms of gambling and at a greater risk of gambling-related harm than people only engaged in traditional forms of gambling?
Results showed that overall esports bettors and skin gamblers were at greater risk of gambling problems and gambling-related harms compared to traditional sports bettors. A total of 92.6 per cent of these people experienced one or more identifiable gambling problems in the last 12 months (as measured by the Problem Gambling Severity Index), which was well above the 66.7 per cent recorded by sports bettors.
How do the demographic characteristics of esports bettors/skin gamblers differ from esports viewers and video gamers not engaged in these video game-related gambling activities, and are esports bettors/skin gamblers more likely to gamble on traditional forms of gambling and at a heightened risk of gambling-related harm?
Esports bettors and skin gamblers differed demographically in a number of ways from esports viewers and video gamers.
Results showed that being older was a predictor of traditional gambling involvement, and that esports bettors and skin gamblers were more likely to experience a greater number of gambling harms.
What are the migration patterns between gambling products (e.g., esports betting, skin gambling, traditional forms of gambling) and is youth involvement in the newer gambling products a pathway to gambling in adulthood?
On average, esports bettors and skin gamblers were younger when they participated in traditional gambling activities, than when they first participated in video game-related gambling activities. These people were also more likely to report underage participation in traditional forms of gambling.
There was little evidence for esports betting and skin gambling being a pathway to traditional gambling in adulthood.
Underage participation in esports betting and skin gambling on games of chance were factors strongly associated with current gambling problems for adult esport bettors and skin gamblers.
Greer, N, Rockloff, M, Russell, Alex M. T. 2021, Gambling and video games: are esports betting and skin gambling associated with greater gambling involvement and harm?, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne.