CSGO Lotto investigation uncovers colossal conflict of interest [Updated]

What is CS:GO skin gambling, and is it illegal? Learn more in this article. 

Update: The message warning Steam users logging into the CSGO Lotto site that it could be engaging in “phishing, scamming, spamming, or delivering malware” in no longer in place. The warning was initially created by a Steam moderator, not Valve itself.

Original story:

CS:GO's weapon skin lottery is in the spotlight again with the discovery that two YouTubers who promoted the skin-gambling site CSGO Lotto in the guise of 'content' are, in fact, its owners.

Valve is already embroiled in a class action lawsuit over whether its crate-and-key system of skin drops—and the ability to indirectly trade skins for cash—should be classed and regulated as gambling. This case is more obviously egregious.

YouTubers Trevor 'TmarTn' Martin and Tom 'ProSyndicate' Cassell ran a number of videos—several now set to private—in which they would gamble weapon skins on CSGO Lotto and win. Sometimes they would win big, resulting in videos with titles like "HOW TO WIN $13,000 IN 5 MINUTES".

That reads like a banner ad I would avoid, and research into CSGO Lotto's incorporation details by HonorTheCall revealed its president to be none other than Trevor Martin. Its VP? Thomas Cassell.

The discovery that a number of content creators were failing to disclose sponsorships or promotions caused uproar quite recently. It's illegal, after all. To actually own the company being promoted—a gambling site, no less—and not disclose that is a step further. It also calls into question the legitimacy of the gambles portrayed in their videos.

Responding to the revelation in a vlog, Martin says, "This is something that has never been a secret". However, extensive research by h3h3 Productions failed to find any instance of his interest in CSGO Lotto being declared. Indeed, in an earlier video Martin announces, "We found this new site called CSGO Lotto—so I'll link it down in the description if you guys want to check it out. We were betting on it today and I won a pot of like $69 or something like that, so it was a pretty small pot, but it was like the coolest feeling ever. I ended up following them [CSGO Lotto] on Twitter and stuff, and they hit me up and they're talking to me about potentially doing like a skin sponsorship ..."

Martin appears to be using "they" to refer to a company he himself owns.

Defending himself against the allegations, Martin continues, "The problem with [owning CSGO Lotto] would be if I didn't divulge that information, and I do: you can look in the descriptions of every single one of my CSGO Lotto videos ..."

However, a search of Google's archives for 'HOW TO WIN $13,000' using Wayback Machine reveals that the sentence, "Video made possible by CSGOLotto," was added after the video was uploaded. Others still lack the (fairly flaky) disclosure.

Speaking to YouTuber Scarce via Twitter, Martin has also said, "I do own the site now, I didn't back then. At that point it was a feeler video to see if my viewers would enjoy that type of content and whether or not I should invest in the business."

This also appears to be false: Martin's name can be found on CSGO Lotto's articles of incorporation—as the incorporator.

The evidence appears damning and, given that both the UK's Advertising Standards Authority and the US Federal Trade Commission have previously slammed creators for failing to disclose product placements, the issue could escalate beyond the confines of YouTube.

Steam is already advising users attempting to access CSGO Lotto that "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."